GLOSSARY OF POETIC TERMS

REPRESENTATIVE POETRY ON-LINE VERS. 3.0


by Ian Lancashire, Department of English, University of Toronto
© 1999-2002

Indexes: [ by Poet | by Title | by First Line | Timeline | by Keyword | Criticism on Poetry| Canadian Poetry ]
Related Materials: [ Encoding Guidelines | Questions and Answers | Preface | UT English Library]

This version of RPO, 2.07, contains all poems in the editions of 1912, 1916, 1935-46, and 1962-67, and dozens of other poets. See the "What's New" file for additions made since 1994.


A

Acatalectic:
see Catalytic.

Accent (Latin, `song added to speech'):
a stressed syllable or ictus. These alternate with unstressed syllables or slacks to produce a theoretical metrical pattern termed the rhythm that often, but not always, matches how the line would be sounded in conversation. Prominence can be achieved by pitch (tone), loudness or impact (stress), or length. An increase in pitch usually creates stress. George Puttenham in 1589 says: "To that which was highest lift vp and most eleuate or shrillest in the eare, they gaue the name of the sharpe accent, to the lowest and most base because it seemed to fall downe rather than to rise vp, they gaue the name of the heauy accent, and that other which seemed in part to lift vp and in part to fall downe, they called the circumflex, or compast accent: and if new termes were not odious, we might very properly call him the (windabout) for so is the Greek word."

Accentual verse:
lines whose rhythm arises from its stressed syllables rather than from the number of its syllables, or from the length of time devoted to their sounding. Old English poems such as Beowulf and Caedmon's Hymn are accentual. They fall clearly into two halves, each with two stresses.

Accentual-syllabic verse:
lines whose rhythm arises by the number and alternation of its stressed and unstressed syllables, organized into feet. Most English poems from the Renaissance to the late eighteenth century are thought to be written according to this metrical system.

Acephalous (Greek, `headless'):
a line of verse without its expected initial syllable.

Acrostic (Greek, `at the tip of the verse'):
a word, phrase, or passage spelled out vertically by the first letters of a group of lines in sequence. Sir John Davies' Hymnes of Astraea dedicates 26 acrostic poems to Elizabeth I. Edgar Allan Poe's "Enigma" provides another example. Samuel Johnson's great dictionary (1755) quotes John Dryden:
Leave writing plays, and choose for thy command
Some peaceful province in acrostick land:
There thou may'st wings display, and altars raise,
And torture one poor word ten thousand ways.
See also telestich.

Action poetry:
verse written for performance by several voices.

Adonic:
a Classical Greek and Latin metre, a dimeter with a dactyl and a spondee / ~ ' ' / ' ' / such as are found at the close of sapphics.

Aesthetic Movement:
a literary belief that art is its own justification and purpose, advocated in England by Walter Pater and practised by Edgar Allan Poe, Algernon Charles Swinburne, Oscar Wilde, and others.

Alcaics:
a four-line Classical stanza named after Alcaeus, a Greek poet, with a predominantly dactylic metre, imitated by Alfred lord Tennyson's poem, "Milton."

Alexandrine:
a metrical line of six feet or twelve syllables (in English), originally from French heroic verse. Randle Cotgrave in his 1611 French-English dictionary explains: "Alexandrin. A verse of 12, or 13 sillables." In his "Essay on Criticism," Alexander Pope says, "A needless Alexandrine ends the song / That like a wounded snake, drags its slow length along" (359). Examples include Michael Drayton's "Polyolbion," Robert Bridges' "Testament of Beauty," and the last line of each stanza in Thomas Hardy's "The Convergence of the Twain."

Allegory (Greek, `speaking otherwise'):
Henry Cockeram, in his English dictionary (1623), explains this as "A sentence that must be understood otherwise than the literal interpretation shewes" but does not distinguish among allegory, irony, metaphor, and symbol. Medieval scholars developed Biblical exegesis to allow for at least three types of allegory. Moral allegory interpreted a story as a conflict between good and evil. The other two were types of historical allegory: anagogy foreshadowed the life of Christ (as Abraham's planned sacrifice of Isaac prefigured Christ the Son's self-sacrifice on the cross), and eschatology foreshadowed the end of the world (as Noah's flood looks forward to the Last Judgment and the four last things, heaven, hell, death, and judgment). John Dryden allegorizes secular history in "Absalom and Achitophel." Allegory reveals itself in poems such as Edmund Spenser's Faerie Queene when personifications interact on a landscape populated by objectifications.

Alliteration:
using the same consonant to start two or more stressed words or syll= ables in a phrase or verse line, or using a series of vowels to begin such words or syllables in sequence. Alliteration need not re-use all initial consonants: words like "train" and "terrific" alliterate.

Allusion:
a reference to a historical, mythic, or literary person, place, event, movement, etc.

Ambiguity:
a statement with two or more meanings that may seem to exclude one another in the context. Grammatical ambiguity (amphibologia) occurs where a word has two or more possible word classes. For example, in "BILL POSTERS WILL BE PROSECUTED," the words "BILL POSTERS" could be either adjective and common noun or a proper name. Lexical ambiguity arises where one word has multiple senses (polysemous terms) or when two different words have the same sound (homonyms). Thus "present" is polysemous because it means both `current time' and `gift,' and "which" and "witch" are homonyms.

Amphibrach (Greek, `short at both ends'):
Greek and Latin metrical foot consisting of short, long, and short syllables / ~ ' ~ / (cf. the English word "romantic"). An example is Matthew Prior's "Jinny the Just." See under foot below.

Amphimacer (Greek, `long at each end'):
a Greek and Latin metrical foot consisting of long, short, and long syllables / ' ~ ' / (cf. the English word "forty-five"). An example is Alfred lord Tennyson's "The Oak." See under foot below.

Amplification:
rhetorical figures of speech that repeat and vary the expression of a thought.

Anachronism:
someone or something belonging to another time period than the one in which it is described as being.

Anacoluthon (Greek, `not consistent'):
an interruption in a sentence, sometimes indicated by a pause, that is afterwards restarted in a syntactically different way. See also aposiopesis.

Anacreontic verse:
imitations of the 6th-century B.C. Greek poet Anacreon, who wrote about love and wine. Thomas Moore translated Anacreon's odes in 1800. Abraham Cowley adapted them in his Anacreontics.

Anacrucis:
one or two unstressed syllables at the beginning of a line that are unnecessary to the metre.

Anadiplosis (Greek, `double-back'):
a repetition of the last word in a line or segment at the start of the next line or segment.

Anagram:
a word spelled out by rearranging the letters of another word. When both lexical forms appear in the same poem, especially in proximity, a reader may reasonably suspect that the anagram is a figure of speech. If only one form occurs, the encoding of an association is harder to prove. For example, "the teacher gapes at the mounds of exam pages lying before her."

Analepsis:
a flashback.

Analogue:
usually a semantic or narrative feature in one work said to resemble something in another work, without necessarily implying that a cause-and-effect relationship exists (as would be the case with source and influence). For example, Beowulf's battle with the Dragon is analogous with the fight between the Red Cross Knight and the Dragon in Book I of Edmund Spenser's The Faerie Queene.

Anapest (Greek, `struck back'):
a metrical foot consisting of two unaccented syllables followed by an accented one. Examples include the words "undermine" and "overcome." See Byron's "The Destruction of Sennacherib."

Anaphora (Greek, `a carrying up or back'):
successive phrases, clauses, or lines start with the same word or words. Emily Brontë's "Remembrance," for example, repeats its opening phrase, "Cold in the earth."

Antepenultima:
the second last word of a line, or the second last syllable of a word.

Anthropomorphism:
a figure of speech where the poet characterizes an abstract thing or object as if it were a person. See also personification.

Antibacchic:
Classical Greek and Latin foot consisting of long, long, and short syllables / ' ' ~ / . An English example is the word "Goddamit."

Antiphon:
a sacred poem with responses or alternative parts.

Antispast:
Greek and Latin metrical foot consisting of short, long, long, and short syllables (i.e., an iambus and a trochee) / ~ ' ' ~ / . A possible English example is "unblackguarded."

Antistrophe (Greek, `counter-turn'):
(1) a reply to the strophe, and the second stanza in a Pindaric ode; or (2) the repetition of the same word or phrase at the end of successive lines or clauses.

Antithesis:
contrasting or combining two terms, phrases, or clauses with opposed or antithetical meanings.

Antonomasia (Greek, `name instead'):
using an epithet or a title in place of a proper name.

Antonymy:
semantic contrasts.

Aphesis:
the omission of the initial syllable of a word. See also Apocope.

Aphorism:
one writer's citation of another, known author's truism or pithy remark.

Apocope:
the omission of the last syllable of a word. See also Aphesis.

