Glossary of Poetic Terms

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Iamb A foot consisting of two syllables where the first is short or unstressed and the second is long or stressed e.g. as in 'beSIDE'.
Iambic meter An end stressed two syllable foot. See meter.
Ictus Beat or stress. Gerard Manley Hopkins used it to indicate which syllables in his poems he wanted readers to stress.
Identical Rhyme Where a poet repeats exactly the same word to create a rhyme.  This is usually regarded as 'bad form' unless the repetition serves a particular purpose. Also known as autorhyme or null rhyme.
Idyll/Idyl A short poem concerning shepherd life or portraying an harmonious version of rural existence. Idylls are particularly associated with the Greek poet Theocritus. See also eclogue and pastoral.
Image Images are representations of sensations perceived through the five senses: sight, hearing, smell, touch and taste. Visual images are the most common e.g. William Carlos Williams' famous:  'a red wheel/barrow/glazed with rain/water'. However, images can rely on any of the senses. 'Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn' from Keats' To Autumn is an example of an auditory image.
Imagery The creation of images using words. Poets usually achieve this by invoking comparisons by means of metaphor or simile or other figures of speech. In his famous line from sonnet 18 Shakespeare creates an image by comparing his love to a 'summer's day'.
  Imagist Poets
Movement of early 20th century American and English poets seeking clarity and economy of language (in a reaction against the abstraction of romanticism). Ezra Pound was one of the main pioneers of imagism but the movement also included poets such as William Carlos Williams, Marianne Moore, H. D. (Hilda Doolittle), Amy Lowell, T. E. Hulme and D. H. Lawrence. Imagist poems tend to be short, focussed  on specific images and written in free verse. Imagism was partly inspired by Japanese verse forms such as haiku and tanka. See also modernism.
Impromptu Poem written on the spur of the moment e.g. Impromptu on Mrs Riddell's Birthday by Robert Burns. See also extempore.
Incantation Words/lines which are spoken or chanted in a magical fashion e,g. the witches in Macbeth: 'Fair is foul, and foul is fair'.
Initial Rhyme Another term for alliteration.

In Memoriam Stanza Quatrain rhyming a-b-b-a and used by Alfred Tennyson in his long elegiac poem In Memoriam. The poem was written in memory of his friend Arthur Hallam and consists of 132 separate poems - all written in iambic tetrameter.
Inscape Term devised by G. M. Hopkins to describe the 'individually distinctive' make up of natural phenomena as perceived through the five senses. He also coined the term 'instress' to describe the force or energy which creates and sustains 'inscape'. Instress is similar in many ways to the Chinese concept of Tao. See Hopkins' sonnet as kingfishers catch fire (lines 5-8) in which he articulates something of inscape and instress.
Inspiration Mysterious, unpredictable impulse which enables poets to produce the finest quality poetry. Robert Graves compared inspiration to lightening that strikes 'where and when it wills'.
Instress See inscape.
Intentional Fallacy Term coined by W.K. Wimsatt and M.C. Beardsley which advises that critics should not concern themselves unduly with an author's declared intentions in respect to his/her work, but should look objectively at the finished work and decide what meaning it holds for the reading public at large.
Internal rhyme Either where a word in the middle of a line of poetry rhymes with the word at the end of the line e.g. The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe or where two words in mid sentence rhyme e.g. 'dawn-drawn' in The Windhover by Gerard Manley Hopkins.
Internet Poetry Poetry published on the world wide web by individuals, or in online poetry magazines or e-zines.

It also applies to a new type of poetry (in the tradition of concrete poetry) which uses computer-aided techniques to experiment with the visual appearance of poems using typography, background, colour and shape. Some internet poetry also experiments with the use of sound. Internet poetry is sometimes known as hypertext poetry.

Intertextuality Study of the way in which the text of one poem may relate to the text of another poem. This may occur through allusion or parody or the fact that one poet is influenced by the work of another poet. Intertextuality challenges the view that any one poem exists in isolation.
Inversion Where the expected stressed or unstressed syllable is switched for its opposite. Shakespeare frequently employed a trochaic inversion - i.e. by placing a trochee at the start of an iambic line.
Ivory Tower The metaphorical dwelling place of those who are detached from the realities of every day life e.g. some academics.
Ionic Meter Classical Greek meter comprising of four syllables per foot. Greater Ionic meter consists of two long/stressed syllables followed by two short/unstressed syllables, whereas Lesser Ionic meter consists of two short/unstressed syllables followed by two long/stressed syllables.
Irish Forms There are a number of traditional Irish syllabic verse forms including: ae freislighe, casbairdne, deibhidhe, droighneach, rannaigheacht chetharchubaid garit recomarcach, rannaigheacht mhor, rionnaird tri-nard and séadna. Like the Welsh Forms - these forms involve intricate rhyme schemes and alliteration.


Irony Figure of speech in which the ordinary meaning of the words is more or less the opposite of what the poet intends.

In his poem Don Juan, Byron makes great use of irony. Don Juan  is also ironically dedicated to Robert Southey and the other Lake Poets. (Byron's irony could be called 'Byrony' - boom, boom.)

Another poem employing irony is Verses on the Death of Dr Swift. In this poem, we are never quite sure whether the opinions expressed by Swift (or the other characters) are to be taken seriously or not.

Philip Larkin frequently used irony in his poem titles e.g. Wild Oats (a poem about his lack of success sexually) Vers de Société (a poem about his lack of sociability) and Aubade (a poem about death). See also Annus Mirabilis.


Irregular Meter In English, it is very rare for a poem to be perfectly regular. In fact, most poems written using meter will exhibit irregularities. Irregularities are permitted and can actually help to vary the overall rhythm of a poem.  Shakespeare, for example, often used a trochee at the start of his predominantly iambic lines.

Some poets deliberately mix meters. As a general rule,  rising meters such as iambic and anapestic fit well together - as do falling meters such as trochaic and dactylic.  See meter.

Irregular Ode See ode.

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