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Glossary of Poetic Terms -Useful tool for reviews!

Glossary of Poetic Terms -Useful tool for reviews!
By Moontown_Moderator_Burlesque on 05/23/2011
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Poem Type of acrostic where each line or verse begins with a successive letter of the alphabet; sometimes known as an alphabet poem.

A complete metrical line - as opposed to a catalectic or truncated line.

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
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.

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.

Poetic inspiration.

Aide-Memoire Poem
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 deions 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).

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.

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.

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.

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 the WOODS''.

Anapestic Meter
An end-stressed meter consisting of three syllables per foot. See meter.

The repetition of words or phrases at the beginning of lines e.g. Crossing Brooklyn Ferry by Walt Whitman.

Anglo-Saxon See Old English.

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 or recited.

The second stanza of a Pindaric ode. See ode.

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.
Aphorism Short pithy statement embodying a general truth e.g. Tennyson''s ''Nature, red in tooth and claw.''

Apocope T
he removal of letters or syllables at the end of a word.

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.

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 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.

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.

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.


Classical meter consisting of three syllables per foot: one short, one long, one long.

Term originating from the Portuguese word balada meaning ''dancing-song''. However, it normally refers to either a simple song e.g. Danny Boy or to a narrative poem (often with a tragic ending). Bob Dylan wrote and sang some wonderfully mournful ballads e.g. The Ballad of Hollis Brown.
The ballad stanza is a quatrain where the second and fourth lines rhyme. La Belle Dame Sans Merci by John Keats is in ballad form. It usually features alternating four-stress and three-stress lines.

A poem of French origin consisting of three stanzas of either 7, 8 or 10 lines and ending with a refrain called an envoi. The envoi is usually half as long as the stanza.

Originally a term for a Celtic minstrel poet e.g. Cacofnix in Asterix the Gaul but is now used for any admired poet. Shakespeare is often referred to as ''the bard of Avon''.

The veneration accorded to Shakespeare.

Baroque Poetry
Baroque derives from the Portuguese for imperfectly formed pearl. Baroque poetry is characterised by a highly elaborate style laced with extravagant conceits e.g. the work of the 17th century English poet Richard Crashaw.

The descent from the sublime to the ridiculous. This expression comes from Pope''s satire Peri Bathous, or the Art of Sinking (1727).

Bawdy Verse
X-rated poetry written anonymously for the purpose of recital e.g. Eskimo Nell, Abdul Abul Bul Amir, The Ball of Kirriemuir and The Good Ship Venus. See fabliau.

The rhythmic or musical quality of a poem. In metrical verse, this is determined by the regular pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables. However, free verse often features a beat e.g. the work of Walt Whitman. Beat is one of the main things distinguishing poetry from prose.

Blank Verse
Verse that does not employ a rhyme scheme. Blank verse, however, is not the same as free verse because it employs a meter e.g. Paradise Lost by John Milton which is written in iambic pentameters.

Blazon P
oetry which catalogues the virtues or attributes of women e.g. the tenth stanza of Spenser''s Epithalamion.

The Music of African-American origin which features a repeated 12-bar pattern and employs lyrics which focus upon the harsh realities of negro life.

Pompous or overblown language.

Game originating in France where players compete to write the best poem using a set of pre-selected rhymes. It was frequently played by Christina and Dante Gabriel Rossetti.

Breve In prosody,
a breve is the mark placed over a syllable in a line of verse to indicate that it is short or unstressed. See also macron and meter.

The contrasting section of music/lyrics which often occurs after the second chorus of a song.

Bucolic Alternative term for eclogue.

Burden Chorus
or refrain of a song/poem.

Burlesque Caricature
parody of a literary or dramatic work e.g. Hudibras by Samuel Butler or Baucis and Philemon by Jonathan Swift.


The natural rhythm of speech - as opposed to the rhythm of meter.

A break in the flow of sound in a line of poetry e.g. in Hamlet''s famous soliloquy:
To be or not to be || that is the question
A caesura can be classified as either feminine (following an unaccented syllable) or male (following an accented syllable).

Body of work considered to represent the highest literary standards.

The subdivision of a long narrative poem e.g. in The Divine Comedy by Dante. Spenser was the first English poet to use cantos. The Cantos is a long (some would say too long) poem by Ezra Pound.

Italian lyric poem.

Carpe Diem
Latin for ''seize the day''. Originally a phrase taken from an ode by Horace, but more recently synonymous with the film Dead Poets Society starring Robin Williams.

Where one or more unstressed syllables are missing from the end of a regular metrical line. Usually employed in trochaic or dactylic verse to avoid monotony. The terms derive from the Greek for ''stopping short''. Sometimes referred to as a truncated line. See acatalectic.

Catalogue Verse
Verse which lists people, places, things or ideas e.g. Contemporary Poets of the English Language by Anthony Thwaite.

Much disputed term used by Aristotle in his Poetics where he suggests that tragedy should purge the emotions of pity and fear and, hence, lead to a catharsis.

Celtic Twilight
Originally an anthology of stories by W.B.Yeats, but then adopted as a generic term for literature concerning Irish folk-lore and mysticism.

A patchwork poem composed of quotations from other authors. A famous example is Cento Nuptialus by Decimus Magnus Ausonius.

Collection of troubadour poems.

Chant Royal
A complicated elaboration of the French ballade form.

Russian folksong usually consisting of two, four or six lines - although the quatrain is the most common. They can be sung solo or accompanied by balalaika.

Stopgap word used by a poet to furnish the required number of syllables in a metrical line.

Figure of speech where the second half of a phrase reverses the order of the first half e.g. Samuel Johnson''s "For we that live to please, must please to live."

Choriambic Meter
Classical meter consisting of four syllables per foot: one long, two short and one long. Choriambic meter has its origins in Greek poetry and is very rarely used in English.

A five line poem, invented by Adelaide Crapsey, and based on Japanese forms such as haiku and tanka. The cinquain has a total of twenty-two syllables arranged in lines as follows: 2, 4, 6, 8 and 2 e.g.
Moon Shadows
Still as
On windless nights
The moon-cast shadows are,
So still will be my heart when I
Am dead.

Part of a poem or song that is repeated after each verse. See refrain.

Classical Poets/Poetry
Pre-Christian Roman and Greek poets such as Homer, Horace, Virgil, Ovid etc. Classicism is characterised by a sense of formality and restraint. See also neo-classicism. The romantic movement was a reaction against the constraints of neo-classicism.

A form of light verse devised by Edmund Clerihew Bentley. It consists of a quatrain composed of two couplets (rhymed: a-a-b-b) and takes as its subject a well known person(s) e.g.
The meaning of the poet Gay
Was always as clear as day,
While that of the poet Blake
Was often practically opaque.

Cliché Hackneyed
timeworn expression e.g. ''shifting sands'' or ''busy as bees''.

Close Reading
The careful and vigorous examination of literary texts; a technique advocated by the New Critics.

Cockney School
Term coined by Blackwood''s Magazine in 1817 to describe poets of humble London origin such as Leigh Hunt and John Keats. Keats was described as a man ''who had left a decent calling (pharmacy) for the melancholy trade of Cockney-poetry''.

The tail, tag, outro, envoi or concluding passage of a piece of writing.

Common Measure Quatrain f
eaturing alternating lines of iambic tetrameter and iambic trimeter and an a-b-a-b rhyming scheme. Many hymns are written in common measure. See Light Shining Out of Darkness by Cowper. See also ballad.

Poetic form derived from the Latin in which poets bewail social evils or the vicissitudes of life e.g. Complaint to his Purse by Geoffrey Chaucer.

An elaborate and complicated metaphor. An early exponent of conceits was the 14th Century Italian poet Petrarch. The Petrarchan conceit was imitated by many Elizabethan poets including Shakespeare. Conceits were also used extensively by the metaphysical poets. John Donne famously compared two lovers to a pair of compasses in his poem A Valediction: forbidding Mourning.

Concrete Poetry
Experimental poetry which emerged during the 1950-1960s and concentrated on the visual appearance of the words on the page. It featured new typographical arrangements, shape poems and the use of collage etc. It owed much to early figure poems such as The Altar and Easter-Wings by George Herbert. The effect of Concrete Poetry is lost when the poem is read aloud.

Confessional Poetry
Where the poet writes intimately about his/her personal experiences. Confessional poetry is normally written using the ''I'' form. The American poet Robert Lowell pioneered confessional verse with his 1959 collection Life Studies.

The effect created when words share the same stressed consonant sounds but where the vowels differ. Single consonance occurs when two words share one set of consonants e.g. ''brick'' and ''clock'' which share a ''ck''. Double consonance occurs when two words share all the same consonants e.g. in ''black'' and ''block''. Double consonance is sometimes known as pararhyme. Double consonance has the effect of being a near rhyme. Seamus Heaney often uses consonance rather than full rhyme - see such poems as Follower or The Diviner.

All the letters of the alphabet except the vowels a, e, i, o and u.

The subject matter of a poem - as opposed to the form.

A stanza comprising of two lines.

Cross Rhyme
Where a word at the end of a line rhymes with a word in the middle of the next/previous line.

Crown of Sonnets
Seven interlinked sonnets, where the last line of each sonnet provides the first line of the next. The final line of the seventh sonnet is also the opening line of the first e.g. La Corona by John Donne. See sonnet.