Aporia:
Explained by Samuel Johnson, in his great dictionary (1755), as "a figure in rhetorick, by which the speaker shews, that he doubts where to begin for the multitude of matter, or what to say in some strange and ambiguous thing; and doth, as it were, argue the case with himself."

Aposiopesis:
an interruption of an expresion without a subsequent restarting. See also anacoluthon.

Apostrophe (Greek, `to turn away'):
an address to a dead or absent person or personification as if he or she were present.

Archaism:
using obsolete or archaic words when current alternatives are available.

Archetype:
something in the world, and described in literature, that, according to the psychologist Karl Jung, manifests a dominant theme in the collective unconscious of human beings. Northrop Frye in his Anatomy of Criticism argues for a taxonomy of consciously literary archetypes in Western literature. See symbol.

Asclepiad:
a Classical metrical line made up of a spondee, two or three choriambs, and one iamb or spondee, i.e., / ' ' / ' ~ ~ ' / ' ~ ~ ' / ~ ' / (named after the Greek poet Asclepiades, ca. 290 B.C.). Examples of accentual asclepiads in English include Sir Philip Sidney's "O sweet woods, the delight of solitariness" from Arcadia, and W. H. Auden's "In Due Season."

Assonance (Latin, `to answer with the same sound'):
the rhyming of a word with another in one or more of their accented vowels, but not in their consonants; sometimes called vowel rhyme.

Asyndeton (Greek `unconnected'):
lists of words, phrases, or expressions without conjunctions such as `and' and `or' to link them. George Herbert uses this figure of speech in "Prayer (1)."

Atmosphere:
the mood or pervasive feeling insinuated by a literary work.

Aubade (Provençal):
a medieval love poem welcoming or lamenting the arrival of the dawn. An example is John Donne's "The Sun Rising."

Augustan:
English literature at the beginning of the 18th century by poets such as Addison, Pope, and Swift, who emulated Ovid, Horace, or Virgil, the great Latin poets of the reign of the emperor Augustus (27 B.C. - 14 A.D.).

Aureate language:
polysyllabic Latinate poetic diction employed especially by the Scottish Chaucerians. See poetic diction.

B

Bacchic:
Greek and Latin metrical foot consisting of short, long, and long syllables / ~ ' ' /.

Ballad:
a popular song, often recited aloud, narrating a story, and passed down orally. Over 300 traditional English ballads, in up to 25 versions each, were edited as the so-called "Child ballads" (named after the editor, F. J. Child) 1882-98. Examples of the form include "Sir Patrick Spens," "Twa Sisters of Binnorie," "The Three Ravens," the Lyrical Ballads by William Wordsworth and S. T. Coleridge, and "La Belle Dame sans Merci" by John Keats. See also Broadside ballads.

Ballade:
poem with three seven-, eight-, or ten-line stanzas and refrain. Respectively, these have the rhyme schemes and envoys ababbcC bcbC (cf. Chaucer's "Ballade of Good Counsel"), ababbcbC bcbC (Dorothy Parker's "Ballade at Thirty-five"), and ababbccdcD ccdccD (cf. Swinburne's "A Ballad of Fran&cced;ois Villon"). The refrains appear at the end of each stanza and of the concluding envoy. Other examples are Chaucer's "To Rosemounde" (which lacks an envoy), Dante Gabriel Rossetti's "Ballad of Dead Ladies," Algernon Charles Swinburne's "A Ballad of Burdens," William Ernest Henley's "Ballade of Dead Actors," and Austin Dobson's seven-line-stanza "Ballad of Imitation."

Ballad stanza:
quatrain rhyming abcb and alternating four-stress and three-stress lines.

Bard:
originally a Celtic name for a poet-singer.

Bathos (Greek, `depth'):
Alexander Pope's Peri-Bathous, or the Art of Sinking in Poetry (1728) describes bathos as a poet's fall, in a work of some seriousness, into an unintentionally comic pathos.

Beat poets:
A San Francisco-based group of counter-culture poets such as Allen Ginsberg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and Kenneth Rexroth.

Black Mountain Poets:
Charles Olson, Robert Creeley, and Robert Duncan, all associated with Black Mountain College, North Carolina, and all promoting a non-traditional poetics.

Blank verse:
unrhyming iambic pentameter, also called heroic verse, a ten-syllable line and the usual rhythm of English dramatic and epic poetry from its introduction by Henry Howard, earl of Surrey, in his translation of Books II and IV of Virgil's Certain Books of Virgil's Æneis. Shakespeare's Hamlet II.2.339: "The Lady shall say her minde freely; or the blanke Verse shall halt for't." Poems such as John Milton's Paradise Lost, Robert Browning's dramatic monologues, and Wallace Steven's "Sunday Morning" use blank verse.

Blues:
oral black American folk or popular melancholic songs of the early twentieth century.

Bob:
a one-foot line in certain stanzaic forms of medieval alliterative poetry, such as Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.

Bombast:
hyperbolic or wildly exaggerating speech, so-called after a kind of cotton stuffing.

Bouts rimés:
a French name, meaning "rhymed ends," for a popular 18th-century game where poems had to be built around previously selected rhymes. See John Addison's essay no. 60 in the Spectator.

Bretan lay:
Brief narrative poems about Arthurian subjects. E.g., Chaucer's Franklin's Tale.

Broadside ballads:
poems printed on one side of a single sheet during the Renaissance period.

Broken rhyme:
see rhyme.

Bucolic (Greek, `cowherd'):
Sir Thomas Elyot's Latin-English dictionary (1538) explains "Bucolicum carmen, a poeme made of herdmen." Cf. eclogue, idyll, and pastoral.

Burden:
the choric line or lines that signal the end or the beginning of a stanza in a carol or hymn.

Burlesque:
a work caricaturing another serious work. An example is Samuel Butler's Hudibras.

Burns stanza or meter:
six-line stanza with the rhyme scheme aaabab (where a is a tetrameter line, and b is a dimeter line).

C

Cacophony:
see Dissonance.

Cadence:
the ametrical rhythm of natural speech.

Caesura (Latin, `cut'):
a stop or pause in a metrical line, often marked by punctuation or by a grammatical boundary, such as a phrase or clause. When a caesura splits the line in equal parts, it is termed medial. When the pause occurs towards the beginning or end of the line, it is termed, respectively, initial and terminal.

Canon:
someone's list of authors or works considered to be "classic," that is, central to the identity of a given literary tradition or culture.

Canto:
subdivision of an Italian epic or long narrative poem, such as Dante's Divina Commedia, first employed in English by Edmund Spenser in The Faerie Queene, popularized by Byron in "Don Juan," and restored to epic dignity by Ezra Pound in his Pisan Cantos.

Canzone:
hendecasyllabic lines in stanza form. William Drummond of Hawthornden adapted the canzone to English.

Carol:
a hymn or poem often sung, as at Christmas, by a group, with an individual taking the changing stanzas and the group taking the burden or refrain. Wynkyn de Worde, Caxton's assistant, printed the first collection of carols in 1521. An example is "I Saw Three Ships."

Caroline:
literature of the reign of Charles I (1625-42), especially the by the Calvalier poets, who numbered Robert Herrick, Richard Lovelace, and John Suckling, among others.

Carpe diem (Horace, ode I, xi):
"seize the day, live while you can, savour the moment," a subject typical of begging love poems such as Andrew Marvell's "To his Coy Mistress."

Catachresis (Greek, `misuse'):
an eccentric metaphor.

Catalectic:
a type of verse termed by George Puttenham in 1589 "maimed" because it is missing a syllable in the last foot. An acatalectic verse is complete. A hypercatalectic line has an extra syllable. The three types can be seen below in the last foot of this tercet:
Hamlet cries his mother's tainted.
Gertrude nearly falls down, faint.
Hamlet's father swears, unsaintly, he.
(I.L.)

Catalogue verse:
poems with lists that perform an encyclopedic purpose, lending high seriousness to a topic. Lewis Carroll's "The Walrus and the Carpenter" gently parodies this convention.

Celtic revival:
Irish poets such as George Russell (AE), James Joyce, John M. Synge, and W. B. Yeats who drew on Celtic myth to recreate a national literature.

Chanson (French, "song"):
a medieval lyric.

Chant royale:
a complex French form of the ballade, having various forms.

Chiasmus (Greek, `placing crosswise'):
repetition of any group of verse elements in reverse order.

Choka:
Japanese form with alternating lines of five and seven syllables, ending with a couplet of seven-syllable lines.

Choliamb: see scazon.

Choriamb:
Greek and Latin metrical foot consisting of long, short, short, and long syllables / ' ~ ~ ' /; also an iambic alexandrine line with a spondee or trochee instead of an iambus in the sixth foot. For example, Swinburne's "Choriambics."

Choree:
a trochee.

Cinquain:
a verse form of five lines with lines of 2, 4, 6, 8, and 2 syllables.

