Glossary of Poetic Terms
No.1 on Google UK
|Classical Greek stanza used by the lyric
poetess Sappho and comprising of four unrhymed lines. The first three
lines are written in trochaic pentameter except for the third foot which
is a dactyl. The fourth line has only two feet: a dactyl and a trochee.
|Verse which employs wit and ridicule to attack
hypocrisy, pomposity or social injustice etc. Dryden, Pope and
Swift were all renowned for
their satirical verse. See also Scriblerus Club and
|Form of early Latin meter used by Livius
Andronicus and Naevius.
|The analysis of lines of poetry to identify
their metrical pattern i.e. the pattern and number of stressed and
unstressed feet. See meter.
|Group of Scottish poets including King James
I, Robert Henryson, William Dunbar and Gawin Douglas who were all
influenced by Chaucer.
|20th century Scottish literary movement (led
by Hugh MacDiarmid) which aimed to revive
the use of the Scots dialect. See also
|Association of writers,
including Jonathan Swift, Alexander
Pope, John Gay and John Arbuthnot, who met during 1714 to satirise 'all the
false tastes in learning'.
|A form developed by the Japanese poet Senryu Karai
is almost identical to a
haiku but takes as its subject matter human issues rather than nature. See
|A stanza comprising of seven lines.
|Line or stanza of poetry which begins and ends with the
|A six line stanza composed of a
quatrain and a couplet and rhymed a-b-a-b-c-c. This verse form is often
known as the Venus and Adonis stanza as it was used by
Shakespeare in his narrative poem of that
|A stanza comprising of six lines
e.g. The Castaway
by William Cowper. A sestet is also the last six lines of a sonnet -
following the octave. See sonnet.
|Usually an unrhymed poem consisting of six stanzas made up of six lines each.
The sestina employs word repetition rather than rhyme. The last word of
each line in the first
stanza is repeated in a different order in the following five stanzas.
This form was invented by the
Arnaud Daniel. Examples of sestina include Complaint of Lisa
and Paysage Moralisé by
Auden. However, some writers
in English have also written rhymed sestina - see Sestina by
A six line stanza. See sestet (above).
Shakespeare's plays were essentially written in blank iambic
pentameters - i.e. lines containing five two-syllable feet with the stress
falling on the second syllable in each foot e.g:
To BE| comMENC'D | in STRONDS | aFAR| reMOTE
(from Henry IV Part One)
However, the regular iambic pentameter lines in Shakespeare are
far outnumbered by irregular lines. One of the main irregularities is called the
'trochaic inversion' where lines begin with a trochee rather than an iambus e.g:
NOW is | the WIN | ter OF | our DIS | conTENT
(from Richard III)
This places the stress on the first syllable (rather than the
second) and is frequently used by Shakespeare at the start of speeches. Another
irregularity is the eleven syllable line as in Hamlet's famous soliloquy:
'To be or
not to be, that is the question'
However, in this line the eleventh syllable is unstressed and is
therefore not too intrusive. Interestingly this line is also irregular
after the caesura as
it features a dactyl (THAT is the) and a trochee (QUEStion).
and altar poem.
|Chinese term for different types of
poetry/poems. See also
jintishi, gushi and
|Consists of a quatrain rhymed a-b-a-b or
a-b-c-b.The first, second and fourth lines are iambic trimeters and the
third is an iambic tetrameter. Commonly used in hymns. See also
and long measure.
|Group of poets associated with the court of
Emperor Frederick II (1220-1250) in Palermo.
|Poetry which exhibits an unhealthy preoccupation with
subjects such as death or disease e.g. Surgeon at 2 a.m. by
Sylvia Plath or Late Flowering Lust by John Betjeman.
|Korean verse form, of great antiquity, consisting
(normally) of three lines: the first two composed of fourteen or fifteen
syllables and the last composed of fifteen syllables.
|The explicit comparison of
two objects/phenomenon/states etc - by employing either 'as' or 'like' e.g. 'My love
is like a red, red rose' by Robert Burns.
Another famous simile is 'Like a patient etherised upon a table;' from
the start of The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock by
|A Scandinavian bard or minstrel.
|Verse written in the style
of John Skelton (?1460-1529). Skeltonic verse
features short, irregular lines with multiple rhymes, written in a
tumbling, helter-skelter style e.g. the following lines form
How the Doughty Duke of Albany
O ye wretched Scots,
Ye puant pisspots,
It shall be your lots
To be knit up with knots.
|A poem which is written to be sung or chanted
- without or without musical accompaniment.
|A fourteen line poem usually in iambic
consisting of an octave and a sestet. The octave presents and develops
the theme while the sestet reflects and brings the poem to a conclusion.
Over the years there have been many variations
upon the sonnet form e.g.
Italian or Petrarchan Sonnet
The sonnet was originated by the Italian poet Guittone of Arezzo and
then popularised by Petrarch (1304-74). The term sonnet derives from the
Italian for 'little song'. The Italian sonnet has the following
rhyme scheme: a-b-b-a, a-b-b-a, c-d-e, c-d-e.
Shakespearean or English Sonnet
The Shakespearean or English sonnet employs an a-b-a-b, c-d-c-d, e-f-e-f, g-g
rhyme scheme. Essentially it consists of three quatrains and a final
couplet and usually features a break between the octave and the sestet.
It was invented by Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey. See
employed an a-b-a-b, b-c-b-c, c-d-c-d, e-e rhyme scheme - as evidenced
in his Amoretti sequence. This
form has not been particularly popular. See
Whilst it is
invented a sonnet form that utilised the original Petrarchan rhyme
scheme but did not feature the traditional break between the
octave and the sestet - hence giving his sonnet a more unified feel e.g.