Cubist Poetry
Poetry that seeks to emulate Picasso''s ''sum of destructions'' e.g. the work of the French poet Guillaume Apollinaire.

Technique where a poet/writer cuts up a text with a pair of scissors and reassembles it randomly - hoping to create something fresh or unusual. David Bowie used this technique when writing the lyrics for Aladdin Sane.

Cynghanedd (pronounced kun-ghah-nedh) Intricate Welsh system of alliteration and rhyme. It is impossible to replicate in English but the following line from Hopkins''s The Wreck of the Deutschland gives an approximation: ''The down-dugged ground-hugged grey''.
See Welsh forms.


A foot consisting of three syllables where the first is long or stressed and the second two are short or unstressed e.g. as in ''MURmuring''.

Dactylic Hexameter Meter
used in Greek epic poetry. Homer wrote the Odyssey and the Iliad in unrhymed dactylic hexameters. See meter. A more recent example is Evangeline by Longfellow.

Dactylic Meter
A front stressed meter comprised of three syllables per foot. See meter.

Dada Poetry
Poetry which attempts to deny sense and reason. Dada comes from the French for ''hobby-horse'' - a word originally selected at random from the dictionary. Dada was the forerunner of surrealist poetry.

Dead Metaphor
A metaphor which has lost its meaning due to overuse e.g. ''to beat about the bush'' or ''one fell swoop''. See metaphor.

Decasyllabic Line
A line with ten syllables e.g. iambic pentameter. See meter.

Form of literary criticism developed by the French philosopher Jacques Derrida which stated that literary texts (including poems) have no fixed or definitive meaning but, instead, are full of contradictions and inconsistencies and are open to a variety of interpretations.

The appropriate adherence to traditional poetic form and content.

Deive Verse
Verse which paints a picture e.g. the first 3 stanzas of Thomas Hardy''s early poem Domicilium - which describes the cottage at Higher Bockhampton where he was born.

Dialect Verse
Verse which employs national or regional dialects e.g. Robert Burns (Scottish), William Barnes (Dorset), Tennyson (Lincolnshire - see Northern Farmer) or my own poems (Norfolk - see New Norfolk Anals).

A book explaining the meaning of words, organised in alphabetical order.

Didactic Verse
Verse which attempts to instruct or educate - as opposed to pure poetry. An example of didactic verse is Alexander Pope''s Essay on Man which is a moral treatise. Satirical verse is often indirectly didactic as, in ridiculing something, it attempts to show us an alternative way to go.
Simple aide-mémoire poems such as: ''Thirty days hath September'' could also be described as didactic.

A line of poetry consisting of two metrical feet. Dimeters are comparatively rare but an example of an iambic dimeter is The Robin by Thomas Hardy. An example of a dactylic dimeter is The Charge of the Light Brigade by Tennyson.

Greek measure consisting of two metrical feet, which are taken as a single unit.

Dirge Poem of lamentation
an elegy.type of poem

Two spondees combined into a single unit.

Dissociation of Sensibility
Term invented by T.S. Eliot to describe (what he saw as) the split between thought and feeling which occurred in English poetry after the metaphysical poets.

Dissonance T
he deliberate use of inharmonious syllables/words/phrases in order to create a harsh-toned effect. Walt Whitman employs dissonance in his poem To a Locomotive in Winter.

A two line Greek stanza. The distich is particularly associated with Greek elegiac verse and consists of one line of dactylic hexameter and one line of dactylic pentameter.

Distributed Stress
When uncertainly occurs regarding which of two consecutive syllables is stressed. This is sometimes called hovering accent.

Disyllabic Foot
A foot with two syllables - as in iambic and trochaic meter.


Greek lyric poem (possibly invented by Arion) sung in honour of the God Bacchus. Alexander''s Feast by John Dryden is a more recent example.

Doggerel Poor quality poetry
The Scottish poet William McGonagall is famous for his doggerel and enjoys the dubious distinction of being regarded as the world''s worst poet.

Double Dactyl
Difficult light verse form invented by the American poet Anthony Hecht, consisting of two quatrains where the first three lines are two dactyls e.g. ''Higgledy-piggledy'' and the fourth is a dactyl and a macron. The last word of each quatrain must also rhyme.

Double Rhymes
Double or disyllabic rhymes occur when the final two syllables of different words chime together - as in ''spender'' and ''slender''.

Dramatic Monologue
Poem narrated by an imaginary character (not the poet) in the manner of a speech from a play. Dramatic monologue poems were particularly developed during the 19th century by poets such as Tennyson, Hardy and most notably Robert Browning (e.g. My Last Duchess). The technique was then used to great effect by Eliot (e.g. The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock) and Pound.
See also my poems Man and Superman and Ray which use dramatic monologue for comic effect.


Echo Verse
Type of verse where the final syllable of each line is repeated as an ''echo'' on the line below e.g. Herbert''s poem Heaven.

Short pastoral poem originally written by Virgil who was imitating the idylls of Theocritus. Eclogues may also express religious or ethical themes. A modern example of the form is Eclogue from Iceland by Louis MacNeice. The eclogue is sometimes known as the bucolic.

Egotistical Sublime
Term coined by John Keats to describe (what he saw as) Wordsworth''s self-aggrandising style.

Poetry (or other literature) written about works of art e.g. Musée des Beaux Arts by W.H. Auden or Pictures from Brueghel by William Carlos Williams or my Edvard Munch poems.

Elegiacs Classical
Greek verse form composed of alternating lines of dactylic hexameter and dactylic pentameter. See also distich.

Elegiac Stanza
A quatrain written in iambic pentameters and rhyming a-b-a-b.

Poem written to lament the dead e.g. Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard by Thomas Gray. Such a poem would employ a mournful or elegiac tone. Other examples of elegy include: Lycidas by Milton, In Memoriam by Tennyson, When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom''d by Whitman (for Abraham Lincoln) and In Memory of W. B. Yeats by Auden. A more modern example of elegy is V by Tony Harrison.

The suppression of a vowel or syllable for metrical purposes. E.g. ''The sedge has wither''d from the lake'' from La Belle Dame Sans Merci by Keats. The elision, in this case, ensures that the line remains octosyllabic. Modern poets no longer use elision. See also synalepha.

Omission from a sentence of words needed to complete its construction, but without a loss of sense.

Emotive Language
Language which is charged with emotion e.g. love, hate, fear etc. Sometimes associated with inferior poetry - especially that produced by angst-ridden teenagers.

Encomiastic Verse
Poems written to praise or glorify people, objects or abstract ideas e.g. Wordsworth''s Ode to Duty.

End Stopped Line
A line of verse which ends with a grammatical break such as a coma, colon, semi-colon or full stop etc. Compare this with enjambment - see below.

Englyn Poem of Welsh Celtic origin
There are 8 separate englyn forms including the cyrch, the milwr, the unodl union, the unodl crwc, the proest dalgon, the lleddfbroest, the proest gadwynog and the penfyr. The example below is a 30 syllable englyn arranged in lines of 10, 6, 7 and 7 - where the rhyme scheme is announced by the sixth syllable of the first line:
At the remote, unmanned level crossing
The driver puts his hand
On the steering wheel and
Carries out what he had planned.
-Englyn also employ an alliterative, internal rhyme scheme known as a cynghanedd. See Welsh forms.

Enjambement The continuation of a sentence or phrase across a line break - as opposed to an end-stopped line. Philip Larkin frequently used enjambment e.g. in The Whitsun Weddings:
A hothouse flashed uniquely; hedges dipped
And rose: and now and then a smell of grass
Displaced the reek of buttoned carriage-cloth
-Enjambment is sometimes known as run-on.

Short stanza concluding a ballade or sestina. See Ballade.

Epic Simile
Extended or elaborate simile; sometimes known as the Homeric simile. See simile.

Epic Verse
Poetry written on a grand scale and usually narrative in nature e.g. The Odyssey by Homer. English examples of epic verse include The Faerie Queene by Edmund Spenser or Paradise Lost by John Milton. Epic verse is not widely read today. The novel has now superseded it as the major narrative form in literature.

Short, pithy poem - usually of a humorous nature. Ben Jonson wrote a series of epigrams e.g.
He that fears death, or mourns it, in the just,
Shows in the resurrection little trust.

The concluding section of a poem or literary work e.g. Epilogue to Asolando by Robert Browning. See also prologue.

Poem written in the form of a letter e.g. Epistle To Dr Arbuthnot by Pope.

A short poem written to be carved on a gravestone. W.B.Yeats wrote his own epitaph e.g.
Cast a cold eye
On life, on death.
Horseman, pass by!

A poem written to celebrate a marriage. One of the best known epithalamions was written by Edmund Spenser in 1594 on the occasion of his marriage to Elizabeth Boyle. See also prothalamion.

Epithet A
djective expressing quality or attribute. Homer frequently linked adjectives and nouns to create epithets e.g. ''swift-footed Achilles'' or ''rosy-fingered dawn''.

Greek metrical foot containing one short/unstressed syllable and three long/stressed syllables. Variations include: first, second, third or fourth epitrites, depending on the position of the unstressed syllable.

The third stanza of a Pindaric ode. See ode.

Equivalence In quantitative verse
the rule that two short syllables equal one long syllable.