Circumlocution:
speaking around a point rather than getting to it, such as S. T. Coleridge's "twice five miles of fertile ground" in "Kubla Khan." Also known as periphrasis.

Clerihew:
a form of light verse invented by Edmund Clerihew Bentley, consisting of two couplets and having the name of a person in the first line. E.g.,
Celine Dion
Sang a paeon
To love and pain
And ladies layin'.
(I.L.)

Closed couplet:
see couplet.

Cockney School of Poetry:
a mocking name for London romantic poets such as John Keats and Leigh Hunt (from a scathing review in Blackwood's Magazine in October 1817).

Common measure:
a quatrain that rhymes abab and alternates four-stress and three-stress iambic lines (each pair equivalent to a single line of 14 syllables), the metre of the hymn and the ballad. An example is "Sir Patrick Spence." Short or half measure consists of a six-stress, 12-syllable line split into two three-stress, trimeter lines. Long measure has eight-stress lines of 16 syllables that are divided into two four-stress lines. An example is T. S. Eliot's "Whispers of Immortality."

Complaint:
a lament or satiric attack on social evils, such as Chaucer's "Complaint to his Purse," the opening of the Wakefield Master's "Second Shepherd's Play," or Shakespeare's "A Lover's Complaint." Not to be confused with a poet's grumbling about weather or writing, such as Ezra Pound's "Ancient Music" or Chaucer's "The lyf so short, the craft so longe to lerne."

Conceit (Italian):
a complicated intellectual metaphor. Petrarchan conceits drew on conventional sensory imagery popularized by the Italian poet Petrarch (1304-74). Metaphysical conceits were characterized by esoteric, abstract associations and surprising effects. John Donne and other so-called metaphysical poets used conceits in ways that fused the sensory and the abstract. Examples are John Donne's use of the compass in "The Ecstasy" and of alchemy in "A Nocturnal upon St. Lucy's Day."

Concrete poetry:
verse that emphasizes non-linguistic elements in its meaning, such as typeface that gives a visual image of the topic (eye, optic, or visual = poetry), an arrangement of words or syllables that signals the poem must be said rather than read (ear poetry), and the division of the poem by different speakers, showing that it is intended for performance (action poetry). An examples include George Herbert's "Easter Wings" (eye poetry), Louis Zukofsky's "Julia's Will" (ear poetry), and the whole of W. H. Auden's For the Time Being, but especially his hilariously miserable Herod (action poetry).

Confessional poetry:
Vividly sensational self-revelatory verse, a literary movement led by American poets from Allen Ginsberg and Robert Lowell to Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, and John Berryman.

Connotation:
those words, things, or ideas with which a word often keeps company but which it does not actually denote. A word's semantic field consists largely of its lexical associations, that is, its more or less frequent collocations.

Consonance:
sometimes just a resemblance in sound between two words, or an initial or head rhyme like alliteration, but also refined to mean shared consonants, whether in sequence ("bud" and "bad") or reversed ("bud" and "dab").

Content words:
nouns, verbs, adjectives, and most adverbs, words that carry the content of a sentence; these are also called lexical or open-class words. They contrast with function (or grammatical, or closed-class) words, such as articles, prepositions, conjunctions, auxiliary verbs, and pronouns, which can be found in almost any utterance, no matter what it is about.

Convention:
a common way of doing something, such as a poetic form, or a common topic like the "carpe diem" or "ubi sunt" themes, or making lists (see catalogue verse), or a regularly-used figure of speech.

Corona (Latin, "crown"):
a sonnet sequence where the last line in one sonnet becomes the first line of the next sonnet, and the final line in the sequence repeats the first line of the first sonnet. An example is the seven sonnets that open John Donne's holy sonnets.

Counting-out rhymes:
verse memory aids for children learning how to count, such as "One, two, buckle my shoe, / Three, four, open the door."

Couplet:
a pair of successive rhyming lines, usually of the same length, termed "closed" when they form a bounded grammatical unit like a sentence, and termed "heroic" in 17th- and 18th-century verse when serious in subject, five-foot iambic in form, and holding a complete thought.

Cretic:
Greek and Latin metrical foot consisting of long, short, and long syllables.

Curtal sonnet:
see Sonnet.

D

Dactyl:
a metrical foot consisting of an accented syllable followed by two unaccented ones / ' ~ ~ /. Examples of dactylic words are "comedy" and "higgledy," and of largely dactylic poems Tennyson's "The Charge of the Light Brigade" and Thomas Hood's "The Bridge of Sighs." Longfellow's Evangeline is written in dactylic hexameter, the metre of Homer and of Ovid's Metamorphoses.

Débat:
a medieval poem in dialogue that takes the form of a debate on a topic. An example is The Owl and the Nightingale.

Deictic:
words that point to particulars, as names and pronouns do for individual places and persons (such as Edwin Arlington Robinson's "Miniver Cheevy" and "Richard Cory"), and demonstrative-adjective-noun combinations (such as Benjamin Franklin King's "Here's that ten dollars that I owe" in "If I Should Die To-night") do for things.

Denotation:
what a word points to, names, or refers to, either in the world of things or in the mind.

Didactic verse:
poems that exist so as to teach the readers something, often a moral.

Dimeter:
two feet; sometimes termed dipody, a double foot, that is, one measure made up of two feet. An example is Alfred lord Tennyson's "The Charge of the Light Brigade."

Dirge:
a brief funeral hymn or song. An example is Henry King's Exequy.

Dissonance:
cacaphony, or harsh-sounding language.

Distich:
two lines related to one another. A major Greek and Latin metre is the elegiac distich, a pair of dactylic hexameter and dactylic pentameter lines.

Dithyramb:
choral hymn in honour of Dionysius, the Greek god of wine, and an influence on the English ode. An example is John Dryden's "Alexander's Feast." Much of the work of Walt Whitman is loosely dithyrambic.

Dizain:
a stanza or poem of ten lines.

Doggerel:
bad verse, characterized by clichés, incomprehensibility, and an irregular metre.

Double dactyl:
a form of light verse invented by Anthony Hecht and John Hollander. The double dactyl consists of two quatrains, each with three double-dactyl lines ( / _ _ / _ _ ) followed by a shorter dactyl-spondee pair (/_ _ /). The two spondees rhyme. Other rules of this "dismally difficult / Form" are that the first line must be a nonsense phrase, the second line a proper or place name, and one other line, usually the sixth, a single double-dactylic word that has never been used before in a double dactyl. For example,
Higgleby piggledy,
Bacon, lord Chancellor,
Negligent, fell for the
Paltrier vice.

Bribery toppled him,
Bronchopneumonia
Finished him, testing some
Poultry on ice.

(I.L.)

Dramatic monologue:
a poem representing itself as a speech made by one person to a silent listener, usually not the reader. Examples include Robert Browning's "My Last Duchess," Alfred lord Tennyson's "Ulysses," and T. S. Eliot's "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock." A lyric may also be addressed to someone, but it is short and song-like and may appear to address either the reader or the poet.

Dream vision:
a (traditionally medieval) poet's relation of how he fell asleep and had an often allegorical dream. Examples include "Pearl," Langland's "Piers Plowman," and Chaucer's "The Book of the Duchess."

Duplet:
a two-syllable foot.

E

Ear poetry:
see concrete poetry.

Echoism:
see Onomatopoeia.

Eclogue (Greek, `a choice'):
a brief pastoral poem, set in an idyllic rural place but discussing urban, court, political, or social issues. Bucolics and idylls, like eclogues, are pastoral poems in non-dramatic form. Examples are Alexander Barclay's Eclogues, Edmund Spenser's Shepheardes Calender: April, Jonathan Swift's "A Town Eclogue," and Andrew Marvell's "Nymph Complaining for the Death of her Fawn."

Elegy:
a Greek or Latin form in alternating dactylic hexameter and dactylic pentameter lines; and a melancholy poem lamenting its subject's death but ending in consolation. Examples in English include John Milton's "Lycidas," Thomas Gray's "Elegy," Percy Bysshe Shelley's "Adonais," Alfred lord Tennyson's "In Memoriam," Matthew Arnold's "Thyrsis," Gerard Manley Hopkins' "Wreck of the Deutschland," and Walt Whitman's "When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloomed." Ambrose Pierce parodies Gray's poem in "Elegy."

Elegiac stanza:
a quatrain with the rhyme scheme abab written in iambic pentameter. See also Distich.

Elision:
omission of a consonant (e.g., "ere" for "ever") or a vowel (e.g., "tother" for "the other"), usually to achieve a metrical effect.

Ellipsis:
the non-metrical omission of letters or words whose absence does not impede the reader's ability to understand the expression. For example, the last line in the following leaves the lexical verb understood:
Hugh, he could fancy
No one but Nancy,
And Sally got antsy
Just thinking of Chauncy,
    But Nancy liked Drew
    And Chauncy did too.
(I.L.)

