Glossary of Poetic Terminology
Aesthetics: the philosophy or theory of artistic beauty.
Allegory: a figurative device in which abstractions are personified as individual characters. Common in medieval poetry.
Alliteration: the repetition of consonants for certain effects. Before rhyme was used in English poetry, alliteration was the chief means of achieving musical and memorable effects, as in alliterative verse.
Ballad: a short narrative poem, originally a song and maintaining strong links with the oral tradition. The ballad usually deals with a single event in straightforward language.
Blank verse: poetry written in unrhymed iambic pentameters, as in Milton’s Paradise Lost.
Caesura: a discernible pause, usually occurring about the middle of a line of poetry, sometimes used by poets for particular effects.
Closure: the ending of the poem.
Couplet: paired lines of verse, often rhyming.
Dramatic monologue: poem in which a particular persona speaks to a supposed audience.
Elegy: a serious, formal poem of celebration or commemoration, usually though not always written on the occasion of a death.
Epic: a long, serious narrative poem, typically articulating a historical, national or mythological narrative.
Foot: a regularised, repeated unit of stress in a poetic line; a pattern of stressed (/) and unstressed (x) syllables. These are some of the most common metrical feet:
anapaest x x /
choriamb / x x /
cretic ( or amphimacer) / x /
dactyl / x x
dibrach (or pyrrhic) x x
iamb x /
spondee / /
trochee / x
Free verse: poetry not structured according to a set metrical pattern and usually irregular in line length.
Haiku: a three-line poem, usually imagistic, derived from the Japanese tradition. The first and third lines have five syllables and the second line has seven. A tanka has five lines with a five, seven, five, seven, seven-syllable pattern.
Heroic couplet: rhyming couplets in iambic pentameters, characterized by internal symmetry or parallelism across the couplet and, within lines, across the caesura. Historically associated with Augustan poetry.
Image: a word or words usually used figuratively, invoking sense perceptions; Imagery: is the collective term for images, usually in the single poem.
Internal rhyme: the rhyming words within the line of poetry.
Limerick: almost exclusively used for comic (often rude or indecent) verse, made up of five lines of varied length, rhymed aabba with a distinctive anapaestic rhythm.
Long line: a non-metrical poetic line of greater than usual length.
Lyric: literally meaning to be sung accompanied by the lyre, lyric has come to mean a short poem usually expressive of the poet’s emotions.
Metaphor: a figure of speech whereby one thing or idea is represented by implicit comparison with another. It is distinct from simile in making a more compressed and implicit association between the things or ideas, and from metonymy in that there be no prior association between them.
Metonymy: figure of speech whereby a thing or idea is represented by another thing or idea that has some association with it, as in ‘the gate’ being used to represent the attendance at a football match.
Metre: stress patterns; the pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables in verse.
Narrative poem: a poem that tells a story. Types of narrative poem include ballad, epic and romance.
Ode: an extended meditative lyric, especially associated with the commemoration of public events and often ceremonial in tone and diction.
Pentameter: a poetic line of five metrical feet.
Prose poem: a poem which although printed as prose, usually of a paragraph or so in length, exploits linguistic resources such as compression, imagery and non-literal language that are characteristic of poetry.
Quatrain: a four-line stanza.
Rap: a form of performance poetry, often improvised, similar to dub in being mixed with distinctive music having a heavy beat.
Reggae: West Indian music with a heavy beat, often utilised by dub poets.
Rhyme: the matching of sounds of syllables at the ends of lines of verse. Since the Middle Ages rhyme has been a significant element in aiding poetry’s memorability,
and while it continues to have an importance in poetry, it is by no means a distinguishing characteristic of poetry in English.
Rhyme scheme: a way of representing the pattern of rhyme in a poem or stanza. The first vowel sound is designated ‘a’ and each similar sound is also designated ‘a’, the second ‘b’ and so on.
Rhythm: the pattern of beats or stresses in a poetic line, conveying a sense of movement or harmony.
Romanticism: a literary movement of the early nineteenth century typically characterized by self-expression and emotionalism, and sometimes by the use of informal poetic language and radical politics. More generally taken to denote any poetry or poetics founded on self-expression.
Simile: an explicit comparison between two things or ideas, usually signalled by ‘as’ or ‘like’.
Sonnet literally ‘little song’, a poem of fourteen iambic pentameter lines with various rhyme schemes.
Stanza a group of poetic lines, often repeated according to a fixed pattern throughout a poem.
Stress: the emphasis placed on a particular syllable or syllables in a word. For instance, in the word crimson, the first syllable is stressed and the second unstressed. Metre is the formal patterning of stressed and unstressed syllables.
Symbol: an image that represents itself and or one or more other things or concepts.
Synecdoche: figure of speech, a variation of metonymy, in which a part is made to represent the whole, as in ‘hands’ meaning ‘workers’.
Trope: figurative use of language, often recurring within the poem or genre.
Vernacular: colloquial or spoken language; originally, the indigenous or native language of a place, as opposed to the language of its colonisers or cultural elite.