Erotic Poetry
Explicit poetry dealing with sex or sexual love e.g. the work of Sappho or Anacreon, Venus and Adonis by Shakespeare or Rossetti''s collection The House of Life. Love poetry, by contrast, deals with the more spiritual side of love.

Pleasing sound; usually of words or phrases.

An improvised poem e.g. Extempore Effusion upon the Death of James Hogg by Wordsworth. See also impromptu.


Short story or piece of verse conveying a moral e.g. Aesop''s fables.

Fabliau A short tale in verse originating from early French poetry. Fabliaux were often comic or ribald in tone. An English example is the Miller''s Tale by Chaucer.

Falling Meter
Term used to describe front stressed meters such as trochaic and dactylic - as opposed to rising meter.

Originally a term synonymous with imagination through the use of metaphors or conceits. It was later downgraded by Romantic critics to mean invention of a more superficial nature.

Ending Line of verse with an extra unstressed syllable at the end.

Figurative Language
Language where the literal meaning of words or phrases is disregarded in order to show an imaginative relationship between diverse things. Figurative language makes poetry more vivid. Such figures of speech include: allegory, apostrophe, hyperbole, irony, litotes, metaphor, metonymy, personification, simile and synecdoche.

A foot is a basic unit of a meter. In English, a metrical foot normally contains either two or three syllables with varying patterns of stress. See meter.

The structural components of a poem e.g. stanza pattern, metre, syllable count etc - as opposed to the content. T.S.Eliot said that: ''In the perfect poet they (form and content) fit and are the same thing''.

Found Poetry
Poetry that is discovered ''ready-made'' within the text of books, newspapers, advertisements etc. Several years ago I came across the following double haiku in the Eastern Daily Press:
Conscientious pig
Person required for large
Modern sow unit.

Free verse
Verse without formal meter or rhyme patterns. Free verse, instead, relies upon the natural rhythms of everyday speech. The American poet Walt Whitman was a pioneer of free verse (see Song of Myself). However, it was fellow Americans T.S.Eliot and Ezra Pound who are generally regarded as the major instigators of free verse in English. Free verse is particularly associated with both the imagist and modernist movements. See also vers libre.

French Forms I
ntricate stanza forms devised by the French Provençal troubadour poets. These include: the ballade, the chant royal, the kyrielle, the lai, the rondeau, the rondeau redoublé, the rondel, the rondelet, the sestina, the triolet, the virelai and the villanelle. Many of these forms were subsequently used by the famous 15th century French poet François Villon. Henry Austin Dobson and A. C. Swinburne were two English poets who specialised in the use of French forms.


Meter composed of two iambic dimeters e.g. Tennyson''s Boadicea.

Kind or style of literary output e.g. poem, novel, play, short story etc.

Arabic love poem or love-song.

Minstrel or entertainer.

What you''re reading now.

Glyconic Verse
A lyric meter invented by the Greek poet Glykon.

Gnomic Verse
Verse containing gnomes, maxims and aphorisms. It particularly refers to the work of certain sixth and seventh centuries B.C. Greek poets - such as Theognis.

Gobbledegook Onomatopoeic
word (derived from the noise made by poultry) for incomprehensible or jargon-laden writing/language.

Goliardic Verse
Verse written during the 12th and 13th centuries and attributed to the Goliards who were wandering scholars. It was primarily written in Latin and was ribald and satirical in tone. The most notable collection of Goliardic verse is the Carmina Burana which was discovered in the monastery of Benediktbeuern in 1803.

Elaborate and affected poetic style which was originated by the 16th century Spanish poet Luis de Gongora y Argote.

Grand Style
Term coined by Matthew Arnold (in one of his Oxford lectures) to describe the lofty, elevated tone of poets such as Homer, Pindar, Dante and Milton etc.

Chinese poetic term which literally means ''old poetry''. However, it is more normally used to refer to less formal verse than jintishi.


Japanese form, pioneered by the poet Basho, and comprising a section of prose followed by haiku. They are frequently travelogues - as in Basho''s The Records of a Travel-Worn Satchel (1688). In the best examples, the prose and haiku should work together to create an organic whole.

Miniature Japanese poem consisting of 17 syllables - five syllables in first line, seven in second and five in the last. No rhyme or meter scheme is employed when writing haiku. The aim of the haiku is to create something greater than the sum of the parts e.g.

Today your surface
Is a mirror where the sky
Bends to see itself.

See more of my River Diary Haiku.

Traditionally Haiku
were used to capture aspects of nature and often feature a seasonal component known as a ''kigo''. See Japanese forms.

Half Rhyme
Occurs with feminine or three-syllable words where the initial accented syllables rhyme but the unaccented syllables don''t e.g. ''nearly'' and ''clearing'' or ''wilderness'' and ''building''.

Harlem Renaissance African American literary movement
which occurred in the 1920s and 1930s. Langston Hughes and Countee Cullen were leading players.

Usually refers to a classical line in which the first foot is a trochee or a spondee, the second is a dactyl and the third and fourth are trochees. This meter was frequently used by the Roman poet Catullus.

A line of poetry containing seven metrical ''feet''. An example of anapestic heptameter is The Lacking Sense by Thomas Hardy.

A seven line stanza.

A seven syllable line.

Heroic Couplet
Pair of rhyming lines written in iambic pentameter. John Dryden and Alexander Pope used Heroic Couplets extensively in their work.

Heroic line
Another term for iambic pentameter. See meter.

Term coined by the Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa to describe an alter ego through which poets/authors can create work.

A line containing six metrical ''feet''. An example of an iambic hexameter is the last line of each stanza of The Faerie Queene by Edmund Spenser.

A six line stanza.

Homograph Two or more words which share the same spelling but are pronounced differently and have different meanings e.g. ''tear'' and ''tear''.

Two or more words which share the same spelling and pronunciation but have different meanings e.g. ''pole'' and ''pole''.

Two or more words which are pronounced the same but have different spelling and meaning e.g. ''saw'' (to cut) and ''sore'' (hurting). Many puns are based on homophones.

The most memorable or most catchy part of a song.

Ode See ode

Hovering Accent See distributed stress.

Verse written in the style of Samuel Butler''s satirical poem Hudibras. Hudibras, a poem written in rhyming octosyllabic couplets, concerns the exploits of a Presbyterian knight called Sir Hudibras.

An eight line stanza.

Hymn Poem written in praise of God and usually sung in Christian worship e.g. Light Shining Out of Darkness by William Cowper. Cowper collaborated with John Newton to write the Olney Hymns (1771-72).

A writer of hymns.

Exaggeration for dramatic effect e.g. Doctor Faustus by Christopher Marlowe:
''Was this the face that launch''d a thousand ships,
And burnt the topless towers of Ilium?''

Line possessing an extra syllable after the last, normal foot of the meter. Such lines can also be known as hypermetrical or extrametrical.


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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Poem written on the spur of the moment e.g. Impromptu on Mrs Riddell''s Birthday by Robert Burns. See also extempore.

Words/lines which are spoken or chanted in a magical fashion e,g. the witches in Macbeth: ''Fair is foul, and foul is fair''.

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.

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.

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''.

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.

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.

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.

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.

J - k

Famous nonsense poem written by Lewis Carroll which first appeared in Alice Through the Looking Glass (1872).

Poets Group of poets including Shakespeare, John Donne, Ben Jonson and Michael Drayton who were writing during the reign of James I (1603-1625).

Forms There are a number of Japanese poetic forms which rely upon syllable counting rather than rhyme or meter. In general, these forms are short and attempt to create something which is greater than the sum of the parts. See haiku (hokku), naga-uta (choka), renga, senryu and tanka (Waka or uta).

Jazz Poetry
Type of chanted poetry pioneered by the American poet (Nicholas) Vachel Lindsay. The form was further developed by Langston Hughes who became one of the first poets to recite his poetry to music. It also informed the work of US Beat Poets such as Kenneth Rexroth and UK poets such as Christopher Logue, Roy Fisher and Michael Horovitz.
See also performance poetry and underground poets.

Jingle Short
simple piece of rhyming verse e.g. nursery rhymes or adverts such as: ''Mr Kipling makes exceedingly good cakes''.

Chinese poetic term which literally means ''modern-form poetry''. It refers to a regulated style of poetry which developed from the 5th century onwards and employed four tones: the level tone and three deflected tones (rising, falling and entering). Tu Fu was the most accomplished exponent of jintishu. Compare to gushi.

In the manner of Samuel Johnson. This is normally a reference to his grandiloquent prose style rather than to his poetic output.

Wandering minstrel hired by the French troubadour and trouvères poets to perform their compositions.

A poet''s early or immature work.

In the satirical style of the Roman poet Juvenal.

In the manner/style of John Keats. See also negative capability and mansion of many apartments.

A periphrastic compound whereby two or more nouns are used to replace another noun e.g. ''oar-steed'' for ship or ''whale-road'' for sea. Kenning was commonly used in Old English or Old Norse verse and is often metonymic in character.

Kinetic Poetry
Poetry which gains momentum from the careful layout of the letters/words/lines on the page. See concrete poetry.

Medieval French form written in rhyming couplets (though often arranged in quatrains) and featuring repeated lines or refrains. An example of a kyrielle is A Lenten Hymn by Thomas Campion.


Lament --------->elegy.

Scurrilous, satirical poem e.g. John Wilmot''s famous epitaph for Charles II:
Her lies a great and mighty king
Whose promise none relies on;
He never said a foolish thing,
Nor ever did a wise one.