End-stopped:
a verse line ending at a grammatical boundary or break, such as a dash, a closing parenthesis, or punctuation such as a colon, a semi-colon, or a period. The opposite to an end-stopped line is a line subject to enjambement.

Enjambement:
the running over of a sentence or phrase from one verse to the next, without terminal punctuation, hence not end-stopped. Such verses can be called run-on lines.

Envoy:
the brief stanza that ends a poem such as the ballade or the sestina. See also tornada.

Epic:
an extended narrative poem with a heroic or superhuman protagonist engaged in an action of great significance in a vast setting (often including the underworld and engaging the gods). Examples of epic poems are Edmund Spenser's The Faerie Queene, John Milton's Paradise Lost, William Wordsworth's The Prelude, Elizabeth Barret Browning's Aurora Leigh, and T. S. Eliot's "The Waste Land."

Epic simile:
extended comparison or cluster of similes or metaphors.

Epigraph:
a quotation, taken from another literary work, that is placed at the start of a poem under the title. For example, T. S. Eliot's "Gerontion" begins with a quotation from Shakespeare's play Measure for Measure.

Epigram:
a brief witty poem. Randle Cotgrave (1611) translates "Epigramme" as "An Epigram; a Couplet, Stanzo, or short Poeme, wittily taxing a particular person, or fault; also, a title, inscription, or superscription."

Epistle:
a verse epistle imitates the form of a personal letter, addressed to someone in particular, often very personal and occasional, and sometimes dated, with a location affixed. Alexander Pope's "Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot" can hardly be bettered.

Epistrophe:
successive phrases, lines, or clauses that repeat the same word or words at their ends.

Epitaph:
a burial inscription, often in verse. Philip Reder's Epitaphs (London: Michael Joseph, 1969) collected authentic examples, largely from British gravestones. Here are two:
            Here lies Robert Wallis,
            Clerk of All Hallows,
            King of good fellows,
            And maker of bellows.
  He bellows did make till the day of his death,
  But he that made bellows could never make breath. (p. 53; Newcastle-upon-Tyne)
I poorly lived, and poorly died,
And when I was buried, nobody cried. (p. 89; Lillington)
Dorothy Parker's "Epitaph for a Darling Lady" makes light of the form.

Epithalamion:
lyric poem in praise of Hymen (the Greek god of marriage) or of a particular wedding, such as Edmund Spenser's "Epithalamion."

Epitrite:
Greek and Latin metrical foot consisting of short, long, long, and long syllables / ~ ' ' ' / in any order.

Epizenxis:
repetition of a word several times without connectives.

Epode (Greek, `sung after'):
the third section (or the stand) of a Pindaric ode, after the strophe and antistophe.

Euphony:
a pleasing harmony of sounds.

Eye-rhyme:
cf. Rhyme.

Exemplum:
a narrative that teaches a moral.

F

Fabliau:
a bawdy medieval verse narrative, originally French but adapted by Geoffrey Chaucer's in "The Miller's Tale," "The Reeve's Tale," "The Merchant's Tale," and others of The Canterbury Tales.

Feminine ending or rhyme:
see Rhyme.

Figure of speech:
one of many kinds of word-play, focusing either on sound and word-order (schemes) or on semantics (tropes). A figure of speech usually describes one thing in terms of another.

Fixed and unfixed forms:
see Alcaics, Alexandrine, Asclepiad, Aubade, Ballad, Ballade, Carol, Choka, Cinquain, Clerihew, Dizain, Double Dactyl, Dramatic monologue, Eclogue, Elegy, Epic, Epistle, Epithalamion, Fabliau, Free verse, Haiku, Heroic couplet, Idyll, Limerick, Madrigal, Mock epic, Ode, Ottava rima, Pastoral, Pattern poetry, Quatrain, Quintain, Renga, Reverdie, Rondeau, Rondel, Sestina, Sixain, Sonnet, Spenserian stanza, Tanka, Tercet, Terza rima, Terzain, Triolet, Villanelle, and Virelay.

The Fleshly School of Poetry:
the phrase that Robert Williams Buchanan coined for Dante Gabriel Rossetti and his imitators in a scathing review in The Contemporary Review in 1871.

Flyting:
a poem of invective by two speakers trying to out-humiliate one another.

Folk song:
popular, often anonymous sung lyrics that may be passed on by word-of-mouth originally before being compiled by scholars into literary collections.

Foot:
the basic unit of measurement of accentual-syllabic metre, usually thought to contain one stressed syllable and at least one unstressed syllable. The standard types of feet in English are iambic, trochaic, dactylic, anapestic, spondaic, and pyrrhic. Samuel Taylor Coleridge's poem "Metrical Feet" exemplifies the metre the first five, and of two classical measures, the amphibrach and the amphimacer (stressed feet are in boldface):
Trochee trips from long to short;
From long to long in solemn sort
Slow spondee stalks; strong foot! yet ill able
Ever to come up with Dactyl trisyllable.
Iambics march from short to long; --
With a leap and a bound the swift anapests throng;
One syllable long, with one short at each side,
Amphibrachys hastes with a stately stride; --
First and last being long, middle short, Amphimacer
Strikes his thundering hoofs like a proud high-bred Racer.

Formula:
an often repeated phrase, sometimes half-a-line long and metrically distinctive.

Found poem:
a passage in a piece of prose shaped by a reader into quasi-metrical lines and republished as a poem.

Fourteener:
cf. Poulter's Measure.

Free verse:
rhythmical but non-metrical, non-rhyming lines. These may have a deliberate rhythm or cadence but seem to disappoint the reader's expectation for a formal metre, such as iambic pentameter.

G

Georgian:
when characterizing poetry, work written in the reigns of the four Georges (1714-1830) or in the reign of George V (1910-36).

Georgic poems:
characterizing the life of the farmer.

Ghazal:
an Eastern verse form consisting of successive couplets whose lines all end with the same refrain phrase (the qafia), just before which is placed the couplet's rhyming word (radif). The last couplet includes the name of the poet.

Glyconic:
a Greek and Roman metre that consists of a spondee, a choriamb, and an iamb / ' ' / ' ~ ~ ' / ~ ' / .

Gnomic verse:
poems laced with proverbs, aphorisms, or maxims.

Graveyard School:
18th-century poets such as Thomas Gray, Robert Blair, and Edward Young who penned gloomy poems on death.

Grue:
slangy nickname for "gruesome" verse. Cf. sick verse.

H

Haiku, or hokku:
Japanese poem of three unrhyming lines in 5, 7, and 5 syllables. For example,
windshield wipers swish
and Monday fm blues say
melancholy grace
(I.L.)

Hemistich:
see Line.

Hendecasyllabic:
a Classical Greek and Latin metrical line consisting of eleven syllables, a spondee or trochee, a choriamb, and two iambs, the second of which has an additional syllable at the end / ' ' / ' ~ ~ ' / ~ ' / ~ ' /.

Hendiadys (Greek `one thing by two'):
a pair of nouns linked by "and" that are substituted for an adjective-noun pair. Shakespeare was especially fond of employing this structure.

Heptameter:
seven feet, a measure made up of seven feet (fourteeners). Examples are Chapman's translation of Homer's "Iliad," Edgar Allan Poe's "Annabel Lee," and Rudyard Kipling's "Tommy." Cf. Poulter's measure.

Heroic couplet:
See Couplet.

Hexameter:
six feet; sometimes termed hexapody, a six-part foot, one measure made up of six feet. An example is Ernest Dowson's "Non Sum Qualis."

Horatian ode:
see Ode.

Hovering stress:
a metrical accent that may apply to either of two sequential syllables, but not to both, and so seems to "hover" over them equally.

Hudibrastic poetry:
iambic tetrameter couplets like those in Samuel Butler's Hudibras.

Hymn:
a poem praising God or other divine being or place, often sung. E.g., Sabine Baring-Gould, John Henry Newman, Isaac Watts, Charles Wesley, and John Wesley.

Hyperbaton (Greek, `over-step'):
inversion of word-order, e.g., noun-adjective.

Hyperbole:
exaggeration beyond reasonable credence. An example is the close of John Donne's holy sonnet "Death, thou shalt die!"

Hypercatalectic:
see Catalectic.

Hypermetric:
a verse with one or more syllables than the metre calls for, a line with metrically redundant syllables.

I

Iamb, iambus:
a metrical foot consisting of an unaccented syllable followed by an accented one. This is the rhythm of ordinary English speech. Examples of iambic words are "divide" and "deter." Gerard Manley Hopkins' "The Windhover" begins deceptively with a line that appears to have five iambic feet, "I caught this morning morning's minion, king-", but that scans differently in his own sprung rhythm. A double foot termed the di-iamb / ~ ' ~ ' / was common in Classical Greek and Latin.

