Glossary of Poetic Terms

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Macaronic Verse Verse which jumbles together lines or phrases written in different languages (Originally this would have included some Latin.) John Skelton, the English renaissance poet, wrote a number of poems in this style.
Macron In prosody, a macron is the mark placed over a syllable in a line of verse to show that it is stressed. It is denoted by the following symbol (−). See also breve and meter.
MacSpaunday Composite nick-name (devised by Roy Campbell) for Louis MacNeice, Stephen Spender, W.H.Auden and C. Day-Lewis. See also Pylon Poets.
Madrigal A short love poem which can easily be set to music.
Magnum Opus An artist or poet's 'great work' e.g. Milton's Paradise Lost.
Maker Archaic term for poet. In February 2004 Edwin Morgan was appointed as 'the Scots Maker' - a position similar to that of the English poet laureate.
Mansion of Many Apartments Theory devised by John Keats stating that people are capable of different levels of thought. He suggested that some have the ability to move through the 'thoughtless chamber' and the 'chamber of maiden thought' to reach more profound states.
Martian Poetry Term used to describe the work of poets such as Craig Raine and Christopher Reid. It originated from Raine's 1979 collection A Martian Sends a Postcard Home. Martian poetry frequently describes everyday objects from unusual angles by using inventive metaphor and simile. For example, in Raine's poem A Walk in the Country a sewage farm is described as being 'like a tape-recorder, whose black spools turn night and day'.
Masculine Rhyme See Rhyme.
Measure Alternative term for meter. See common measure and poulter's measure.

Meiosis Understatement.
Meistersinger Certain 14th-16th century German lyric poets who organised themselves in guilds and composed elaborate verse. They were influenced by the minnesingers.
Melic Poetry Greek poetry written to be sung. The term derives from the Greek word 'melos' meaning 'song'.
Melopoeia Poundian term to describe the kind of poem which induces 'emotional correlations by the sound and rhythm of the speech'. He stated that the maximum amount of melopoeia is to be found in poems that are written to be sung, chanted or read aloud. See also logopoeia and phanopoeia.
Mermaid Tavern Tavern frequented by John Donne, Francis Beaumont, Ben Jonson and possibly William Shakespeare. It stood in Bread St. London and was the location for literary meetings. Keats wrote about it in Lines on the Mermaid Tavern.
Mesostic Similar to an acrostic but where the significant vertical phrase occurs in the middle of the lines rather than at the beginning or end. Often used by the composer John Cage.
Metaphor An imaginative comparison between two actions/objects etc which is not literally applicable.

An example of metaphor occurs in In Memory of W.B.Yeats by W.H.Auden:

'The provinces of his body revolted,
The squares of his mind were empty,'

Obviously Yeats' body does not have provinces, nor does his mind have squares but the comparison helps to bring the poem to life. Metaphor is similar to simile but omits words such as 'like' or 'as'.

Some poems feature an extended metaphor e.g. Crossing the Bar by Tennyson.

I.A. Richards coined the terms 'tenor' and 'vehicle' to distinguish the 2 parts of a metaphor. The 'tenor' is an idea with which a second idea (the vehicle) is identified. In Macbeth's famous soliloquy there is the line: 'life's but a walking shadow' - where 'life' is the 'tenor' and 'walking shadow' is the 'vehicle'.

See also dead metaphor and mixed metaphor.

Metaphysical Poets A term originally coined by Samuel Johnson in his Life of Cowley to criticise a group of poets including: John Donne, George Herbert, Richard Crashaw, Henry Vaughan, Thomas Traherne, Andrew Marvell and Abraham Cowley etc. whose poetry he regarded as being over intellectualised. The term is somewhat misleading as it pigeon holes a number of poets who, in reality, had little in common.
Meter/Metre Is the regular pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables that make up a line of poetry. Meter gives rhythm and regularity to poetry.

However, the English language does not always fit exactly into metrical patterns so many poems employing meter will exhibit irregularities.

In English verse the most common meters are: iambic, dactylic, trochaic and anapestic. Other meters are occasionally used, such as spondaic and pyrrhic. There are also a number of classical Greek meters which are very rare indeed - such as amphibrachic, amphimacer and choriambic

Iambic meter

An end stressed two syllable foot e.g. from In Memoriam by Lord Tennyson


This example is an iambic tetrameter - i.e. it has four iambic feet and therefore the total number of syllables in the line is eight. Iambic is an example of rising meter.

