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Glossary of Poetry Terms and Tools

written by: Eighty Six • edited by: Carly Stockwell • updated: 3/14/2013

Do you know what your English teacher is talking about? It's time to find out! Browse this glossary of poetic terms and devices to better understand your next English class or ace a poetry or literature analysis.

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    Do You Know What You're Talking About?

    iStock 000016874655XSmall I use a lot of terms when I write about writing and I don't typically stop to define them. You're all smart people. I assume you either know what they mean or will look them up. I decided to craft an easy reference guide for the jargon I use often, keeping to types and parts of poetry. You don't need fancy words to write, unless you're trying to sound learned (with two syllables) in front of the Neanderthals. But sometimes it's just easier to say “blank verse" than “you know, that one that goes da-DUM five times and doesn't rhyme?"

    Plus, proper use of these terms will surely impress your teacher when writing your next poetry analysis.

    At the end are some links to very smart resources for more history, styles, vocabulary and poets.

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    Poetic Terms Glossary

    Accentual Verse – A verse form where the line length is determined by the number of stressed syllables, regardless of the number of unstressed syllables.

    Acrostic – A poem where the first letter of each line forms a word.

    Allegory – An extended metaphorical story, where the places, characters and objects have figurative meaning.

    Alliteration – Repetition of consonants or vowels throughout a piece of writing.

    Allusion – Reference to a historical or literary person, place or event.

    Anapest – A metric foot built from two unstressed syllables followed by a stressed syllable.

    Anaphora – Repetition of a word or words to begin a series of lines or phrases.

    Assonance – Repetition of vowel sounds.

    Aubade – A type of love poem lamenting the arrival of dawn, when lovers must part.

    Ballad – A narrative song.

    Blank Verse – Unrhymed iambic pentameter.

    Caesura – A stop in the middle of a line marked with punctuation.

    Choriamb – A metric foot built from two stressed syllables with two unstressed syllables in between. In other words, a trochee followed by an iamb.

    Common Measure – A quatrain with an ABAB rhyme scheme that alternates iambic tetrameter and iambic trimeter.

    Concrete Poetry – Verse that uses typeface and typesetting to convey meaning, such as the lines forming a shape on the page.

    Consonance – Repetition of consonant sounds.

    Couplet – A pair of lines, similar in length, which rhyme.

    Dactyl – A metric foot built from one stressed syllable followed by two unstressed syllables.

    Dimeter – A line built from two metric feet.

    Dissonance – A collection of sounds that clash and break rhythm.

    Elegy – A poem lamenting a death while commemorating a life.

    Elision – The contraction of a word by omitting unstressed syllables, usually to fit a metric form. For example: “ere" for “ever" or “am'rous" for “amorous".

    End-Stop – A line that ends in a grammatical break or with end punctuation, rather than an enjambment.

    Enjambment – A line where a sentence or phrase continues to the next line, unlike an end-stop.

    Epic – A long narrative poem describing a quest.

    Epigraph – A selection from another written work that is placed below the title of a poem.

    Figurative – Expressive and non-literal use of language.

    Foot – A unit of measure in metric poetry defined by a specific number and order of stressed and unstressed syllables.

    Format-Shift – Rewriting a written work in a different form. For example, making a short-story into a poem or a sonnet into free-verse.

    Free-Verse – Poetry not adhering to a rigid structure. Also known as open form.

    Haiku – A Japanese poetic form built from unrhymed lines of five, seven and five syllables.

    Heptameter – A line built from seven metric feet.

    Hexameter – A line built from six metric feet.

    Hyperbole – A gigantic exaggeration or overstatement.

    Iamb – A metric foot built from an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable.

    Irony – A painful or comic contradiction between reality and intention. For example, Oedipus searching for his father's killer when he is the killer; or building an immortality machine that kills you.

    Kenning – A figurative compound word that replaces a simple noun, like calling blood “battle-sweat".

    Limerick – A poem with an AABBA rhyme scheme built from two long lines, two short lines and another long line, typically bawdy in nature.

    Litotes – A deliberate dramatic understatement.

    Lyric – Poetry intended to be performed with musical accompaniment, traditionally a lyre.

    Metaphor – The comparison of two things without using “like", “as" or “than".

    Meter – A pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables.

    Metonymy – A figure of speech in which a related term replaces the word itself. For example, referring to the United States' executive branch as “the White House".

    Metric Verse - A verse form where the line length is determined by the number and type of feet, such as iambic pentameter or anapestic trimeter.

    Occasional Poem – A poem composed for a particular event, such as an inauguration or a wedding.

    Octave – An eight line stanza or poem.

    Ode – A formal poem celebrating a person or topic.

    Onomatopoeia – A word with the same sound as meaning, such as “bang" or “hiss".

    Oxymoron – A union of contradictory words, such as “screaming silence" or “wise fool".

    Palindrome – A word, phrase or sentence that is the same forward and backward, such as “radar" or “rise to vote, sir".

    Paradox – A phrase or idea that seems to contradict itself, yet is somehow true. For example, holding the hand that holds you down.

    Parody – A comic imitation of another work.

    Pentameter – A line built from five metric feet.

    Poetic License – Straying from the typical rules of grammar, logic and syntax to suit the needs of a poem.

    Prose Poem – A poetic writing that does not break into verse lines, rather breaking with the edges of the page.

    Prosody – The principles of metric structure in poetry.

    Pun – A play on words using two identically spelled words, such as calling a taxi for a thirsty bar patron who orders a cab.

    Quatrain – A four line stanza.

    Refrain – A line or phrase repeated throughout a poem, particularly at the end of stanzas.

    Rhyme – Repetition of syllables at the end of words, often at the end of a line.

    Rhyme Scheme – A pattern of rhymes used in a poem.

    Scansion – Noting the number and placement of stresses in a poem and analyzing its metric structure.

    Sestet – A six line stanza.

    Simile - The comparison of two things using “like", “as" or “than".

    Sonnet – A fourteen line poem with a rhyme scheme typically written in iambic pentameter.

    Spondee – A metric foot built from two stressed syllables.

    Stanza – A group of lines separated from the rest of the poem by a blank line.

    Stress – A syllable delivered with a stronger emphasis, like the first syllable in “poetry".

    Syllabic Verse - A verse form where the line length is determined by the number of syllables, regardless of the number or placement of stresses.

    Synecdoche – A figure of speech where a part of something replaces the whole, such as “take my hand in marriage".

    Tanka – A Japanese poetic form built from unrhymed lines of five, seven, five, seven and seven syllables.

    Ten-by-Ten – A ten line poem with ten syllables per line.

    Tercet – A three line stanza.

    Tetrameter – A line built from four metric feet.

    Trimeter – A line built from three metric feet.

    Trochee – A metric foot built from a stressed syllable followed by an unstressed syllable.

    Villanelle – A verse form consisting of three tercets and a quatrain, where the first and third lines of the beginning stanza repeat alternately at the end of the following tercets and form the final couplet.

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