Iambic trimeter:
a Classical Greek and Latin metre with six iambic feet (also known in English as the Alexandrine).

Ictus:
the stress.

Idyll:
either a pastoral poem about shepherds or an epyllion, a brief epic that depicts a heroic episode. An example of the second is Alfred lord Tennyson's "Idylls of the King."

Image:
an expression that describes a literal sensation, whether of hearing, seeing, touching, tasting, and feeling.

Imagism:
a movement of early 20th-century poets who used colloquial, concise, and image-laden language, not poetic diction. These include Ezra Pound, T. E. Hulme, H.D., D. H. Lawrence, William Carlos Williams, and Amy Lowell.

In Memoriam stanza:
quatrain with the rhyme scheme abba (sometimes termed an envelope), written in iambic tetrameter, and named after Alfred lord Tennyson's poem of the same name.

Internal rhyme:
see rhyme.

Ionic:
a Classical Greek and Latin double foot consisting of two unstressed syllables and two stressed syllables, either ionic a majore / ' ' ~ ~ / or ionic a minore / ~ ~ ' ' /.

Irony:
stating something by saying another quite different thing, sometimes its opposite. An example is Sir Thomas Wyatt's "And I have leave to go, of her goodness" from his "They flee from me."

Isochronous metre:
all stressed syllables are separated in isochronous metre by equal duration of time no matter how many slacks or unstressed syllables occur between them.

Isocolon:
a line or lines that consist of clauses of equal length.

Italian sonnet:
see sonnet.

K

Kenning:
a compound word in Old English poetry that replaces the usual name for something, often involving metonymy.
Kyrielle:
a Middle French verse form composed of quatrains which each share the same second and fourth lines. An English example is Thomas Campion's "With broken heart and contrite sigh."

L

Light verse:
whimsical, amusing poems such as limericks, nonsense poems, and double dactyls, practised by such as Robert Herrick, Tom Hood, Charles Stuart Calverley, Edward Lear, Lewis Carroll, Gelett Burgess, Frederick Locker-Lampman, Dorothy Parker, Eugene O'Neill, Odgen Nash, T. S. Eliot, John Betjeman, John Hollander, and Wendy Cope.

Limerick:
a fixed verse form appearing first in The History of Sixteen Wonderful Old Women (1820), popularized by Edward Lear, and rhyming aabba, where a-lines have five feet and the b-lines three feet, and where the first and last lines end with the same word (a practice dropped in the 20th century). A limerick has been defined as "A comic poem consisting of one couplet of accentual Poulter's Measure with fixed (internal) rhyme: 3aa2bb3a" (Malof, 204). Lear fused the third and fourth lines into a single line with internal rhyme. See examples authored by such as Gelett Burgess and A. H. Reginald Buller.

Line:
a unit of verse whose length is prescribed by a criterion other than the right-hand margin of the page (e.g., a certain length in syllables, meeting a boundary rhyming word, completing a phrase).

Little Willy:
a comic verse form, often a quatrain rhyming aabb but really identified by its content, the gruesome fate of "Little Willy" or a comparable figure. The form, popularized by Harry Graham (1874-1936), includes the well-known
Billy, in one of his nice new sashes,
Fell in the fire and was burnt to ashes;
Now, although the room grows chilly,
I haven't the heart to poke poor Willie.
(The Norton Book of Light Verse, ed. Russell Baker [New York: W. W. Norton, 1986]: 304). For another example, see Eugene Field's "Little Willy."

Litotes (`small'):
a deliberate understatement.

Liverpool poets:
a 1960s group of popular writers from the west-England city of Liverpool, including Adrian Henri, Roger McGough, and Brian Patten.

Luc-bat (Vietnamese, `six-eight'):
a Vietnamese poetic form of syllablic couplets, alternating six and eight syllables, where the first eight-syllable line rhymes with the next six-syllable line, and so on.

Lyric:
short poem in which the poet, the poet's persona, or a speaker expresses personal feelings, and often addressed to the reader (originally, a poem sung to a lyre).

M

Macaronic verse:
poems that consist of expressions in more than one language. John Skelton wrote several poems in this manner.

Madrigal:
an Italian short poem or part song suitable for singing by three or more voices, first appearing in England in the anthology Musica Transalpina. There is no fixed rhyme scheme or line length. For example, the anonymous "My Love in her Attire doth shew her wit.

Maker:
a medieval and early Renaissance term for `poet.'

Masculine ending or rhyme:
see rhyme.

Metaphor:
a comparison that is made literally, either by a verb (for example, John Keats' "Beauty is truth, truth beauty" from his "Ode on a Grecian Urn") or, less obviously, by a combination of adjective and noun, noun and verb, etc. (for example, Shakespeare's sonnet on the "the marriage of true minds"), but in any case without pointing out a similarity by using words such as "as," "like," or "than."

Metaphysical poets:
John Donne (1572-1631) and his imitators, including George Herbert, Andrew Marvell, Abraham Cowley, Richard Crashaw, and Henry Vaughan, whose works are characterized (not exclusively) by colloquial diction, esoteric conceits, irony, and metrically irregular lines. Dryden first characterized Donne in this way.

Metonymy (Greek, "name change"):
a figure of speech in which the poet substitutes a word normally associated with something for the term usually naming that thing (for example, "big-sky country" for western Canada). The association can be cause-and-effect, attribute-of, instrument-for, etc.

Metre (Greek, "measure"):
the rhythm of verse, reduceable to one of four kinds, accentual, syllabic, accentual-syllabic, and quantitative. Also sometimes called `number(s).'

Miltonic sonnet:
see Sonnet.

Mock epic:
a poem amusingly subverting the conventions of the epic, more often to comment on a topic satirically than to make fun of the epic. Examples are John Dryden's Mac Flecknoe, and Alexander Pope's The Rape of the Lock and The Dunciad.

Mock-heroic:
treating something trivial with high seriousness, as in John Philips' The Splendid Shilling.

Molossus:
Greek and Latin metrical foot consisting of long, long, and long syllables / ' ' ' /.

Monometer:
one foot; sometimes termed monopody, a single foot, one measure made up of one foot. For example, the well-known
Madam,
I'm Adam.
or two central lines of each stanza in George Herbert's "Easter Wings."

Motif:
an image or action in a literary work that is shared by other works and that is sometimes thought to belong to a collective unconsciousness.

Muses:
William Bullokar's English dictionary (1616) explains them as "The feyned goddesses of poetry, and musicke, which were nine in number and daughters vnto Iupiter and Mnemosyne: Their names were Cleio, Melpomene, Thaleia, Euterpe, Terpsichore, Erato, Calliope, Vrania and Polymneia."

Naga-uta:
Japanese form of indeterminate length that alternates lines of five and seven syllables and ends with an additional seven-syllable line.

N

Negative capability:
John Keats, in a letter of October 27, 1818, suggested that a poet, possessing the power to eliminate his own personality, can take on the qualities of something else and write most effectively about it.

Neoclassicism
a "new classicism," as in the writings of early 18th-century writers like Addison and Pope who imitated classical Greek and Latin authors.

Neologism:
a newly-coined word, like Lewis Carroll's "Jabberwocky."

Nonsense verse:
lines that read like word-salad, where individually the terms may be recognizable but in their order and grammatical relations make no sense, or where common words accompany neologisms in expressions intended to mystify and amuse. Examples are Noam Chomsky's (prose) "Colourless green ideas sleep furiously" and Lewis Carroll's "All mimsy were the borogoves" from his "Jabberwocky."

O

Objectification:
a figure of speech where the poet treats an abstract thing or object as if it were a place. Edmund Spenser's House of Holiness in the first book of the Faerie Queene is an example.

Objective correlative:
T. S. Eliot used this phrase to describe "a set of objects, a situation, a chain of events which shall be the formula of that Particular emotion" that the poet feels and hopes to evoke in the reader ("Hamlet and His Problems", 1919).

Occasional poem:
a poem written to describe or comment on a particular event or occasion. Examples are Andrew Marvell's "Horatian Ode" and Alfred lord Tennyson's "The Charge of the Light Brigade."

Occupatio:
a figure of rhetoric where a writer explains that he or she will not have time or space to say something but then goes on to say that thing anyway, possibly at length.

Octameter:
a verse containing eight feet. Algernon Charles Swinburne's "March: an Ode," Robert Browning's "A Toccata of Galuppi's," and Edgar Allan Poe's "The Raven" are among the few examples of an English poem written in octometers.

Octave:
an eight-line stanza or poem, of which there are several types: See also Sonnet.

Octosyllabic:
having eight syllables.

Ode:
a poem of high seriousness with irregular stanzaic forms.

Onomatopeia (Greek `name-making'):
an instance where the sound of a word directly imitates its meaning (for example, "choo-choo," "hiss"), sometimes termed echoism.