Short lyric or narrative poem meant to be sung; originating from the French ''lai'' or ''lais''.

Theme running through a piece of work.

Verse Type of verse possibly attributed to a 13th century French poet called Leo. In English it refers to verse employing an internal rhyme scheme where a word in the middle of the line rhymes with the word at the end of the line e.g ''The splendour falls on castle walls'' from Blow, Bugle, Blow by Tennyson.

The maker of dictionaries. According to Samuel Johnson: ''a harmless drudge''.

The particular type of vocabulary used by a person or poet. The words ''wind'', ''rain'' and ''storm'' are an instantly recognisable part of Bob Dylan''s lexicon.

The text of an opera. W. H. Auden was a skilled librettist.

Light Verse
Verse which is comical or light-hearted in tone. Light verse forms include the limerick, the clerihew and the Little Willie.

Ligne Donnée
Term coined by Paul Valéry to describe a line which is ''given'' or ''gifted'' to a poet from the Muses/God etc.

Form of light verse consisting of five lines and rhymed: a-a-b-b-a. The first, second and fifth lines contain three feet while the third and fourth lines contain two feet. The form was popularised by the Victorian poet Edward Lear. Lear often used the same word at the end of the first and fifth lines e.g.
There was an old person of Dean
Who dined on one pea, and one bean;
For he said, "More than that
Would make me too fat,"
That cautious old person of Dean.

Modern limerick
writers tend to introduce a new rhyme in the last line - as in this example by Gavin Ewart:

The Highbrow Hangover

Today I am feeling subfusc
and as brittle and brusque as a rusk,
most frighteningly friable -
no action is viable -
not a man nor a mouse but a husk!

A basic structural component of a poem. Lines can be written in free form, in syllabic form (e.g. haiku) or in metrical form. In the official classification, metrical lines can vary in length from the monometer (one foot) to the octameter (eight feet).

The scientific study of language and its structure.

Concerning the writing or study of literature, especially that of high quality.

Literary Agent
Person who acts on behalf of an author in negotiations with publishers/film makers etc in return for a percentage of final fee. Agents seldom represent poets, however, as there is (regrettably) very little money to be made out of poetry.

Literary Terms
Glossary of literary related terminology; usually broader in scope than a ''Glossary of Poetic Terms''.

General term denoting high quality written work including: poetry, novels, plays, short stories etc. Ezra Pound famously d that: '' Literature is news that STAYS news.''
See also canon.

Figure of speech employing ironic understatement which affirms something by denying its opposite e.g. ''Earth has not anything to show more fair'' from Composed Upon Westminster Bridge by William Wordsworth.

Little Willie
Form of light verse written in quatrains rhyming a-a-b-b. They concern the exploits of the eponymous disaster-prone hero e.g.
Billy, in one of his nice new sashes,
Fell in the fire and was burnt to ashes;
Now, although the room grows chilly,
I haven''t the heart to poke poor Willie.

Liverpool Poets
Name given to Roger McGough, Brian Patten and Adrian Henri who came together in Liverpool in the 1960s. They published and performed their own poetry - which was humorous, popular and anti-intellectual. See also performance poetry and underground poets.

Poetry featuring a mixed meter and composed of iambs, trochees, dactyls and anapests.

Term coined by Ezra Pound to describe a poem which induces both melopoeia and phanopoeia by ''stimulating the associations (intellectual or emotional) that have remained in the receiver''s consciousness in relation to the actual words or word groups employed''.

Where cliques of authors/poets favourably review each other''s work in order to boost sales. See puff.

Love Poetry
Poetry which deals with the agony and ecstasy of love e.g. Shakespeare''s Sonnets. See also erotic poetry.

Lyre U-shaped,
stringed instrument (similar to a harp)used in ancient Greece to accompany recited/sung poetry. See ''lyric poetry'' below.

Lyric Poetry
Term originally derived from the Greek word meaning ''for the lyre'' and indicating verses that were written to be sung. However, more recently the term ''lyric'' has been used to refer to short poems, often written in the ''I'' form, where the poet expresses his or her feelings e.g. The Lake Isle of Innisfree by W.B.Yeats or London by William Blake.

Lyrical Ballads
Ground breaking poetry collaboration by Coleridge and Wordsworth, which first appeared in 1798. Subsequent extended versions appeared in 1800, 1801 and 1802. Most of the poems in the collection were written when the two poets lived in Somerset: Coleridge at Nether Stowey and Wordsworth at Alfoxden.


Macaronic Verse
Verse which jumbles together lines or phrases written in different languages (Originally this would have included some Latin.) John Skelton, the English renaissance poet, wrote a number of poems in this style.

Macron In prosody,
a macron is the mark placed over a syllable in a line of verse to show that it is stressed. It is denoted by the following symbol (−). See also breve and meter.

Composite nick-name (devised by Roy Campbell) for Louis MacNeice, Stephen Spender, W.H.Auden and C. Day-Lewis. See also Pylon Poets.

A short love poem which can easily be set to music.

Magnum Opus
An artist or poet''s ''great work'' e.g. Milton''s Paradise Lost.

Archaic term for poet. In February 2004 Edwin Morgan was appointed as ''the Scots Maker'' - a position similar to that of the English poet laureate.

Mansion of Many Apartments
Theory devised by John Keats stating that people are capable of different levels of thought. He suggested that some have the ability to move through the ''thoughtless chamber'' and the ''chamber of maiden thought'' to reach more profound states.

poetry Term used to describe the work of poets such as Craig Raine and Christopher Reid. It originated from Raine''s 1979 collection A Martian Sends a Postcard Home. Martian poetry frequently describes everyday objects from unusual angles by using inventive metaphor and simile. For example, in Raine''s poem A Walk in the Country a sewage farm is described as being ''like a tape-recorder, whose black spools turn night and day''.

Poetry Greek poetry written to be sung. The term derives from the Greek word ''melos'' meaning ''song''.

Poundian term to describe the kind of poem which induces ''emotional correlations by the sound and rhythm of the speech''. He stated that the maximum amount of melopoeia is to be found in poems that are written to be sung, chanted or read aloud. See also logopoeia and phanopoeia.

Mermaid Tavern Tavern frequented by John Donne, Francis Beaumont, Ben Jonson and possibly William Shakespeare. It stood in Bread St. London and was the location for literary meetings. Keats wrote about it in Lines on the Mermaid Tavern.

Mesostich See acrostic.

An imaginative comparison between two actions/objects etc which is not literally applicable.
An example of metaphor occurs in In Memory of W.B.Yeats by W.H.Auden:

''The provinces of his body revolted,
The squares of his mind were empty,''

Obviously Yeats'' body does not have provinces, nor does his mind have squares but the comparison helps to bring the poem to life. Metaphor is similar to simile but omits words such as ''like'' or ''as''.

Some poems feature an extended metaphor e.g. Crossing the Bar by Tennyson.

I.A. Richards coined the terms ''tenor'' and ''vehicle'' to distinguish the 2 parts of a metaphor. The ''tenor'' is an idea with which a second idea (the vehicle) is identified. In Macbeth''s famous soliloquy there is the line: ''life''s but a walking shadow'' - where ''life'' is the ''tenor'' and ''walking shadow'' is the ''vehicle''.

See also dead metaphor and mixed metaphor.

Metaphysical Poets
A term originally coined by Samuel Johnson in his Life of Cowley to criticise a group of poets including: John Donne, George Herbert, Richard Crashaw, Henry Vaughan, Thomas Traherne, Andrew Marvell and Abraham Cowley etc. whose poetry he regarded as being over intellectualised. The term is somewhat misleading as it pigeon holes a number of poets who, in reality, had little in common.

Is the regular pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables that make up a line of poetry. Meter gives rhythm and regularity to poetry.
However, the English language does not always fit exactly into metrical patterns so many poems employing meter will exhibit irregularities.

In English verse the most common meters are: iambic, dactylic, trochaic and anapestic. Other meters are occasionally used, such as spondaic and pyrrhic. There are also a number of classical Greek meters which are very rare indeed - such as amphibrachic, amphimacer and choriambic.

Iambic meter
An end stressed two syllable foot e.g. from In Memoriam by Lord Tennyson


This example is an iambic tetrameter - i.e. it has four iambic feet and therefore the total number of syllables in the line is eight. Iambic is an example of rising meter.

Trochaic meter:

A front stressed two syllable foot.

e.g. The Song of Hiawatha by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

BY the | SHORES of | GIT chee | GUMee,

This example is trochaic tetrameter - i.e. four two syllable feet. Therefore the total line has eight syllables. Trochaic meter is less commonly used than iambic meter. Trochaic is an example of falling meter.

Anapestic meter

An end stressed three syllable foot e.g. The Destruction of the Sennacherib by Byron:

And the SHEEN | of their SPEARS | was like STARS | on the SEA,

This line is an anapestic tetrameter i.e. it has four feet containing three syllables each. Therefore the total number of syllables in the line is twelve.

Dactylic Meter

A front stressed three syllable foot e.g. The Lost Leader by Robert Browning

WE that had | LOVED him so, | FOLlowed him | HONoured him,

This line is an example of dactyllic tetrameter i.e. it has four feet containing three syllables each. Therefore the total number of syllables in the line is twelve.

