Glossary of Poetic Terms

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Sapphic 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.
Satirical Verse 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 mock-heroic.
Saturnian Meter Form of early Latin meter used by Livius Andronicus and Naevius.

Scansion The analysis of lines of poetry to identify their metrical pattern i.e. the pattern and number of stressed and unstressed feet. See meter.
Scop Anglo-Saxon minstrel.
Scottish Chaucerians Group of Scottish poets including King James I, Robert Henryson, William Dunbar and Gawin Douglas who were all influenced by Chaucer.
Scottish Renaissance 20th century Scottish literary movement (led by Hugh MacDiarmid) which aimed to revive the use of the Scots dialect. See also Lallans.
Scriblerus Club 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'.
Senryu A form developed by the Japanese poet Senryu Karai (1718-1790), which is almost identical to a haiku but takes as its subject matter human issues rather than nature. See Japanese forms.
Septet A stanza comprising of seven lines.
Serpentine Verse Line or stanza of poetry which begins and ends with the same word.
Sesta Rima 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 name.
Sestet 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.
Sestina 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 troubadour poet Arnaud Daniel. Examples of sestina include Complaint of Lisa by Swinburne and Paysage Moralisé by Auden. However, some writers in English have also written rhymed sestina - see Sestina by Swinburne.
Sextain/Sexain A six line stanza. See sestet (above).

Shakespearean Sonnet See sonnet.
Shakespeare's Line 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).

Shape Poems See concrete poetry and altar poem.
Shi/Shih Chinese term for different types of poetry/poems. See also jintishi, gushi and xinshi.
Short Measure 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 common measure and long measure.

Sicilian Poets Group of poets associated with the court of Emperor Frederick II (1220-1250) in Palermo.
Sick Verse 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.
Sijo 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.
Simile 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 T.S. Eliot.


Skald A Scandinavian bard or minstrel.
Skeltonic Verse/ Skeltonics 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.

Song A poem which is written to be sung or chanted - without or without musical accompaniment.
Sonnet A fourteen line poem usually in iambic pentameters (see meter) 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 Shakespeare's Sonnets.

Spenserian Sonnet

Edmund Spenser 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 Prime.

Miltonic Sonnet

John Milton 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. On His Blindness.

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 Ozymandias by Shelley and 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).

Curtal Sonnet

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. Pied Beauty. Hopkins also used the traditional stanza to great effect.

Sonneteer A writer of sonnets. See sonnet.
Sonnet Sequence 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 Portuguese by Elizabeth Barrett-Browning and more recently The Glanmore Sonnets by Seamus Heaney.
Spasmodic School Poets 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 obscure imagery.
Spelling Rhyme 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.
Spenserian Sonnet See sonnet.
Spenserian Stanza 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.
Spondaic Meter 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:


Spondee A foot consisting of two long or stressed syllables e.g. as in 'PANCAKE'.
Sprung Rhythm 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.

Stanza 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 Burns Stanza.

Stanza forms can also be classified by the number of lines they employ e.g. the couplet, the triplet, the quatrain etc.

Stave See stanza above.
Stichomythia Dialogue in alternate lines of verse e.g. ancient Greek plays.
Storm of Association Term coined by Wordsworth to describe the kind of poetic inspiration inspired by the Muse.
Strophe The first stanza of a Pindaric ode. See ode.
Surrealist Poets 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.
Syllable 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 meter.
Syllable Counting Technique used in both traditional metrical verse forms (see meter) and in Japanese inspired forms such as haiku 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 structures. 
Syllepsis See zeugma.
Symbol 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 roots.
Symbolist Poets Group of 19th century French poets including Verlaine, Rimbaud, Mallarmé 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 Charles Baudelaire and Edgar Allan Poe.
Synaesthesia/ Synesthesia 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'.
Synalepha 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.
Syncope See elision.
Synecdoche 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.'
Synonym Word or phrase with the same meaning as another e.g. 'nice' and 'pleasant'.
Syntax 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.


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