Glossary of Poetic Terms

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Abecedarian Poem Type of acrostic where each line or verse begins with a successive letter of the alphabet; sometimes known as an alphabet poem.
 
Academy of American Poets Non-profit making organisation founded in 1934 to promote/support poetry and poets in the US. Visit their website.
 
Acatalectic A complete metrical line - as opposed to a catalectic or truncated line.
 
Accent Usually refers to a stressed syllable within a particular metrical pattern (e.g. iambic or dactylic meter - see meter) - but can also refer to an emphasised syllable due to pitch, loudness or the rhythms of normal speech.
 
Acrostic Poem where the first letter of each line spells out a significant word e.g.
Flat land stretching
Endlessly be-
Neath a huge
Sky.

The term acrostic derives from the Greek for 'at the tip of the verse'. See also telestich.
 

Adonic Classical meter consisting of a dactyl and a spondee - as in the final line of a Sapphic.
 
Aesthetic Movement 1880's literary movement associated with  Walter Pater and John Ruskin who advocated that art should serve no useful purpose. The term 'art for art's sake' is synonymous with the movement.  A.C. Swinburne, Oscar Wilde and Edgar Allan Poe were followers of the movement.
See also Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood.
 
Afflatus Poetic inspiration.
 
Aide-Memoire Poem Poem which helps the memory e.g. 'Thirty days hath September,/April, June and November'
 
Alcaics Four line stanza invented by Greek poet Alcaeus and normally employing a dactylic meter. Milton by Tennyson is a more recent example.
 
Alexandrine Originally a twelve syllable meter in French prosody. However, the English equivalent is the iambic hexameter - see meter. An example of alexandrine verse is Testament of Beauty by Robert Bridges.
 
Allegory A poem in which the characters or descriptions convey a hidden symbolic or moral message. For example, the various knights in The Faerie Queene by Edmund Spenser are allegorical representations of virtues such as truth, friendship and justice.

Another example of allegory is Absalom and Achitophel by Dryden. In this poem Dryden uses a biblical scheme to satirise some of the leading political figures of his day including the Earl of Shaftesbury (Achitophel) and the Duke of Monmouth (Absalom).
 

Alliteration The effect created when words with the same initial letter (usually consonants) are used in close proximity e.g. Ariel's Songs from The Tempest 'Full fathom five thy father lies'. The repeated 'f' sound is alliterative. Alliteration is sometimes referred to as head rhyme. Other examples of alliteration include: 'Only the stuttering rifles' rapid rattle' from Anthem for Doomed Youth by Wilfred Owen and the amazing five consecutive 'ds' in The Windhover by Hopkins - 'king-dom of daylight's dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon'.
 
Alliterative Verse Verse tradition stemming from the Germanic lands and evidenced in Anglo-Saxon epics and Icelandic sagas. The alliterative line was normally written in two halves - with each half containing two strongly stressed syllables. Of the four stressed syllables two, three or even four would begin with the same sound. During the 14th century in England there was an alliterative revival which produced works such as Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and The Vision of Piers Plowman by William Langland. Below are the opening lines of Piers Plowman

In a somer seson, whan softe was the sonne
I shoop me into shroudes as I a sheep were,
In habite as an hermite unholy of werkes,
Went wide in this world wondres to here.
 

Allusion Where a poem makes reference to another poem or text. For example, the 14th line of The Prelude by William Wordsworth 'The earth was all before me' alludes to one of the final lines of Paradise Lost by John Milton 'The world was all before them'. Paradise Lost, in turn, alludes to the story of Adam and Eve in Genesis.

A poem containing multiple allusions is The Waste Land by T.S.Eliot which makes reference to lines written by Shakespeare, Milton, Spenser, Verlaine, Baudelaire, Marvell, Dante, Webster, St. Augustine, Goldsmith, Ovid etc.

Allusion should not be confused with plagiarism.
See also intertextuality.
 

Ambiguity William Empson defined ambiguity as: 'any verbal nuance, however slight, which gives room for alternative reactions to the same piece of language'. Although ambiguity is not desirable in prose, in poetry it can sometimes add extra layers of meaning. Figurative language - such as metaphors - often create ambiguity. In 1930 Empson published a critical work entitled Seven Types of Ambiguity.
 
Amphibrachic Meter Classical meter consisting of three syllables per foot: one short, one long, one short. This meter is seldom used in English, however Jinny the Just by Matthew Prior is an example.
 