Each of the above meters can be used in lines with varying numbers of feet. The number of feet in a line is usually classified as follows: monometer (one foot), dimeter (two feet), trimeter (three feet), tetrameter (four feet), pentameter (five feet), hexameter (six feet), heptameter (seven feet) and octameter (eight feet).

Figure of speech where the name of the object being described is substituted for something closely related to it. For example, ''the crown'' is often substituted for ''the monarchy''. Other examples include ''the press'' for newspapers and ''the bench'' for the judiciary.

Middle English
The written and spoken language of England from the beginning of the 12th Century to approx. 1500. The most important writer of the period being Chaucer.

Miltonian/Miltonic In the style of John Milton.

Mimesis T
he imitation of reality in art/poetry.

German lyric poets who were writing between the 12th and 14th centuries. Their main subject was ''love'' (Minne) - hence their name. They were influenced by the French troubadour poets. See also meistersinger.

Minstrel Itinerant medieval musician/singer/story teller/poet. See bard and jongleur.

Mixed Metaphor
Figure of speech which combines two or more inconsistent metaphors e.g. ''We''re not through the woods by a long chalk.'' Or more famously the fourth line from Hamlet''s soliloquy: ''Or to take arms against a sea of troubles.'' See metaphor.

Mock-Epic See mock-heroic.

Type of satirical verse which deals with trivial matters in the style of epic or heroic verse. The Rape of the Lock by Alexander Pope is an example of mock-heroic verse. Pope''s poem was inspired by Lord Petre''s cutting of a lock of Miss Arabella Fermor''s hair without her permission.
Another example is The Sofa - the first book of The Task by William Cowper - which begins: ''I sing the sofa''.

Modern English
The written and spoken language of England from approx. 1500 to the present day.

Literary movement that occurred from c.1890 until the beginning of World War II and sought to challenge traditional forms.
In poetry, the three main exponents of modernism were T.S.Eliot, Ezra Pound and W.B. Yeats. Pound was the main promoter of modernism and influenced many poets both in England and America. Pound also invented Imagism which was an attempt to create minimalist poetry of great clarity - influenced by Japanese forms such as haiku and tanka.

The Waste Land (1922) by T.S.Eliot is arguably the most important ''modernist'' poem - with its non-traditional forms, its juxta-positioning of images and its complex literary allusions. The final shape of The Waste Land owed much to Pound''s editing.

In general terms, modernism has resulted in a greater use of free verse and a turning away from formal poetic meters and verse forms.

Molossus Classical metrical foot containing three long or stressed syllables.

Monody A Greek ode sung by a single actor and lamenting a person''s death. A modern example is Monody on the Death of a Platonist Bank Clerk by John Betjeman.

A line consisting of one metrical foot. Monometers are very rare. However an example of a (predominantly) iambic monometer is Upon His Departure Hence by Robert Herrick.

A unit of measure in quantitative verse; namely the time taken up by a short syllable. A long syllable is equal to two morae.

Poets Term coined by J. D. Scott, editor of the Spectator, to describe a group of poets including Philip Larkin, Kingsley Amis, D. J. Enright, John Wain and Robert Conquest. Movement poetry tends to be witty, sardonic, anti-poetic and eschewed the use of classical allusions. See also the New Apocalypse.

The nine daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne who inspired artists and musicians. Four of the daughters: Calliope, Euterpe, Erato and Polyhymnia were specifically responsible for inspiring poets.


Longer Japanese form consisting of alternating five and seven syllable lines - as in a haiku - and concluding with two seven syllable lines - as in a tanka. The naga-uta is sometimes known as a choka. See Japanese forms.

Naive and Sentimental
Term coined by Schiller to distinguish (what he saw as) two separate types of poets: 'Naive' - those like Homer, Shakespeare and Goethe who dealt with nature as it is and 'Sentimental' - those who, like himself, or Wordsworth dealt with it in a more detached or formal manner.

Narrative Verse
Verse which tells a story e.g. The Wife of Bath's Tale by Geoffrey Chaucer.

Nature Poets
Poetry Term used to describe poets whose subject matter predominantly concerns animals, birds, insects and vegetation. Notable English nature poets include John Clare, Gerard Manley Hopkins, D.H.Lawrence and Ted Hughes.

Near Rhyme

Term used to describe a number of devices which come close to full rhyme but don't create the perfect chiming sound associated with words such as 'cat' and 'mat'. These devices include: assonance, consonance, half-rhyme and unaccented rhyme.

Capability Term coined by John Keats to describe the (true) poet's ability of 'being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason'.

Neo-Classical Poets
Poetry Term used to describe the work of some late 17th century and 18th century poets such as Alexander Pope and John Dryden who deliberately imitated the classical Greek and Roman poets. Their work was characterised by formality and restraint. Romanticism was a reaction against neo-classicism. The neo-classical poets are sometimes known as the Augustans.

The coining or use of new words e.g. in Jabberwocky by Lewis Carroll
Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

New Apocalypse,
the Group of 1940s poets who reacted against the classicism of Auden. Their work was wild, turbulent and surrealist. James Findlay Hendry, Henry Treece and G.S.Fraser were key members. Other poets associated with the movement were: Dylan Thomas, Vernon Watkins and George Barker. The movement poets opposed the New Apocalypse.

New Criticism
Group of (largely) American critics including: T.S.Eliot, I.A. Richards, William Empson, Yvor Winters, Allen Tate, Cleanth Brooks and Robert Penn Warren who advocated a 'close reading' of texts.

Nobel Prize for Literature
Nobel Prizes were instigated by the Swedish chemist Alfred Bernhard Nobel. The first prize for literature was awarded to Sully Prudhomme in 1901. Other poet recipients include: T.S.Eliot, W.B.Yeats, Rudyard Kipling, Pablo Neruda, Seamus Heaney and Derek Walcott. See full list of recipients here.

Nom de Plume
Pen-name or literary pseudonym. Hugh MacDiarmid was the nom de plume of the Scottish poet Christopher Murray Grieve.

Nonsense V
erse A form of light verse where the emphasis moves from comedy to absurdity. This is often achieved by following a rhyme scheme to an illogical conclusion. Edward Lear, Lewis Carroll and, more recently, Spike Milligan were all exponents of nonsense verse.

Alternative term for metrical feet. See meter.

Nursery Rhymes
Jingles written for children e.g. Hickory, Dickory, Dock, Wee Willie Winkie or The Cat and the Fiddle. Many have been passed down orally.


Objective Correlative
Term devised by T.S. Eliot to describe a poet's attempt to find a concrete or specific situation/location/thing which evokes a particular emotion in the reader (as opposed to attempting to describe the emotion itself.) In The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock Eliot writes:
'Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels
And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells:' This could be taken as an objective correlative signifying the loneliness and desolation of modern urban life.

Group of poets including Carl Rakosi, George Oppen, Charles Reznikoff, Basil Bunting and Louis Zukofsky. Objectivism grew out of imagism. The objectivists looked to Ezra Pound and William Carlos Williams as mentors.

Oblique Rhyme
Alternative term for near rhyme.

Occasional verse
Verse written to celebrate an occasion such as a coronation, a wedding or a birth. At national level, occasional verse would be one of the duties of the poet laureate.

Is a line of poetry containing eight metrical 'feet'. Octameter is the longest line included in the formal classification of lines. The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe is written in trochaic octameters.

A stanza comprising of eight lines; sometimes known as an octet or octastich.

Octosyllabic Line
A line containing eight syllables e.g. iambic tetrameter.

Comes from the Greek word meaning song. Odes are normally written in an exalted style and are classified as either Pindaric (after Pindar) or Horatian (after Horace). Pindaric Odes have a triadic or three stanza structure - comprising a strophe (first stanza), an antistrophe (second stanza) and an epode (third stanza). When odes were originally sung and danced by a Greek chorus, the strophe was chanted when the chorus danced to the left and the antistrophe when it danced to the right. The epode was chanted when the chorus stood still. An example of a Pindaric Ode is To the Immortal Memory and Friendship of that Noble Pair, Sir Lucius Cary and Sir H. Morison by Ben Jonson. Other examples include: The Bard and The Progress of Poesy by Thomas Gray.
Horatian Odes are almost always homostrophic i.e. they repeat a single stanza shape through out (based upon the first stanza). However, the shape of that stanza is at the discretion of the poet. Ode to a Nightingale by John Keats and Ode to a Skylark by Shelley are both Horatian Odes but appear very different. Another famous Horatian ode is An Horatian Ode upon Cromwell's Return from Ireland by Andrew Marvell.

In the 17th century Abraham Cowley developed the irregular ode which features stanzas with varying forms and lengths. Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood by William Wordsworth is an example of an irregular ode.

Offbeat Work which is quirky or unconventional.

Old English The written and spoken language of England from the first half of the 5th Century to the period just after the Norman Conquest; often referred to as Anglo-Saxon. The two pre-eminent texts from this period are Beowulf and The Dream of the Rood.

Onomatopoeia The use of words that imitate the sound that the poet is trying to describe e.g. the use of the word 'crackle' in Thistles by Ted Hughes:
'Thistles spike the summer air
Or crackle open under the blue-black pressure.'

Other examples of onomatopoeia by Ted Hughes include: 'Owls hushing the floating woods' from Pike and 'Wings snickering' from A Dove.

A dramatic work set to music e.g. Aida by Verdi.

A short or humorous opera.

