Glossary of Poetic Terms
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||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
||A complete metrical line - as opposed to a
||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
||Poem where the first letter of each
line spells out a significant word e.g.
Flat land stretching
Neath a huge
The term acrostic derives from the Greek for 'at the tip of the
verse'. See also telestich.
||Classical meter consisting of a dactyl
and a spondee - as in the final line of a Sapphic.
||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.
||Poem which helps the memory e.g.
'Thirty days hath September,/April, June and November'
||Four line stanza invented by Greek poet Alcaeus and
normally employing a dactylic meter. Milton
by Tennyson is
a more recent example.
||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.
||A poem in which the
characters or descriptions convey a hidden symbolic or moral message. For example,
the various knights in
The Faerie Queene
Spenser are allegorical representations of virtues such as truth, friendship
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
||The effect created when words with the
same initial letter (usually consonants) are used in close proximity e.g.
from The Tempest
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
Wilfred Owen and the amazing five consecutive 'ds'
in The Windhover
by Hopkins - 'king-dom of daylight's
dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon'.
||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.
||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'.
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.
||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.
||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.
||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.
||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.
||Unstressed syllable(s) occurring at the start of a line
which do not contribute to the meter.
||The transposition of letters from a
word or phrase to form a new word or phrase. All schoolboys know
that T.S.Eliot = toilets.
||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
||An end-stressed meter consisting of three syllables
per foot. See meter.
||The repetition of words or phrases at the beginning of
Brooklyn Ferry by Walt Whitman.
||The attribution of human feelings to animals or inanimate
objects e.g. Hawk Roosting by Ted Hughes.
See also personification.
||Classical meter consisting of three syllables per foot:
two long and one short.
||Classical meter consisting of four syllables per foot:
one short, two long, one short.
||Verse of a psalm or hymn which is sung
||The second stanza of a Pindaric ode. See
||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.
||Word or phrase with the opposite
meaning to another e.g. 'good' and 'bad'.
||The loss of letters or syllables at the
start of a word. Opposite of apocope.
||Short pithy statement embodying a general truth e.g.
Tennyson's 'Nature, red in tooth and claw.'
||The removal of letters or syllables at
the end of a word.
||Intellectual society formed at Cambridge University in
1820. Members have included Alfred Tennyson,
Arthur Hallam, Bertrand Russell and E.M. Forster.
||Poem which is directly addressed to a person or thing
(often absent). An example is Wordsworth's sonnet
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
||Originally a mountainous area in the Peloponnese; then a
symbol for idyllic rural life. Virgil's Eclogues were set in
Arcadia. See also pastoral.
||Use of obsolete or old-fashioned language e.g. 'thee',
'thou' or 'beauteous'.
||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
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
by Wilfred Owen
Or 'Round and round the spicy downs the yellow Lotos-dust blown.'
||Lists of words or phrases but without conjunctions.
Compare with polysyndeton.
||Poem written to celebrate the dawn e.g.
The Sun Rising
by John Donne.
||Group of English poets including
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
||Elaborate, latinate poetic diction employed by
certain 15th century English and Scottish poets, including: William
Dunbar, Robert Henryson, Stephen Hawes and John Lydgate.
||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