Amphimacer Meter Another classical meter consisting of three syllables per foot, but this time: one long, one short, one long. A rare English example of this form is Tennyson's poem The Oak.
 
Anacreontic Verse Verse which imitates the work of the Greek poet Anacreon who wrote lyrics in praise of wine and women. Abraham Cowley's Anacreontics are an example.
 
Anacrusis Unstressed syllable(s) occurring at the start of a line which do not contribute to the meter.
 
Anagram The transposition of letters from a word or phrase to form a new word or phrase. All schoolboys know that T.S.Eliot = toilets.
 
Anapest A foot consisting of three syllables where the first two are short or unstressed and the final one is long or stressed e.g. 'in the WOODS'.
 
Anapestic Meter An end-stressed meter consisting of three syllables per foot.  See meter.
 
Anaphora The repetition of words or phrases at the beginning of lines e.g. Crossing Brooklyn Ferry by Walt Whitman.
 
Anglo-Saxon See Old English.
 
Anthropomorphism The attribution of human feelings to animals or inanimate objects e.g. Hawk Roosting by Ted Hughes. See also personification.
 
Antibacchic Classical meter consisting of three syllables per foot: two long and one short.
 
Antispast Classical meter consisting of four syllables per foot: one short, two long, one short.
 
Antiphon Verse of a psalm or hymn which is sung or recited.
 
Antistrophe The second stanza of a Pindaric ode. See ode.
 
Antithesis Figure of speech where contrasting words or ideas are placed in close proximity e.g. 'Hee for God only, shee for God in him' from Milton's Paradise Lost.
 
Antonym Word or phrase with the opposite meaning to another e.g. 'good' and 'bad'.
 
Aphesis The loss of letters or syllables at the start of a word. Opposite of apocope.
Aphorism Short pithy statement embodying a general truth e.g. Tennyson's 'Nature, red in tooth and claw.'
 
Apocope The removal of letters or syllables at the end of a word.
 
Apostles, the Intellectual society formed at Cambridge University in 1820. Members have included Alfred Tennyson, Arthur Hallam, Bertrand Russell and E.M. Forster.
 
Apostrophe Poem which is directly addressed to a person or thing (often absent). An example is Wordsworth's sonnet Milton which begins: 'Milton! thou shouldst be living at this hour'. NB not to be confused with an apostrophe indicating missing letters or the possessive case. Other examples of apostrophe include A Supermarket in California by Allen Ginsberg (addressed to Walt Whitman) and my own poem Invocation.
 
Arcadia Originally a mountainous area in the Peloponnese; then a symbol for idyllic rural life. Virgil's Eclogues were set in Arcadia. See also pastoral.
 
Archaism Use of obsolete or old-fashioned language e.g. 'thee', 'thou' or 'beauteous'.
 
Assonance The effect created when words with the same vowel sound are used in close proximity - but where the consonants in these words are different. In To Autumn by John Keats the line: 'Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;' displays assonance due to the repeated use of the 'i' vowel sound. This means that these words nearly rhyme with each other.

Other examples include:

'Down some profound dull tunnel, long since scooped' from Strange Meeting by Wilfred Owen

Or 'Round and round the spicy downs the yellow Lotos-dust blown.' from Tennyson's The Lotos-Eaters.
 

Asyndeton Lists of words or phrases but without conjunctions. Compare with polysyndeton.
 
Aubade Poem written to celebrate the dawn e.g. The Sun Rising by John Donne.
 
Augustan Poets Group of English poets including Dryden, Pope, Addison and Swift who emulated Latin poets such as Ovid, Horace and Virgil. The Roman poets were writing during the reign of emperor Augustus (27 B.C. - 14 A.D.) - hence the term 'Augustan'. See also neo-classical.
 
Aureate Language Elaborate, latinate poetic diction employed by certain 15th century English and Scottish poets, including: William Dunbar, Robert Henryson, Stephen Hawes and John Lydgate.
 
Awdl Welsh poetic form equivalent to an ode. There are 12 separate awdl forms including: cyhydedd hir, cyhydedd naw ban, gwawdodyn, clogyrnach, rhupunt, tawddgyrch cadwynog, cyrch a chwta, toddaid and byr a thoddaid. The awdl was regarded as the most challenging and exalted Welsh form.
   

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