A musical composition or set of compositions or an artistic work - usually on a grand scale. See also Magnum Opus.

Oral Poetry
Poetry composed to be recited rather than read. Oral poetry was a feature of many pre-literate societies. Much of it was chanted to a musical accompaniment.

Organic Form
The form taken by poetry which arises naturally from its subject matter - as opposed to 'mechanic form' e.g. stanzaic or metrical patterns which can be imposed upon it.

Ottava Rima
A poem, of Italian origin, consisting of eight line stanzas with a rhyme scheme a-b-a-b-a-b-c-c.
e.g. Don Juan by Lord Byron.

See hyperbole.

Figure of speech containing two seemingly contradictory expressions e.g. 'Faith unfaithful kept him falsely true.' (Idylls of the King by Tennyson)


A metrical foot (of Greek origin) containing one long syllable and three short syllables. The position of the long syllable can be varied hence the so-called first, second, third or fourth paeon.

Palindrome Word,
phrase or line of verse which reads the same forwards or backwards e.g. 'Able was I ere I saw Elba.'

Palinode Poem which retracts a statement made in a previous poem.

Poem which praises or eulogizes something or someone.

Pantoum Verse
form of Malayan origin featuring interlinked quatrains rhyming a-b-a-b. The structure of the pantoum is similar to that of the villanelle. It was used by French poets including Charles Baudelaire and introduced into English by Henry Austin Dobson.

Seemingly absurd statement which, on closer examination, reveals an important truth e.g. Wordsworth's ' The child is father of the man'.

Phrases or sentences placed side by side which exhibit repetition of structure or meaning. Parallelism is particularly a feature of religious verse (especially Hebrew) or of incantations. A more modern example is the beginning of T.S. Eliot's Ash-Wednesday
'Because I do not hope to turn again
Because I do not hope
Because I do not hope to turn'

Term coined by Edmund Blunden to describe a form of 'near rhyme' where the consonants in two different words are exactly the same but the vowels vary. Pararhyme is particularly a feature of the poetry of Wilfred Owen. For example, in Owen's unfinished poem Strange Meeting we find lines ending with words such as 'groaned' and 'groined' and 'hall' and 'Hell'. Pararhyme is more commonly known as double consonance.

The use of clauses (one after the other) but without conjunctions e.g. Caesar's 'I came, I saw, I conquered'.

Term coined by G.M.Hopkins to describe competent but uninspired poetry.

Poets Group of 19th century French poets (including Leconte de Lisle) who reacted against the excesses of romanticism - favouring instead restraint and objectivity. See also the symbolist poets who, in turn, reacted against the objectivity of the Parnassians.

Imitation of a poem or another poet's style for comic/satiric effect. In Alice's Adventures in Wonderland Lewis Carroll's poem Old Father William is a parody of The Old Man's Comforts by Robert Southey.
See also my poem Cock-Eyed Beauty which is a parody of Pied Beauty by G.M. Hopkins.

Literary work composed of material taken from various sources or written in the style of other poets/authors.

A poem about idyllic rural life - often featuring the life of shepherds. Early examples of the form include the idylls of Theocritus and the eclogues of Virgil. Milton's poem Lycidas is also an example of a pastoral poem. Pastorals tended to die out with the rise of romanticism.

Pathetic Fallacy
Term coined by Ruskin to describe a tendency of poets (particularly Wordsworth) and painters to attribute human feelings to nature.
See also anthropomorphism and personification.

Poetry (or other literature) which evokes pity or sadness in the reader e.g. Send No Money by Philip Larkin. Carried too far, pathos can become bathos.

Poetry Written by poets from poor backgrounds e.g. the work of John Clare and Robert Bloomfield. Often concerned with rural issues or nature. Bloomfield's The Farmer's Boy would be a classic example.

Literary pseudonym.

A line of poetry comprising of five metrical 'feet'. Shakespeare's plays were largely written in iambic pentameter. See meter and Shakespeare's line.

Performance Poetry
Poetry that is performed 'live' in pubs and clubs - usually from memory. In the UK, performance poetry is often humorous in nature e.g. John Hegley, John Cooper Clarke, Ivor Cutler and Atilla the Stockbroker etc. Performance poetry was pioneered in the UK by Adrian Mitchell and the Liverpool Poets (Roger McGough, Adrian Henri and Brian Patten.)
Black poets such as Benjamin Zephaniah and Linton Kwesi Johnson have also reached a wide audience through performing their own poetry.

See also Poetry Slam.

Periphrasis Circumlocution
(or roundabout speaking) employed for poetic effect. See kenning.

Poem See dramatic monologue.

Figure of speech whereby inanimate objects or abstractions are given human characteristics. In his poem Low Water Ted Hughes uses personification to describe a river e.g.
'She lolls on her deep couch. And a long thigh
Lifts from the flash of her silks.'
Personification is a form of metaphor. See also anthropomorphism.

Sonnet See sonnet.

Poundian term to describe a poem which relies upon 'throwing a visual image on the mind'. He went on to say that this is particularly exemplified by Chinese poetry because the Chinese language is composed of pictograms. See also logopoeia and melopoeia which, according to Pound, make up the tripartite division of poetry.

Ode See ode.

The use of unnecessary or superfluous words. Poets often fall into this trap when trying to pad out a metrical line e.g. the clown's song from Shakespeare's Twelfth Night.
When that I was and a little tiny boy,
With hey, ho, the wind and the rain,
A foolish thing was but a toy,
For the rain it raineth every day.

Originally a metrical composition. However, many modern poets no longer use meter so a more accurate definition might be: a concentrated or charged piece of writing; often featuring stanzas and line breaks.

Term coined by Alfred de Vigny to define epic or dramatic poems presenting philosophic thoughts.

The making of poetry. It derives from the Greek word 'to make' and eventually became the English word 'poetry' via 'poesie' and 'poesy'.

Poesy Archaic
word for poetry. Shelley uses it in the first stanza of his long poem The Mask of Anarchy.

A writer of poems.

An inferior poet. See doggerel.

Poète Maudit
An under appreciated poet. In French, it literally means the 'cursed poet'.

A female poet.

Exhibiting the good qualities of poetry.

Poetic Diction
The particular language (words and phrases) employed by poets. Poetic diction has changed much over the centuries. Traditionally poetry was associated with a certain 'floweriness', but since the advent of modernism this has been replaced by a more sparse lexicon. Modern poets have also tended to avoid elision such as ne'er or 'tis and also the use of archaic terminology such as thee, thy and thou.

Poeticize To make poetical.

Poetic Justice
The justice meted out by poets (in an ideal world) - where virtue is rewarded and vice punished.

Poetic Licence
The freedom of poets to depart from the normal rules of written language and/or literal fact in order to create an effect. This often occurs when poets use inventive figurative language.

Essays describing the art and theory of poetry e.g. Poetics by Aristotle.

Poetize To write or compose poetry.

Poet Laureate
Originally the poet appointed by the king or queen of England to write occasional verse to celebrate royal or national events. In return the poet laureate received a stipend. Ben Jonson was the first unofficial poet laureate although Edmund Spenser did receive a pension from Elizabeth I after flattering her in The Faerie Queene. Jonson was succeeded by Sir William D'Avenant but John Dryden became the first official poet laureate in 1668. Traditionally English poets laureate are appointed for life but Andrew Motion, the current laureate, is the first to be appointed for ten years. The requirement to write occasional verse is no longer enforced. See complete list of UK Poets Laureate.
In the USA, the title of poet laureate was officially established in 1985 by the Senate. The post is salaried but is only held, on average, for 1-2 years. However, a number of unofficial poets laureate held the post prior to this date - starting with Joseph Auslander in 1937. See complete list of US Poets Laureate.

The work of a poet. The exalted, expressive, elevated use of words. Coleridge defined it as: 'the best words in the best order.' Poetry is, however, a highly subjective term. One man's poetry is another man's schmaltz! Compare with verse. See also Poets on Poetry.

Poetry Review
The journal of the Poetry Society, founded in 1912.

Poetry Slam
Form of performance poetry pioneered by Marc Smith in Chicago U.S.A.. Poetry Slam takes the form of a competitive poetry reading where participants read their own poems from memory and are marked on their performance by judges. See Poetryslam.com.

Poetry Society,
the UK society founded in 1909 to promote poetry and the art of verse speaking. Visit the Poetry Society website.

Poets' Corner
Part of the south transept of Westminster Abbey where many famous English poets are buried or commemorated - including Chaucer, Spenser, Dryden, Tennyson, Gay, Drayton and Browning etc. Technically it is not a corner, nor is it occupied exclusively by poets.

A poem presenting a controversial discussion e.g. Milton's Areopagitica (1664).

The repetition of conjunctions (in close proximity) e.g. 'and' in The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll by Bob Dylan.

Portmanteau Word
Factitious word created by blending the sounds and meanings of two other words e.g. 'slithy' from Lewis Carroll's Jabberwocky which is a combination of 'lithe' and 'slimy'. See also neologism.

Poulter's Measure
Alternating lines of iambic hexameter and iambic heptameter.

In the style of Ezra Pound i.e. highly eclectic.

Brotherhood A group of poets and artists including D.G. Rossetti, Walter Pater and William Morris. Their work is characterised by the use of medieval settings and subject matter and was a reaction against the ugliness of Victorian life. They were particularly inspired by La Belle Dame Sans Merci by John Keats.
The Lady of Shalott by Tennyson is pre-raphaelite in style although he wasn't a member of the brotherhood.