After Milton the use of the sonnet declined until the
end of the 18th century when it was picked up again by the likes of
Thomas Gray (see
On the Death of Richard West). The sonnet re-established itself with
the romantic poets - see
Upon Westminster Bridge by Wordsworth. Since then the sonnet has
continued to be a popular form. W.H.Auden was a
regular sonneteer (see The Quest
and Sonnets from China).
An eleven line sonnet devised by Gerard Manley Hopkins and featuring
an a-b-c-a-b-c, d-b-c-d-c rhyme scheme e.g.
Hopkins also used the traditional stanza to great effect.
|A writer of sonnets. See sonnet.
|A collection of sonnets. The first sonnet sequence in English was
Astrophel and Stella by Sir Philip Sidney.
Other sonnet sequences include Amoretti by Spenser, Shakespeare's
sonnets (154 in total), Sonnets from the
Elizabeth Barrett-Browning and more
recently The Glanmore Sonnets by Seamus Heaney.
|Term devised by William Aytoun to describe a
group of Victorian poets including: P. J. Bailey, J.W. Marston, S.T.
Dobell and Alexander Smith whose work was characterised by violent and
|This occurs where the end words of a line are spelled similarly
e.g. 'love' and 'move' but don't chime together as rhymes. Sometimes
known as eye-rhyme.
|Stanza form developed by Edmund
Spenser and almost certainly influenced by
rhyme royal and
ottava rima. Spenser's stanza has nine lines and is rhymed a-b-a-b-b-c-b-c-c. The
first eight lines of the stanza are in iambic pentameter and the last line in
iambic hexameter. He used this form in his epic poem
The Faerie Queene. John
Keats, a great admirer of Spenser, used this stanza in his poem The Eve
of St. Agnes.
|Two syllable metrical foot
where both syllables are stressed. This is a comparatively rare meter in English
poetry but an example of spondaic meter can be seen in the first three feet of
this line from Milton's Paradise Lost:
ROCKS, CAVES | LAKES, FENS | BOGS, DENS| and SHADES | of DEATH
|A foot consisting of two long or stressed
syllables e.g. as in 'PANCAKE'.
|A unique system of
meter devised by Gerard Manley Hopkins and
evident in poems such as
Pied Beauty and The Windhover. In Sprung rhythm one stressed
syllable can make up a foot e.g. in Pied Beauty:
With SWIFT,|- SLOW:|- SWEET,|- SOUR;|a DAZZ| le, DIM
Hopkins referred to the unstressed syllables in the line as 'hangers' or 'outrides'.
The above line also demonstrates Hopkins use of alliteration.
|One or more lines that make up the basic units of a poem
- separated from each other by spacing.
Over the centuries Greek,
Roman, French, Italian, English, German and Japanese poets have evolved
a huge number of different stanza forms. Some of these forms still carry
the name of the poet who invented them e.g. the Petrarchan sonnet, the
Spenserian Stanza or the
Stanza forms can also be classified by the number of lines they
employ e.g. the couplet, the triplet, the quatrain etc.
|See stanza above.
|Dialogue in alternate lines of verse e.g.
ancient Greek plays.
|Term coined by Wordsworth to describe the kind of poetic
inspiration inspired by the Muse.
|The first stanza of a Pindaric ode. See
|Group of 20th century French poets (including
André Breton, Louis Aragon and Paul Éluard)
who were inspired by Freud's theories of the unconscious and who sought
to produce irrational work.
|A unit of pronunciation making up a word. For example,
the word 'badger'
consists of two syllables 'bad' and 'ger'. In English, syllables
can be defined as either stressed (long) or unstressed (short). See
|Technique used in both traditional
metrical verse forms (see
meter) and in Japanese
inspired forms such as
or tanka. In traditional metrical forms the counting is based on the
regular patterns of stressed and unstressed syllables in a line. In Japanese
forms, the syllable count is based solely on the total number of syllables. Some
modern poets such as Marianne Moore and Peter Reading have
used this second type of syllable counting to give their work intricate
Words or images that signify more than they literally represent e.g. the
'sun' or the 'moon'. Symbols can carry a number of different
connotations . Yeats frequently used symbols in his poetry - in
particular the 'tower'. As a symbol the 'tower' carries connotations of
strength and sexuality, but is also a tarot card representing suffering
and destruction. In addition, Yeats once owned Thoor Ballylee, a Norman
tower in County Galway which was a visible symbol of his Anglo-Irish
Group of 19th century French poets including Verlaine,
and Laforgue who reacted against the objectivity and realism of the
Parnassian movement. They favoured, instead, the use of evocative
language employing symbolism. They were influenced by
and Edgar Allan Poe.
The description of a sense impression (smell, touch, sound etc) but in
terms of another seemingly inappropriate sense e.g. 'a deafening
yellow'. Synesthesia is particularly associated with the French
symbolist poets. Keats also uses
synesthesia in Ode to a
Nightingale with the term 'sunburnt mirth'.
Type of elision
where two adjacent vowels occur and one is suppressed e.g. 'And strike
to dust th' imperial tow'rs of Troy' by Pope.
Figure of speech where a part is made to stand for the whole e.g. in
Shakespeare's Julius Caesar : 'Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend
me your ears.'
Word or phrase with the same meaning as another e.g. 'nice' and
The grammatical arrangement of words in a sentence. In traditional
poetry syntax was often altered/reversed in order to facilitate a rhyme
scheme e.g. in this poem by A.E.Housman:
'When I would muse in boyhood
The wild green woods among
And nurse resolves and fancies
Because the world was young,'
'Among' is thrown to the end of the line in order to rhyme with
'young'. Modern poets tend not to alter syntax in this way.