Thursday, October 18, 2012

Poetry Terms to Know


a series of phrases that aren't connected by the syntactic elements that preserve grammar. Basically, it is a piling up of phrases without the usage of the following connectives: "and," "or," "but."


the opposite of parataxis. A series of phrases with conjunctions. A normal paragraph or compound sentence.


  • Transitive - These verbs take an object.  "I kicked (verb) the ball (object).
  • Intransitive - These verbs do not need an object; they do take on a subject. "I (subject) grow (verb).

Speech Act

A speech act performs or accomplishes something through the use of language. For example, the phrase "I do" literally completes a marriage ceremony.


-  Definition: measured rhythm with is indicated through a number of syllables and the organization of stress in speech.

- 5 types of feet:

  • iamb -  unstressed syllable, stressed syllable (Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?)
  • troche - stressed syllable, unstressed syllable (Tiger)
  • anapest - unstressed syllable, unstressed syllable, stressed syllable. (Understand?)
  • dactyl - stressed syllable, unstressed syllable, unstessed syllable. (strawberry)
  • spondee - stressed syllable, stressed syllable. (football , heartbreak)

- Types of meter

  • dimeter - 4 syllables in a line. (2 feet). 
  • trimeter -  6 syllables in a line. ( 3 feet).
  • tetrameter - 8 syllables in a line. (4 feet).

  • pentameter - 10 syllables in a line. (5 feet).
    • "Shall I / compare / thee to/ a su/ mmer's day?" (This line contains ten syllables. Because the predominant pulse is "unstressed, stressed," the feet is iamb. This makes the line iambic pentameter. * One foot =  2 syllables.)

  • hexameter - 12 syllables in a line. (6 feet).


A caesura is a pause within a line. This is designated by a period, comma, question mark or exclamation mark.


O,ll wind,

if winter comes,ll can spring be far behind?

When marking or labeling a line of poetry, we use a double "el" or ll.

Masculine Ending vs. Feminine Ending

Masculine ending - a line ends in a stressed syllable.

Feminine ending - a line ends in an unstressed syllable.

Masculine Rhyme vs. Feminine Rhyme

Masculine Rhyme - line of poetry ends in one syllable. (i.e. "head")

Feminine Rhyme - line of poetry ends in two syllables. (i.e. "painted")

Catalectic ending

A metrically incomplete line of verse, lacking a syllable at the end or an incomplete foot. (Remember that 1 foot = 2 syllables, so the line of a poem would have an odd number of syllables).


"Tyger! Tyger! burning bright " (unstressed syllable missing after "bright")

Notice that there are only seven syllables in this line. We call this a catalectic ending. (We would round up the syllables to eight, making the meter: trochaic tetrameter.)


When a syllable that is normally unstressed is stressed for meter. 

Here are two lines taken from "The Tyger" by William Blake in example:

"What immortal hand or eye 
Could frame thy fearful *symmetry?" 

Usually, the word "symmetry" would be a dactyl (stressed, unstressed, unstressed) like symmetry. But for the poem, the author emphasizes the "try" to go with the flow of the poem. This is like when a person with an accent stresses certain parts of a word than others; it's noticeable but not unusual.

Wrenched Accent

When you drastically change a word due to its pronunciation to go with the flow of a poem. 

For example: in the word "body" the stress falls on the first syllable. In the following poem, you might be inclined to put the stress on the last syllable, making it sound awkward.

"And many's the good gift, Lord Sands,
You've promised oft to me;
But the gift of yours I keep today,
Is the babe in my body."

(Nobody says "body" like that, but it is done for effect in the poem)


  • End rhyme - when words rhyme at the end of two or more verses.
                              Never was there a tale of more woe
                              Than this of Juliet and her Romeo.

  • Internal rhyme - When two or more words rhyme within a line of verse.
                                I lost my dog within a fog.

  • Perfect  rhyme - when the words at the end of two or more lines of verse rhyme perfectly. 