Proceleus Maticus

Classical foot consisting of four short or unstressed syllables. Also known as proceleusmatic.

The introductory section of a poem or literary work. In The Canterbury Tales Chaucer employed a general prologue but also individual prologues e.g. The Franklin's Prologue and The Reeve's Prologue. See also epilogue.

Prose Poem
Piece of writing which features the charged language normally associated with poetry but which does not feature stanzas or line breaks. An example of a prose poem is Season in Hell by Rimbaud.

The formal study of the structure of verse including rhyme, meter, rhythm, stanzaic pattern, alliteration, consonance, assonance, language use etc.

From the Greek meaning to 'make' a 'person' - hence the personification of inanimate objects or abstractions. See also personification.

Similar to epithalamion but written prior to the wedding in question. In 1596 Spenser published Prothalamion to celebrate the double marriage of Lady Elizabeth and Lady Katherine - daughters of the Earl of Worcester.

Pen-name or nom de plume adopted by a poet/author.

Puffery Reviews which overpraise or laud unworthy work; usually produced by literary cliques. Probably originated from the character Mr Puff in Sheridan's play The Critic. See log-rolling.

Pun Playful
device where similar sounding words with different meanings, or single words with multiple meanings are employed. Shakespeare frequently used puns for both comic and serious effect e.g. in Romeo and Juliet the dying Mercutio says: "Ask for me tomorrow, and you shall find me a grave man."
William Empson identified puns as a form of ambiguity.

Pure Poetry
Poetry that does not try to educate, instruct or convert the reader - as opposed to didactic verse. An example of pure poetry would be Ariel's Songs by William Shakespeare.

Poets 17th Century US colonial poets - such as Edward Taylor, Anne Bradstreet and Michael Wigglesworth - who wrote pietistic poetry.

Purple Patch Pejorative
term for an excessively ornate or florid passage of writing.

Pylon Poets
Group of 1930s left-wing poets including W. H. Auden, Stephen Spender, Cecil Day-Lewis and Louis MacNeice. They were known for their use of industrial imagery - which included references to trains, skyscrapers, factories, roads etc. The actual term 'pylon' was derived from Spender's 1933 poem The Pylons. See also MacSpaunday

Pyrrhic Meter
A metrical foot comprising two unstressed syllables.

Q - R

Quantity /
Quantitative Verse
In classical verse, the time required to pronounce a syllable. The Greeks and Romans classified syllables as either 'short' or 'long' and this provided the basis for their metrical patterns. In English verse, however, quantity is important but is not the only consideration - as syllable length is often determined by the position in the line and also by tonic accent.

Quatorzain Fourteen line irregular sonnet.

A stanza comprising of four lines e.g. Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard by Thomas Gray.

Quintet / Quinquain/Quintain
A stanza comprising of five lines e.g. Ode to a Skylark by Percy Bysshe Shelley.

Random Rhyme Irregular, sporadic rhyme - often used in modern poetry.

Music of African American origin which delivers (rapid) rhythmic rhymes - usually over a backing beat. However, some rap poets recite their lines without musical accompaniment.

Recitative /Recitativo
Poem which is written to be spoken or performed - possibly with a musical accompaniment. See the opening line of To a Locomotive in Winter by Whitman.

A line or phrase that recurs throughout a poem - especially at the end of stanzas. In his poem Easter 1916 W.B.Yeats used the refrain 'A terrible beauty is born.' Another famous refrain line is 'Sweet Thames! run softly, till I end my song' from Spenser's Prothalamion.
Many French verse forms employ refrains.

Renaissance Poetry
Poets Broad term used to describe the work of 16th and 17th Century English poets including: Sidney, Ralegh, Donne, Spenser, Jonson, Herrick, Milton, Elizabeth I, Marvell, Shakespeare, Marlowe, Drayton, Wyatt and Skelton. See also metaphysical poets and cavalier poets.

Longer Japanese form consisting of half tanka written by a number of different poets. See Japanese forms.

Repetend See refrain.

Greek epic poem (or section of poem) suitable for recitation.

Rhopalic Verse
Verse in which each line is a (metrical) foot longer than its predecessor e.g. Richard Crashaw's Wishes to His Supposed Mistress.

Rhupunt Welsh syllabic verse form. See awdl.

The effect produced when similar vowel sounds chime together and where the final consonant sound is also in agreement e.g. 'bat' and 'cat'. (See also assonance - which occurs when the vowel sounds are similar but where the consonant sounds are different.)
Rhyme is normally divided into masculine and feminine rhymes. Masculine or single rhymes occur when the last syllable in a word rhymes with the last syllable in another word. This can occur where the words are single syllable words such as 'bat' and 'cat' or where the words have more than one syllable but where the final syllable of each word is stressed e.g. 'instead' and 'mislead'. Masculine rhymes are usually associated with end-stressed meters such as iambic.

Feminine rhymes
occur in words of more than one syllable where the stressed (or rhyming) syllable is followed by an unstressed syllable e.g. 'nearly' and 'clearly' or 'meeting' and 'greeting'. It is also possible to have triple feminine rhymes where the stressed syllable is followed by two unstressed syllables - as in 'liable' and 'friable'. Feminine rhymes tend to be used in front stressed meters such as trochaic.

The rhyme patterns in a poem can be analysed by using letters at the end of lines to denote similar vowel sounds e.g.

Who will go drive with Fergus now, a
And pierce the deep wood's woven shade, b
And dance upon the level shore? c
Young man, lift up your russet brow, a
And lift your tender eyelids, maid, b
And brood on hopes and fear no more.

See also alliteration, consonance, identical rhyme, internal rhyme, pararhyme and spelling rhyme.

Rhymer/Rhymester A person who employs rhyme; often a pejorative term for a poet.

Rhymers Club
Group of poets including W.B. Yeats and Ernest Rhys who met at the Cheshire Cheese pub in Fleet Street, London to read and discuss their poetry.

Rhyme Royal
A poem consisting of seven line stanzas, usually in iambic pentameters, and rhymed a-b-a-b-b-c-c. This form was used by Shakespeare in A Lover's Complaint and by Chaucer in Troilus and Criseyde.

Rhyming Slang
Device invented by 'Cockney geezers' to conceal the subject of conversations from eavesdroppers and/or the police. Examples include: apples and pears (stairs), Barnet Fair (hair), butchers' hook (look) and Chalfont St. Giles (piles). Not to be confused with Cockney Poetry.

Rime Archaic term for rhyme.

Rime Couée
French term for a tail-rhyme stanza i.e. a stanza which is concluded by a short line that rhymes with a previous short line but which is separated from it by a long line. Robert Burns' stanza is an example of rime couée.

Rising Meter
Term used to describe end-stressed meters such as iambic and anapestic - as opposed to falling meter.

Romanticism /Romantic Poets
Term used to describe the work of poets such as: Wordsworth, Coleridge, Blake, Burns, Southey, Scott, Keats, Shelley and Byron.
In broad terms, Romanticism was a reaction against the order and balance of the previous Augustan age in favour of self expression, inspiration and soaring imagination. It arose at a time when there was considerable social and political upheaval in England, Europe and American and when the rights of individuals were beginning to be asserted. It was also a time when poets were becoming less reliant on patrons and therefore had greater freedom to express themselves. However, Romanticism, is a notoriously difficult term to define precisely. It is also a term that embraces a diverse range of poets.

Usually a fifteen line poem, of French origin, composed of three uneven length stanzas. It features a refrain at the end of the second and third stanzas which is taken from the first line of the poem. There is also a ten line version of the rondeau.

Redoublé Another variation on the rondeau - this time consisting of five quatrains and a final quintet. The first quatrain furnishes four refrains which appear as the final lines of the following quatrains. In the final quintet there is only one repeation - the last line - which uses a phrase drawn from the first line of the poem.

Another poem of French origin, normally consisting of fourteen lines, but with only two rhymes. The first and second, seventh and eighth, and thirteenth and fourteenth lines are the same. The most common rhyme scheme is: A-B-b-a-a-b-A-B-a-b-b-a-A-B.

Smaller version of the rondel. The rondelet is a seven line poem with a refrain in the first, third and seventh line and a rhyme scheme: A-b-A-a-b-b-A.

Variation on the rondeau devised by A.C.Swinburne. It is an eleven line poem where the first part of the first line is repeated as a refrain in the fourth and eleventh lines.

Short, simple song with a refrain.

A quatrain with a rhyming scheme a-a-b-a e.g. the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam by Edward Fitzgerald.

See enjambment.

Running Rhythm
Term used to describe the effect of meters featuring regular patterns of stressed and unstressed syllables - as opposed to sprung rhythm.


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.

The analysis of lines of poetry to identify their metrical pattern.

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'.

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.

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.

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.

Shakespearean Sonnet See sonnet.

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

Chinese term for different types of poetry/poems. See also jintishi, gushi and xinshi.

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.

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.

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.
See also my own poem Fen Blow which features an extended simile.

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.

A poem which is written to be sung or chanted - without or without musical accompaniment.

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. 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.

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.

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:

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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 deion 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'.

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.

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'.

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.


Tail Rhyme See rime couée .