Trochaic meter

A front stressed two syllable foot.

e.g. The Song of Hiawatha by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

BY the  | SHORES of | GIT chee | GUMee,

This example is trochaic tetrameter - i.e. four two syllable feet. Therefore the total line has eight syllables. Trochaic meter is less commonly used than iambic meter. Trochaic is an example of falling meter.

Anapestic meter

An end stressed three syllable foot e.g. The Destruction of the Sennacherib by Byron:

And the SHEEN | of their SPEARS | was like STARS | on the SEA,

This line is an anapestic tetrameter i.e. it has four feet containing three syllables each. Therefore the total number of syllables in the line is twelve.

Dactylic Meter

A front stressed three syllable foot e.g. The Lost Leader by Robert Browning

WE that had | LOVED him so, | FOLlowed him | HONoured him,

This line is an example of dactyllic tetrameter  i.e. it has four feet containing three syllables each. Therefore the total number of syllables in the line is twelve.

Each of the above meters can be used in lines with varying numbers of feet. The number of feet in a line is usually classified as follows:  monometer (one foot), dimeter (two feet), trimeter (three feet), tetrameter (four feet), pentameter (five feet), hexameter (six feet), heptameter (seven feet) and octameter (eight feet).

Metonymy Figure of speech where the name of the object being described is substituted for something closely related to it. For example, 'the crown' is often substituted for 'the monarchy'. Other examples include 'the press' for newspapers and 'the bench' for the judiciary.
Metre See meter.

Metrical Relating to meter.

Middle English The written and spoken language of England from the beginning of the 12th Century to approx. 1500. The most important writer of the period being Chaucer.
Miltonian/Miltonic In the style of John Milton.
Miltonic Sonnet See sonnet.
Mimesis The imitation of reality in art/poetry.
Minnesingers German lyric poets who were writing between the 12th and 14th centuries. Their main subject was 'love' (Minne) - hence their name. They were  influenced by the French troubadour poets. See also meistersinger.
Minstrel Itinerant medieval musician/singer/story teller/poet. See bard and jongleur.
Mixed Metaphor Figure of speech which combines two or more inconsistent metaphors e.g. 'We're not through the woods by a long chalk.' Or more famously the fourth line from Hamlet's soliloquy: 'Or to take arms against a sea of troubles.' See metaphor.
Mock-Epic See mock-heroic.
Mock-Heroic Type of satirical verse which deals with trivial matters in the style of epic or heroic verse. The Rape of the Lock by Alexander Pope is an example of mock-heroic verse. Pope's poem was inspired by Lord Petre's cutting of a lock of Miss Arabella Fermor's hair without her permission.

Another example is The Sofa - the first book of The Task by William Cowper - which begins: 'I sing the sofa'.

Mock-Pastoral Satirical version of eclogues or idylls e.g. The Shepherd's Week by John Gay.

Modern English The written and spoken language of England from approx. 1500 to the present day.


Modernism Literary movement that occurred from c.1890 until the beginning of World War II and sought to challenge traditional forms.

In poetry, the three main exponents of modernism were T.S.Eliot, Ezra Pound and W.B. Yeats. Pound was the main promoter of modernism and influenced many poets both in England and America. Pound also invented Imagism which was an attempt to create minimalist poetry of great clarity - influenced by Japanese forms such as haiku and tanka.

The Waste Land (1922) by T.S.Eliot is arguably the most important 'modernist' poem - with its non-traditional forms, its juxta-positioning of images and its complex literary allusions. The final shape of The Waste Land owed much to Pound's editing.

In general terms, modernism has resulted in a greater use of free verse and a turning away from formal poetic meters and verse forms.

Molossus Classical metrical foot containing three long or stressed syllables.
Monody A Greek ode sung by a single actor and lamenting a person's death. A modern example is Monody on the Death of a Platonist Bank Clerk by John Betjeman.
Monometer A line consisting of one metrical foot. Monometers are very rare. However an example of a (predominantly) iambic monometer is Upon His Departure Hence by Robert Herrick
Mora A unit of measure in quantitative verse; namely the time taken up by a short syllable. A long syllable is equal to two morae.
Movement Poets Term coined by J. D. Scott, editor of the Spectator, to describe a group of poets including Philip Larkin, Kingsley Amis, D. J. Enright, John Wain and Robert Conquest. Movement poetry tends to be witty, sardonic, anti-poetic and eschewed the use of classical allusions. See also the New Apocalypse.
Muse/Muses The nine daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne who inspired artists and musicians. Four of the daughters: Calliope, Euterpe, Erato and Polyhymnia were specifically responsible for inspiring poets.

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