                              Never was there a tale of more woe
                              Than this of Juliet and her Romeo. (*"woe" and "Romeo" are exact rhyme)

  • Slant rhyme - when the words at the end of two or more line of verse sort of rhyme. (For example, the words "roaming" and "coming" are close in speech but not exact.)
  • Site rhyme or eye rhyme - When two words look like they would rhyme. (i.e. behind and wind [as in a breeze])


  • Definition - a poetic paragraph
  • Can be regular (such as three sets of 4 line stanzas) or irregular (four sets of paragraphs containing various lines).
  • Common types of stanzas:
    • two lines : a couplet
    • three lines : a tercet
    • four lines : a quatrain

  • Ballad Stanza - a quatrain that alternates between four and three line stresses. The rhyme pattern (end rhyme) is a, b, c, d.

  •   Example:

                                        All in a hot and copper sky!  (four feet = eight syllables)
                                       The bloody Sun, at noon,     (three feet = six syllables)
                                       Right up above the mast did stand,   (four feet = eight syllables)
                                       No bigger than the Moon.    (three feet = six syllables)

Common Meter (Stanza) - a quatrain alternating between iambic tetrameter and iambic trimeter. The rhyme pattern is a, b, a, b.

Modes of Poetry

Lyric - Poetry that expresses personal or emotional feelings. It does not portray a story or characters. (i.e. Emily Dickinson's Dying )

Elegy - A poem of serious reflection, typically a lament to the dead. (i.e. "Elegy for Jane" or "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard" )

Ode - A lyric poem in the form of address to a particular subject. Usually written in elevated style and set structure. (i.e. "Ode to a Nightingale" )

Narrative - Poetry that has plot. (i.e. Homer's The Iliad.)

Allegory - A narrative poem having a second meaning behind the surface one. The poem has a literal meaning and a symbolic meaning. 

Forms of Poetry

Sonnet - a fourteen line poem (usually in iambic pentameter.) Two types: Italian and English.

Villanelle - a nineteen line poem consisting of five tercets and a quatrain. The first and third lines of the first tercet recur alternately at the end of each subsequent tercet and both together at the end of the quatrain. (i.e. "Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night : )

Sestina - A poem of six stanzas with six lines and a final triplet. The end words of the first stanza are repeated are repeated in varying combinations in the following stanzas. 

 For example (excerpt from a longer poem by Ezra Pound): 

Damn it all! all this our South stinks peace. 
You whoreson dog, Papiols, come! Let's to music! 
I have no life save when the swords clash. 
But ah! when I see the standards gold, vair, purple, opposing
And the broad fields beneath them turn crimson, 
Then howl I my heart nigh mad with rejoicing. 

In hot summer have I great rejoicing
When the tempests kill the earth's foul peace, 
And the lightnings from black heav'n flash crimson, 
And the fierce thunders roar me their music
And the winds shriek through the clouds mad, opposing, 
And through all the riven skies God's swords clash.

Figures of Speech

  • Rhetorical figures
    • alliteration - two or more words in close proximity begin with the same sound. (example: He's one cool cat).
    • assonance - two or more words in close proximity contain the same vowel sounds.(example: He's one cool dude).
    • consonance - two or more words in close proximity that end in the same sound. (example: He struck a streak of bad luck).
    • onomatopoeiaThe formation of a word from a sound associated with what is named. The word tries to imitate the sound. (example: "boom" "sizzle" "cuckoo")
    • apostrophe - An address to an absent person or an abstract element. (example: "o, wind!" or "O western wind, when wilt thou blow/ That the small rain down can rain?")
    • pun - A play on words by exploiting the different possible meanings of a word. (example: "Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight" [grave here means "serious" but also hints to those who are marked for death.]).

  • Tropes
    • metaphor - comparison between two seemingly unlike things that have something important in common. (example: He was a lion in battle).
    • simile - comparison between two unlike things using the words "like" or "as." (example: Her eyes are like diamonds.)
    • metonymy - An idea or word is substituted with a concept closely associated with it. (example: We use the term "Hollywood" when referring to the U.S. cinema industry.)
    • synecdoche - Parts of something represent a whole. (example: "All hands on deck." 
    • personification - Giving inanimate objects human-like qualities. (example: "The leaves danced in the wind.")

Here are some great websites to help you on your poetry exam:

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