Small Japanese poem consisting of exactly 31 syllables. A tanka is a haiku with two further lines of seven syllables added. Tanka, like haiku, work on the principle that less is more e.g.
Today, clumps of cow
Parsley (cut back by the white
Suited strimmer-man)
Fall onto your surface and
Are carried away downstream.

See more of my River Diary haiku and tanka. See also Japanese forms.

Tawddgyrch Cadwynog Welsh
syllabic verse form - similar to a rhupunt.

Telestich S
imilar to an acrostic except that the significant word or phrase is spelt out by the last letters of each line rather than by the first.

See metaphor.

Term coined by Allen Tate for the totality of meaning within a poem. It derives from the logical terms 'extension' and 'intension'.

Terzain A stanza comprising of 3 lines. See also Triplet.

Hybrid form combining the shape/length of a villanelle with the chain rhyme of terza rima. An example is Lewis Turco's Terzanelle in Thunderweather.

Terza rima
A poem consisting of triplets with the following chain rhyme pattern: a-b-a, b-c-b, c-d-c etc. It can be written in any meter but in English it is usually iambic pentameter - see Ode to the West Wind by Shelley. Terza rima was also the form chosen by Dante in The Divine Comedy.
See also my poem Gedney Drove End.

A line of poetry consisting of four metrical 'feet'. An example of trochaic tetrameter is Haiwatha by Longfellow.

See quatrain.

The main idea, thesis or subject matter of a poem. Keats' Ode on a Grecian Urn, for example, deals with the permanence of art and the impermanence of life.

Poem of lamentation. See elegy.

Toddaid Welsh syllabic verse form. See awdl.

The 'tone' of a poem (according to the New Critics) reveals the attitude of the poet being studied e.g. anger, love, resignation, despair, fear, boredom etc.

Topographical Poetry
The poetic equivalent of landscape painting e.g. Pope's Windsor Forest or Gray's Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College. A more modern example of the genre is Remains of Elmet by Ted Hughes which was a collaboration with the photographer Fay Godwin.

Tornada S
ee envoi.

Tradition Poetry
literature which is handed down from previous generations (usually in the same native language) and which provides an influence/framework for subsequent poets. See canon.

The process of translating poetry written in one language into another language. This is a notoriously difficult exercise due to the condensed language of poetry, the prevalence of figures of speech and the problem of finding equivalent rhymes.
There are also different approaches to translation. Some translators aim to provide an exact translation - while others try only to convey the general impression of the text. Dryden, who translated both Virgil and Homer, identified three types: 'metaphrase' (literal), 'paraphrase' ('with latitude') and 'imitation'.

More recently, Ted Hughes has translated Ovid and Seamus Heaney Beowulf.

The strophe, antistrophe and epode of a Pindaric ode. See ode.

Tribe of Ben
Group of poets including: Herrick, Carew, Suckling, Lovelace, Randolph and Godolphin who emulated Ben Jonson. See Cavalier poets.

Classical meter consisting of three short syllables per foot. Such a foot would be extremely rare in English poetry.

A line of poetry consisting of three metrical 'feet'. An example of an iambic trimeter is The only news I know by Emily Dickinson.

An eight line stanza, of French origin, where the first two lines are repeated as the last two lines and where the first line is also repeated as the fourth line. The triolet features two rhymes only.

Tercet A stanza comprising of three lines e.g. The Old Familiar Faces by Charles Lamb.

Trisyllabic Foot
A foot with three syllables - as in dactylic and anapestic meter.

Trochaic Meter
A front stressed two-syllable meter.

A foot consisting of two syllables where the first one is long or stressed and the second is short or unstressed e.g. as in 'FALLing'.

Trope The figurative use of language - as in simile and metaphor.

Group of 12th and 13th century French Provençal poets including Jaufre Rudel, Arnaut Daniel and Bernart de Ventadorn. They invented a wide range of complex verse forms (see French forms) and frequently wrote about 'courtly' love.

Group of northern French poets who composed during the 12th and 13th centuries and who were influenced by the troubadours (see above). The group included poets such as Gâce Brulé and Blondel de Nesle.

Truncated Line
Truncation See catalectic.

Verse See Skeltonic.


Ubi Sunt
Latin term meaning 'where are they?' Typically a lament for the passing of all things, and common in Old English poems such as Beowulf and The Wanderer. A more recent example would be 'Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?' from To Autumn by John Keats.

Unaccented Rhyme
Occurs where lines end with feminine (front-stressed) words and the unaccented final syllables would rhyme (if accented) but the initial syllables don't e.g. 'lover' and 'matter' or 'slowly' and 'clearly'.

Underground Poets
Term used to describe a group of UK performance poets including Adrian Mitchell, Tom Pickard (see Basil Bunting), Heathcote Williams, Michael Horovitz and the Liverpool Poets.

See Litotes.

Vanity Publishing
Where a poet pays to have his/her work published. Another form of vanity publishing occurs where a publisher compiles work by little known/unknown poets and then charges them for a copy of the book. (Beware Forward Press and poetry.com!)
Vehicle See metaphor.

Venus and Adonis Stanza
See Sesta Rima.

Verbal Contraption

Term for a poem coined by WH Auden.

See dialect verse.

Vers de Société
Form of light verse which concerns itself with the comings and goings of polite society. Matthew Prior and Henry Austin Dobson both specialised in vers de société. How to Get On in Society by John Betjeman is another example - although this poem is also satirical in tone.

Vers libre
Revolt against the formal constraints of classical French prosody. Occurring in the final years of the 19th century - vers libre abandoned traditional metre and rhyme schemes in favour of natural rhythm. It was pioneered by poets such as Rimbaud, Lafargue, Baudelaire and Mallarmé. See also free verse.

Either a definite number of lines of poetry (see stanza) or a general term for poetic composition. Verse, however, is often used to refer to work of a slightly lower standard than 'poetry'. See also parnassian.

An extended narrative poem e.g. Aurora Leigh by Elizabeth Barrett Browning or Omeros by Derek Walcott.

A sub category of prosody dealing with meter and rhyme.

Someone who composes verse; often a pejorative term for poet.

Victorian Verse
Verse written during the reign of Queen Victoria (1819-1901). Unlike Victorian novelists (such as Dickens) who tackled harsh social realism, most Victorian poets tended to create an escapist world fuelled by Arthurian legend, and featuring long haired maidens in towers. Tennyson was the pre-eminent Victorian poet. See also Pre-Raphaelites.

A poem (normally) consisting of 19 lines - arranged as five triplets and one final quatrain. The intricate rhyme scheme of the villanelle is furnished by the first triplet: A(1)-B-A(2) and is then repeated twice in the form of A-B-A(1) and A-B-A(2) and then concluded with the quatrain rhymed A-B-A(1)-A(2). Examples of villanelles include Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night by Dylan Thomas and If I Could Tell You by Auden.

Complex 14th Century French form composed of long and short lines. The long lines of the second stanza take their rhyme from the short lines of the first stanza. This pattern continues through out the poem until the final stanza - where the short lines take their rhyme from the long lines of the first stanza.

Virelai Nouveau
Variation on the virelai featuring a double refrain at the start of the poem. These refrain lines are then used alternately at the end of successive stanzas and then appear together again at the end of the final stanza but in reverse order. An example of a virelai nouveau is July by Dobson.

See virelai above.

Prosodic symbol (/) used to separate metrical feet.

Relating to deep inner feelings rather than to the intellect.

Italian term for the change in feeling which occurs between the octave and sestet in some sonnets.

Literary and artistic movement occurring between 1912-1915 which attacked the sentimentality of 19th Century art. Ezra Pound was one of the main exponents.

Rhyme See assonance.

a, e, i, o and u. As opposed to consonants.

War Poetry
Term (normally) applied to poetry produced during the First World War by poets such as Edward Thomas, Siegfried Sassoon, Wilfred Owen, Rupert Brooke, Edmund Blunden and Robert Graves etc. Thomas and Owen were both killed in action.
However, there was also some notable war poetry produced during the Second World War by the likes of Keith Douglas, Alun Owen, Sidney Keyes and Henry Reed.

Weak Ending
Where a word or syllable at the end of a line of verse is stressed metrically but is unstressed in ordinary speech.

Well Versed
Somebody proficient in the rules of prosody.

Forms Wales has always had a rich bardic tradition and can boast 24 separate poetic forms: 12 awdl forms, 4 cywydd forms and 8 englyn forms. See also cynghanedd and Eisteddfod.

Wheel See bob and wheel.

Willing Suspension of Disbelief
Term coined by S.T.Coleridge in his Biographia Literaria which states that readers and/or theatre audiences need to overlook certain literary/theatrical conventions in order to fully engage with the work in question.

Wit During the Renaissance
wit was synonymous with intelligence and wisdom. During the 17th century it became more closely associated with fancy. One of the main themes of Pope's An Essay on Criticism is wit and he concludes that:
True wit is Nature to advantage dressed,
What oft was thought, but ne'er so well expressed.

Today wit is limited to intellectual humour. See fancy.

In the manner/style of William Wordsworth. See also egotistical sublime.

Wrenched Accent
Occurs when the metrical stress or accent forces a change in the natural word accent. This can occur due to a poet's lack of skill, but is also characteristic of folk ballads.

Chinese poetic term which literally means 'new poetry'. See shi/shih.

Figure of speech in which a verb or adjective is applied to two nouns, but where one of the applications is inappropriate e.g. 'with weeping eyes and hearts'.

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