Useful Terms

Alexandrine: a line of six iambic feet

Allegory: a text or narrative whose literal meanings can be read as coded signs of other meanings, such as moral or spiritual ones; The rhetorical strategy of extending a metaphor through an entire narrative so that objects, persons, and actions in the text are equated with meanings that lie outside the text.

Alliteration: the repetition of an initial consonant sound, as in "a peck of pickled peppers

Allusion: a brief, usually indirect reference to a person, place or event, real or fictional.

Ambiguity: the presence of two or more possible meanings in a piece of poetry; a word or piece of writing whose meaning is difficult to determine because it allows for alternative intepretations. (eg. Refuse to be Put in the Basket).

Anapaest: a metrical foot (unit) consisting of two unstressed (short) syllables followed by one stressed (long) one: di – di – dum.Byron’s “The Destruction of Sennacherib” is a well-known example:

The Assyrian came down like a wolf on the fold
And his cohorts were gleaming in purple and gold
And the sheen of their spears was like stars on the sea
When the blue wave rolls nightly on deep Galilee.

Apostrophe: a figure of speech in which some absent or nonexistent person or thing is addressed as if present and capable of understanding. (“Thou still unravish’d bride of quietness/Thou foster-child of silence and slow time,” – Ode on a Grecian Urn).

Assonance: the repetition of identical or similar vowel sounds in neighboring words (“That dolphin-torn, that gong-tormented sea”).

Ballad: A simple narrative poem in short  four line stanzas (quatrains), usually rhymed aabbor abcb and often containing a refrain.

Bathos: a movement from the sublime to the commonplace or ridiculous.

Blank verse: unrhymed iambic pentametres

Cadence: the spontaneous rhythms of the voice in ordinary speech, as opposed to the set patterns of poetic meter.

Caesura: a strong pause within a line, usually in the middle

Connotation: a poem often gives us not just what word denotes but a whole cluster of associated meanings.

Content: the substance of the literary work, such as its meaning, narrative, argument, action or moral vision.

Couplet: a stanza of two lines.

Diction: a selection of words considered on sociable and aesthetic grounds, or both, to be suitable for poetry. The type of language peculiar to a particular poem or poet.

Elegy; a serious, mournful or reflective poem.

Enjambment: the running over of meaning and grammatical structure from one line to the next without a punctuated pause. (“On her white breast a sparkling cross she wore/ Which Jews might kiss, and infidels adore”)

Epic: a long narrative poem that relates heroic events in an elevated style.

Free verse: poetry that works against traditional conventions of metre, rhyme, line length, etc.

Heroic couplet: when lines are rhymed in pairs.

Hypotaxis: an arrangement of phrases or clauses in a dependent or subordinate relationship.

Hyperbole: exaggeration

Iamb: a foot (metrical unit) of two syllables, with the stress on the second (di-dum).
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells (Keats, :To Autumn”)

Iambic Pentameter: a poetic meter consisting of five iamb or units of one unstressed and one stressed syllable. ("To err is human, to forgive divine")

Iambic tetrameter: a line of poetry made up for iambs.

Image: figurative language and poetry, especially similes and metaphors.

Irony: The use of words to convey the opposite of their literal meaning; a statement or situation where the meaning is contradicted by the appearance or presentation of the idea.

Litotes: understatement in which an affirmative is expressed by negating its opposite ("The grave’s a fine a private place,/But none, I think, do there embrace." ).

Metre: a regular kind of poetic sound pattern; the pattern of groups of syllables within a poem.

Metaphor: a figure of speech in which an implied comparison is made between two unlike things that actually have something in common; the use of language that is imaginatively but not literally appropriate ("The rain came down in long knitting needles)".

Metonymy: a figure of speech in which one word or phrase is substituted for another with which it is closely associated (such as "crown" for "royalty"); the rhetorical strategy of describing something indirectly by referring to things around it, such as describing someone’s clothing to characterize the individual.

Mood: the emotional climate or ambience of a piece of writing.

Octave: a stanza of eight lines.

Ode: a poem intended to be sung, often of great length and generally addressed to someone or something.

Onomatopoeia: When a word sounds like its meaning, e.g. ‘hiss’.

Oxymoron: a figure of speech in which incongruous or contradictory terms appear side by side. ("O miserable abundance, O beggarly riches!")

Parataxis: when phrases or clauses arranged independently; the juxtaposition of clauses without indicating the connection between them. ("I came; I saw; I conquered.")

Para-rhyme: a near-miss of a rhyme in which the consonants agree but the vowels don’t (eg. “bliss’ and ‘bless”).

Pathetic fallacy: the belief that nature shares our own moods and feelings.

Personification: a trope or figure of speech in which an inanimate object or abstraction is given human qualities or abilities. (“The wind stood up and gave a shout./ He whistled on his fingers and/ Kicked the withered leaves about”)

Quatrain: A stanza of four lines.

Rhythm: the variable pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables.

Sestet: A stanza of six lines.

Simile: a figure of speech in which two fundamentally unlike things are explicitly compared, usually in a phrase introduced by like or as.( "Life is like an onion: You peel it off one layer at a time, and sometimes you weep.")

Spondee: A metrical foot consisting of two accented syllables. An example of a spondaic word is “hog-wild.” Gerard Manley Hopkins’s “Pied beauty” is heavily spondaic:

          With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
   He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
                                   Praise him.
Sonnet: A short poem of 14 lines, each containing 10 or 11 syllables.

Stanza: a unit, or verse, in a poem.

Symbol: the use of one object or action to represent or suggest something else; a symbol is something that represents an idea, a , or a physical entity. A red rose, for example, symbolises love and compassion. Something used for or regarded as representing something else; a material object representing something, often something immaterial; emblem, token, or sign.

Tercet: a stanza of three lines.

Tetrameter: a line of four feet or metrical units.

Texture: the pattern of sounds of a poem.

Tone: the modulation of the voice expressing a particular mood or feeling. It is one of the places where signs and emotions intersect. The sound, pitch, pace and intensity of a poem considered as expressing a particular emotion.

Trimeter: a line of 3 feet.

Trope: figurative use of language; a figure of speech in which a word or expression is used in other than its literal sense.

Trochee: a metrical unit in which a stressed syllable is followed by an unstressed one. Tiger tiger burning bright.