Ottava rima:
an Italian stanza of eight 11-syllable lines, with the rhyme scheme abababcc, introduced by Sir Thomas Wyatt and by W. B. Yeats in "Among School Children" and "Sailing to Byzantium," and adapted by Lord Byron as ten-syllable lines in his Don Juan and Beppo.

Overstatement:
see Hyperbole.

Oxymoron:
an expression impossible in fact but not necessarily self-contradictory, such as John Milton's description of Hell as "darkness visible" in Book I of Paradise Lost.

P

Paeon:
Greek and Latin metrical foot consisting of three short and one long syllables: the first paeon / ' ~ ~ ~ /, the second paeon / ~ ' ~ ~ /, the third paeon / ~ ~ ' ~ /, and the fourth paeon / ~ ~ ~ ' /.

Palindromes:
Thomas Blount's English dictionary (1656) explains that "Palindromes (Gr.) are those sentences or verses, where the syllables are the same backward as forward. As a noble Lady in Queen Elizabeths time, being for a time forbidden the Court, for too much familiarity with a great Lord in favour, gave this Devise, the Moon covered with a cloud, and underneath this Palindrome for Motto. Ablata, at alba. A great Lawyer this, Si nummi, immunis. Which may be Englished thus, Give me my fee I'le warrant you free. roma tibi subito motibus ibit amor. And this in English, which is more hard, comes near a true Palindrome, Lewd did I live, and evil did I dwel."

Palinode:
an ode or song that retracts what the poet wrote in a previous poem; a recantation.

Panegyric:
a poem in great praise of someone or something.

Pantoum:
A French verse form of four quatrains that repeats entire lines in a strict pattern, 1234, 2546, 5768, 7183. E.g.,
1 My iambs walk the line
2 Trochees cannot salute,
3 As anapests decline
4 And dactyls follow suit.

2 Trochees cannot salute,
5 Delaying this pantoum,
4 And dactyls follow suit,
6 Eschew a pyrrhic tune

5 Delaying this pantoum.
7 Never mind sestinas,
6 Eschew a pyrrhic tune,
8 Amazing terza rimas!

7 Never mind sestinas!
1 My iambs walk the line,
8 Amazing terza rimas
3 As anapests decline.

(I.L.)

Pantun
Mayan antecedent of the pantoum, with a single quatrain, rhyming aabb, couplets that at first reading seem to have nothing to do with one another. For example,
Professors talk and talk and talk, a lot;
Their students mumble, stare, and doze, somewhat.
Leno and Letterman go head-to-head
On TV just before we go to bed.
(I.L.)

Paradox:
a self-contradictory phrase or sentence, such as "the ascending rain" or Alexander Pope's description of man, "Great lord of all things, yet a prey to all." Don Marquis's "quote buns by great men quote" (archys life of mehitabel [London: Faber and Faber, 1934]: 103-04), describes a drunk trying to go up a down-escalator as "falling upwards / through the night" (the poem also parodies Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's "St. Augustine").

Parallelism:
two or more expressions that share traits, whether metrical, lexical, figurative, or grammatical, and can take the form of a list.

Paralipsis (Greek `false omission'):
a figure of thought where less information is supplied than appears to be called for by the circumstances.

Parataxis:
linking clauses just by sequencing them, often without conjunction(s) and only by means of associations that are implied, not stated.

Parody:
a not-uncomplimentary send-up of another work, such as Geoffrey Chaucer's "Sir Thopas" in The Canterbury Tales. Wendy Cope adds many expert modern parodies in her Making Cocoa for Kingsley Amis (1986).

Paronomasia (Greek `naming'):
punning, a play of meaning by yoking similar-sounding words. See Pun.

Pastiche:
work patched together from excerpts of other writers, or from passages clearly recognizable as imitating others.

Pastoral:
following Theocritus (3rd cent. B.C.), verse about those shepherds and their beloveds who lived the simple vice-free life in Arcadia, a mountainous region in the Peloponnese of Greece. Also termed bucolic, eclogues, and idylls.

Pathetic fallacy:
an expression that endows inanimate things with human feelings.

Pattern poetry:
verse that creates the shape of its subject typographically on the page (and thus also called "shape poetry"). George Herbert's "Easter Wings" and Lewis Carroll's story of a cat and a mouse in Alice in Wonderland, chapter III, are examples.

PEN:
acronym for the association, Poets, Playwrights, Editors, Essayists and Novelists (1921-).

Pentameter:
five feet; sometimes termed pentapody, a five-part foot, one measure made up of five feet. Iambic pentameter or cinquepace is the rhythm of so-called English `heroic' verse of ten syllables.

Periphrasis:
using a wordy phrase to describe something for which one term exists.

Persona:
the speaker of a poem, a dramatic character distinguished from the poet, such as Robert Browning's "Fra Lippo Lippi."

Personification:
an anthropomorphic figure of speech where the poet describes an abstraction, a thing, or a non-human form as if it were a person. William Blake's "O Rose, thou art sick!" is an example, but not "Oh Rose, you smashed up the Chevy again!"

Petrarchan sonnet:
see Sonnet.

Phonemic alphabet:
the twelve vowel sounds and twenty-two consonant sounds that make up spoken English, normally encoded between virgules / /.

Pherecratean:
a Classical Greek and Latin metrical pattern consisting of an iamb or a trochee, a dactyl, and a trochee or a spondee.

Phonolexis:
a term coined by Philip Davies Roberts to describe "meaning conveyed through phonemic connotation limited to speakers of a particular language" (How Poetry Works: The Elements of English Poetry [Penguin, 1986]: 53-54). For example, the nonce-word "oombaloo" has connotations of "a billowing, clumpy" drawing rather than a pointy, spiked one.

Pindaric ode:
see Sonnet.

Pleonasm:
unnecessary verbiage, redundancy as in "It was a dark and lightless night."

Poetic diction:
a conventional subset of English vocabulary, phrasing, and grammatical usage judged appropriate for verse through its continuous usage by approved poets from the 18th century on and including effects like periphrasis and Latinate terminology. See Aureate diction.

Poem:
defined by Samuel Johnson in his great dictionary (1755) as "The work of a poet; a metrical composition."

Poesy:
the art and craft of making poems, or the poems themselves.

Poetaster:
"A vile petty poet" (Samuel Johnson, 1755).

Poetic license:
the freedom to depart from correctness and grammaticality sometimes extended to poets by generous readers who believed that the poets knew better but needed such effects to be true to their subject.

Poet Laureate:
Apollo degreed that poets should receive laurels as a prize. The British crown created the post of Poet Laureate in 1688 and awarded it to poets for life.

Poetry:
a form of speech or writing that harmonizes the music of its language with its subject. To read a great poem is to bring out the perfect marriage of its sound and thought in a silent or voiced performance. At least from the time of Aristotle's Poetics, drama was conceived of as a species of poetry.

Poet's corner:
an area in the south transept of Westminster Abbey that holds monuments (or graves) for such as Geoffrey Chaucer, William Shakespeare, Edmund Spenser, Ben Jonson, John Milton, Michael Drayton, Samuel Butler, Aphra Behn, John Gay, Lord Byron, T. S. Eliot, and W. H. Auden.

Polyptoton:
repetition of the same word in different forms, achieved by varying the case, adding affixes, etc.

Polysyndeton:
a figure of speech where successive clauses or phrases are linked by one or more conjunctions.

Portmanteau word:
Lewis Carroll's phrase for a neologism created by combining two existing words. His "Jabberwocky," for example, fuses "lithe" and a term like "slight" or "slimy" to produce "slithy" in the line "'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves."

Poulter's Measure:
couplets in which a twelve-syllable line rhymes with a fourteen-syllable line. Chapman uses this form in his translation of Homer. Hymn writers split the couplet into a quatrain (6 6 8 6), as did ballad writers (8 6 8 6). Limericks can be scanned as Poulter's Measure.

Prizes for poetry:
examples include the Bollingen, (British) Arts Council, Queen's Gold Medal for Poetry, Newdigate Prize (Oxford), Poetry Society of America, Pulitzer Prize, and the Whitbread Literary Award. Prizes are no guarantee of quality.

Prose poem:
continuous, non-end-stopped writing that has other traits of poetry and is, from its context, associated with poems.

Proceleus maticus:
a Classical Greek and Latin foot having four short syllables.

Prolepsis:
anticipation.

Prosody:
see Metre.

Prosopopoeia (Greek `making a person'):
lending speech to something inanimate. See also Personification.

Prothalamion:
see Epithalamion.

Pun:
an expression that uses a homonym (two different words spelled identically) to deliver two or more meanings at the same time. For example, "When Professor Fudge asked his graduate students to bring a really good lay to the next class, their collective opinion of the scholar went up a notch."

Pure poetry:
verse that aims to delight rather than to instruct the reader.

Purple passage:
lines that stand out from a longer poem because of their vivid diction or figures of speech, and perhaps because of the agitated flush that rises in the face of someone trying to recite it.

Pyrrhic:
a metrical foot consisting of two unaccented syllables.

Pythiambic:
a Classical Greek and Latin metrical form, dactylic hexameter and iambic trimeter couplets.

Q

Quadruplet:
a four-syllable foot.

Quantitative metre:
lines whose rhythm depends on the duration or length of time a line takes to utter. That duration depends on whether a syllable is long or short. Edmund Spenser's "Iambicum Trimetrum" is an example of trying to adapt, in English, a metre natural to Greek and Latin.

Quatrain:
a four-line stanza, rhyming

Quintain:
a five-line stanza, such as a limerick or Edmund Waller's "Go lovely rose." Also called a cinquain.

R

Refrain:
one or more lines repeated before or after the stanzas of a poem.

Renga:
Japanese form comprising half-tanka written by different poets.

Reverdie:
a medieval song celebrating the coming of spring, such as "Sumer is icumen in" and "Lenten ys Come with Loue to Toune," modernized in poems such as the opening of T. S. Eliot's The Waste Land.

Rhetorical question:
the poet asks a question without expecting to learn anything from the response, or to pose any difficulty for the reader, the answer being something that the poet already implies and the reader infers.

Rhopalic verse (Greek, `like a club'):
poems whose lines start short and get longer and longer.

Rhyme:
normally end-rhyme, that is, lines of verse characterized by the consonance of terminal words or syllables. Rhymed words conventionally share all sounds following the word's last stressed syllable. Thus "tenacity" and "mendacity" rhyme, but not "jaundice" and "John does," or "tomboy" and "calm bay." The rhyme scheme is usually the pattern of end-rhymes in a stanza, each rhyme being encoded by a letter of the alphabet from a onwards. See also Alliteration, Assonance, Consonance, Onomatopoeia, and Rime couée.

Rhyme royal, rime royale:
a stanza of seven ten-syllable lines, rhyming ababbcc, popularized by Geoffrey Chaucer in Troilus and Criseyde and The Parliament of Fowls, and termed "royal" because his imitator, James I of Scotland, employed it in The Kingis Quair. The stanza can be described as overlapping an interlaced quatrain (abab) with a double-couplet quatrain (bbcc), or as linking a tercet with a pair of couplets. Later examples are Sir Thomas Wyatt's "They flee from me" William Shakespeare's "The Rape of Lucrece" and "A Lover's Complaint" (in his volume of sonnets), John Milton's "Ode on the Morning of Christ's Nativity," and William Wordsworth's "Resolution and Independence."

Rhythm (Greek, `flow'):
an audible metrical pattern inside verse boundaries established by the pause.

Rime couée:
tail rhyme, a stanza in which a usually closing short line rhymes with a previous short line and is separated from it by longer lines.

Romance:
long narrative poems in French about courtly culture and secret love that triumphed in English with poems such as Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and Chaucer's The Knight's Tale and Troilus and Criseyde.

Romanticism:
the late 18th-century, early 19th-century period of Wordsworth, Coleridge, Keats, Shelley, and Byron.

Rondeau:
a mainly octosyllabic poem consisting of between ten and fifteen lines, having only two rhymes and with the opening words used twice as an unrhyming refrain at the end of the second and third stanzas. The ten-line version rhymes abbaabC abbaC (where the capital C stands for the refrain). The fifteen-line version often rhymes aabba aabC aabbaC. Chaucer's "Now welcome, summer" at the close of The Parliament of Fowls is an example of a thirteen-line rondeau.

Rondel, roundel:
poetic forms of 11-14 lines where the first two lines are repeated in the middle and at the end, and that have only two rhymes. Algernon Charles Swinburne's "The Roundel" consists of eleven lines, two stanzas, where the first two lines are repeated, the second time at the poem's end.

Roundelay:
a lyric poems with a refrain.

S

Sapphic verse:
see Ode.

Scansion:
the scanning of verse, that is, dividing it into metrical feet and identifying its rhythm by encoding stressed syllables (stresses, ictus) and unstressed syllables (slacks). Conventional English graphic notation is:

Other notations, such as the musical and the acoustic, are less employed in the study of poetry. Paul Fussell, in his classic Poetic Meter & Poetic Form, revised edition (McGraw-Hill, 1979), recommends that the metre of a poem be represented by letters of the alphabet, separated by spaces, with a concluding exponent signifying the line length in feet. Enlaced pentameter quatrains, for example, would be coded abba5 (22-23).

To simplify, scanning has at least three steps, the first two technical, and the third aesthetic.

  1. Infer the poem's theoretical metrical form (say, that it is a sonnet, villanelle, quatrains, etc.) and the basic rhythm (iambic pentameter, anapestic dimeter, etc.), and encode it on the text. This is the base scansion, and it insists on a steady beat.
  2. Speak the poem as if it were ordinary speech and superimpose on the text a parallel group of codes for its conversational rendering. This is the natural scansion, and it resists a regular beat.
  3. Compare the two scansions and isolate the differences between them. Choose, difference by difference, according to how you read the poem's content. For example, if the poem is a dramatic monologue, empasize the rhythms of speech (cadence); and if the poem is song-like, playful, or musical, impose the theoretical base scansion more often than not. By imposing the base metrical scansion, that of the poetic form, you will often de-stress naturally-accented syllables, stress slack syllables, extend the syllables in a word (e.g., pronouncing "actual" as `ak-chew-el' rather than `ak-shal'), or delete syllables from a word by elision (e.g., pronouncing "ever" as `ere').

Scheme:
figure of speech that varies the order and sound of words. Examples include alliteration, assonance, chiasmus, and rhyme.

scop:
the name for an Old English poet-singer.

Septet:
a seven-line stanza. See also Rhyme royal.

Sestet:
a six-line stanza, or the final six lines of a 14-line Italian or Petrarchan sonnet.

Sestina:
a poem consisting of six six-line stanzas and a three-line envoy, where the words ending the lines of the first stanza are repeated in a different order at the end of lines in each of the subsequent five stanzas and, two to a line, in the middle and at the end of the three lines in the closing envoy. The patterns of word-repetitions are as follows:
1 2 3 4 5 6
6 1 5 2 4 3
3 6 4 1 2 5
5 3 2 6 1 4
4 5 1 3 6 2
2 4 6 5 3 1
(6 2) (1 4) (5 3)
Examples are Algernon Charles Swinburne's "Complaint of Lisa," and Algernon Charles Swinburne's "Sestina," W. H. Auden's "Paysage Moralisé," and Donald Hall's "Hang it all, Ezra Pound, there is only one sestina." Sir Philip Sidney's "You goat-herd gods, that love the grassie mountaines" is a double sestina.

Shakespearean sonnet:
see Sonnet.

Sick verse:
mordant, black-humoured or horrific works such as Edgar Allan Poe's "The Raven," Robert Browning's "`Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came'," and Robert Service's "The Cremation of Sam McGee." This term was popularized by George Macbeth's anthology Penguin Book of Sick Verse (1963).

Silent stress:
a noticeable pause or musical rest with all the value of a beat in highly rhythmic verse. An example is the caesura that appears at the end of the first lines in (spoken-aloud) nursery rhymes such as
Ding dong bell,
Pussy's in the well
(Philip Davies Roberts, How Poetry Works: The Elements of English Poetry [Penguin, 1986]: 22-23, 33).

Simile:
a comparison made with "as," "like," or "than."

Singlet:
a one-syllable foot.

Sextain:
a stanza or poem or six lines:

Skeltonic verse:
short, roughhewn lines in variable-length stanzas reusing a small number of rhymes, popularized by John Skelton.

Slack:
unstressed syllable.

Sonnet (Italian, "little song"):
in the Renaissance, a brief song or lyric of indeterminate rhyme scheme, but also a 14-line poem patterned on forms popularized by Petrarch, Wyatt, Surrey, Spenser, and Shakespeare. Samuel Johnson (1755) glossed his definition, "It is not very suitable to the English language, and has not been used by any man of eminence since Milton."
See also Corona.

Spasmodic School:
P. J. Bailey, Sydney Dobell, Alexander Smith and other late Romantic, early Victorian minor poets.

Spenserian stanza:
the unit of Edmund Spenser's Faerie Queene, consisting of eight iambic-pentameter lines and a final alexandrine, and having the rhyme scheme ababbcbcc, or two interlaced quatrains overlapping with a concluding couplet. Later examples are Robert Burns' "The Cottager's Saturday Night," John Keats' "The Eve of St. Agnes," Percy Bysshe Shelley's "Adonais," and Alfred lord Tennyson's "The Lotos-Eaters."

Spondee:
a metrical foot consisting of two accented syllables / ' ' /. An example of a spondaic word is "hog-wild." The di-spondee / ' ' ' ' / is a Classical Greek and Latin metrical foot.

Sprung rhythm:
a metrical system devised by Gerard Manley Hopkins that has 1-to-4-syllable feet, each starting with a stressed syllable (sometimes a foot by itself), where the spondee replaces the iamb as a dominant measure, and where rests and multiple non-stressed syllables can be discounted in scansion. His own verse illustrates its use, but there have been almost no imitators.

Stanza (Italian, `a stopping place'):
a group of verses separated from other such groups in a poem and often sharing a common rhyme scheme.

Stichomythia (Greek `line-speech'):
dialogue in alternate verse-lines.

Stress:
a syllable uttered in a higher pitch than others. The language determines how English words are stressed, but sentence structure, semantics, and metre can alter that encoding.

Strophe (Greek, `turn'):
the section of a Greek ode sung when the chorus turns from one side of the orchestra to the other.

Sublime:
the main characteristic of great poetry, Longinus held, was sublimity or high, grand, ennobling seriousness.

Syllabic verse:
lines whose rhythm arises by the number of its syllables. Examples include Thomas Nashe's "Adieu, farewell earth's bliss," Robert Bridges' "Cheddar Pinks," Marianne Moore's "Poetry" (whose stanzas consist of lines regularly having -- in sequence -- 19, 22, 7 or 11, 5, 8, and 13 syllables), and Dylan Thomas' "Poem in October."

Syllable:
a vowel preceded by from zero to three consonants ("awl" ... "strand"), and followed by from zero to four consonants ("too" ... "sixths").

Symbol (Greek, `to throw together'):
something in the world of the senses, including an action, that manifests (reveals) or signifies (is a sign for or a pointer to) a thing, or what is abstract, otherworldly, or numinous. Samuel Johnson (1755) termed it "A type; that which comprehends in its figure a representation of something else." A word denotes, refers to, or labels something in the world, but a symbol, as a thing in the world (to which a word, of course, may point), has a concreteness not shared by language and points to something, often what transcends ordinary experience. Any tree, for example, arguably symbolizes tree-ness, a Platonic form. Any image or action termed a Jungian archetype is also symbolic in that it manifests something in the collective unconscious of human beings. Writers often use symbols when they believe in a transcendental reality. A metaphor compares two or more things that are no more and no less real than anything else in the world. For a metaphor to be symbolic, one of its pair of elements must manifest or reveal yet something else transcendental. Cleanth Brooks and Robert Penn Warren in Understanding Poetry (3rd edn., 1960), however, say that "The symbol may be regarded as a metaphor from which the first term has been omitted" (556).

Symbolist Movement:
late 19th-century French writers, including Mallarmé and Valéry, whose verse dealt with transcendental phenomena or with images and actions whose meaning was associative rather than referential.

Synaeresis, synaloepha:
the contraction of two syllables into one, for metrical purposes, by changing two adjacent syllables into a diphthong. Paul Fussell gives as an example the first line of John Milton's Paradise Lost, "Of man's first disobedience, and the fruit," in which "the ie in disobedience changes to what is called a y-glide, and the word becomes disobed-yence" (26). Cf. elision.

Syncope:
the elision of an unstressed syllable so as to keep to a strict accentual-syllabic metre. This can be managed by dropping either a consonant ("ever" to "e'er") or a vowel ("the apple" to "th'apple").

Syzygy (Greek, `yoke'):
using different types of feet (e.g., iambic and trochaic) in the same verse.

Synecdoche (Greek, "a receiving together"):
a figure of speech where the part stands for the whole (for example, "I've got wheels" for "I have a car"). One expression that combines synecdoche and metonymy (in which a word normally associated with something is substituted for the term usually naming that thing) is "boob tube," meaning "television."

Synesthesia:
a blending of different senses in describing something.

T

Tanka:
Japanese form of five lines with five, seven, five, seven, and seven syllables, 31 in all. English examples exist by Amy Lowell and Adelaide Crapsey. E.g.,
A golf ball in flight
marks out a delicately
skewed parabola
that fractals on embracing
greenly arithmetic turf.
(I.L.)

Tautology:
a statement redundant in itself, such as "The stars, O astral bodies!"

Telestich:
spelling out a word, a phrase, or name vertically in sequence down the last letters of verse lines in a poem. See also Acrostic.

Tercet, terzet:
a rhyming triplet, found in sequences such as

Terza rima:
an Italian stanzaic form, used by Dante in his Divina Commedia, consisting of tercets with interwoven rhymes, aba bcb dcd efe ... and a concluding couplet rhyming with the penultimate line of the last tercet. The original Italian form was iambic pentameter, plus one syllable. Examples in English are Sir Thomas Wyatt's "Of the Mean and the Sure Estate," Percy Bysshe Shelley's "Ode to the West Wind," and Robert Browning's "The Statue and the Bust."

Terzain:
a stanza of three lines.

Tetrameter:
four feet, a measure made up of four feet. Shakespeare's "Fear no more the heat of the sun" is an example.

Theme:
a prevailing idea in a work, but sometimes not explicitly stated, as in Ogden Nash's "Candy is dandy, / But liquor is quicker," which is about neither candy nor liquor.

Tone:
the poet's attitude to the poem's subject as the reader interprets that, sometimes through the tone of the persona or speaker (who may feel quite differently).

Tornada:
a three-line envoy that include the rhymes of all preceding stanzas.

Travesty:
a work that deflates something that is treated by another work with high seriousness.

Tribrach:
Greek and Latin metrical foot consisting of short, short, and short syllables / ~ ~ ~ /.

Trimeter:
three feet; sometimes termed tripody, a triple foot, one measure made up of three feet. An example is Percy Bysshe Shelley's "To a Skylark," which uses trochaic trimeters for the first two lines of each stanza.

Triolet:
an eight-line stanza having just two rhymes and repeating the first line as the fourth and seventh lines, and the second line as the eighth. Examples are W. E. Henley's "Easy is the Triolet" and Robert Bridges' "When first we met we did not guess."

Triplet:
a three-syllable foot, or a three-line stanza, with a single rhyme. For example, Robert Herrick's "Upon Julia's Clothes."

Trochee:
a metrical foot consisting of an accented syllable followed by an unaccented syllable. Examples of trochaic words include "garden" and "highway." William Blake opens "The Tyger" with a predominantly trochaic line: "Tyger! Tyger! burning bright." Edgar Allan Poe's "The Raven" is mainly trochaic. There is also a Classical Greek and Latin double foot termed the di-trochee / ' ~ ' ~ /.

Trope (`turn'):
a semantic figure of speech or of thought that varies the meaning of a word or passage. Examples include metaphor, metonymy, objectification, and personification.

U

Ubi sunt (French, `where are they?'):
a medieval commonplace that reveals the mutability of all things, the loss of all through death, by posing a series of questions that ask where the strong, the beautiful, and the good have gone. Examples are Thomas Nashe's "Beauty is but a flower" and D. G. Rossetti's translation of François Villon's "The Ballad of Dead Ladies."

Understatement:
see "Litotes."

V

Vers de société:
sophisticated light verse of a kind appealing to the gentry. Poets writing in this vein include Charles Stuart Calverley, Frederick Locker Lampson, and John Betjeman.

Vers libre (French, `free verse'):
see free verse.

Verse:
as a mass noun, poetry in general (but in a non-judgmental sense); and, as a regular noun, a line of poetry.

Verse paragraph:
a group of verse lines that make up a discourse unit, the first verse of which is sometimes indented, like a paragraph in prose.

Victorian:
verse written in the reign of Victoria, from 1837 to 1903.

Villanelle:
an Italian verse form consisting of five three-line stanzas (tercets) and a final quatrain, possessing only two rhymes, repeating the first and third lines of the first stanza alternately in the following stanzas, and combining those two refrain lines into the final couplet in the quatrain. Examples are W. E. Henley's "A Dainty Thing's the Villanelle," John Davidson's "Battle," Oscar Wilde's "Theocritus," Eugene O'Neill's "Villanelle of Ye Young Poet's First Villanelle to his Ladye and Ye Difficulties Thereof," E. A. Robinson's "The House on the Hill," and Dylan Thomas' "Do not Go Gentle into that Good Night."

Virelay:
a medieval French poetic form, consisting of short lines in stanzas with only two rhymes, where the final rhyme of one stanza becomes the main rhyme of the next.

Voiced and unvoiced:
consonants are voiced when the vocal cords move (/b/) and unvoiced when they remain still (/p/).

W

Wheel:
an alliterative rhyming quatrain with four-stress lines that follows the so-called bob, known together as a bob-and-wheel.

Z

Zeugma (Greek `yoke'):
Thomas Thomas's Latin-English dictionary (1587) translates this as "A figure whereby many clauses are ioyned with one verb," but zeugma also describes the linking of two nouns with a verb as long as the verb's meaning is altered in the shift from one noun to another.