Approaching poetry
Approaching poetry

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Approaching poetry

Glossary

Alliteration
repetition of sounds, usually the first letters of successive words, or words that are close together. Alliteration usually applies only to consonants.
Anapest
see under foot.
Assonance
repetition of identical or similar vowel sounds.
Ballad
originally a song which tells a story, often involving dialogue. Characteristically, the storyteller's own feelings are not expressed.
Caesura
strong pause in a line of verse, usually appearing in the middle of a line and marked with a comma, semi-colon, or a full stop.
Couplet
pair of rhymed lines, often used as a way of rounding off a sonnet; hence the term ‘closing couplet’.
Dactyl
see under foot.
Dialogue
spoken exchange between characters, usually in drama and fiction but also sometimes in poetry.
Diction
writer's choice of words. Poetic diction might be described, for instance, as formal or informal, elevated or colloquial.
Elegy
poem of loss, usually mourning the death of a public figure, or someone close to the poet.
Ellipsis
omission of words from a sentence to achieve brevity and compression.
Enjambment
the use of run-on lines in poetry. Instead of stopping or pausing at the end of a line of poetry, we have to carry on reading until we complete the meaning in a later line. The term comes from the French for ‘striding’.
Epic
a long narrative poem dealing with events on a grand scale, often with a hero above average in qualities and exploits.
Epigram
witty, condensed expression. The closing couplet in some of Shakepeare's sonnets is often described as an epigram.
Foot
a unit of metre with a pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables. In the examples that follow, a stressed syllable is indicated by ‘/’, and an unstressed syllable by ‘x’: anapest: xx/; dactyl: /xx; iamb: x/; spondee: //; trochee: /x
Heroic couplet
iambic pentameter lines rhyming in pairs, most commonly used for satiric or didactic poetry, and particularly favoured in the eighteenth century.
Iamb
see under foot.
Iambic pentameter
a line consisting of five iambs.
Imagery
special use of language in a way that evokes sense impressions (usually visual). Many poetic images function as mental pictures that give shape and appeal to something otherwise vague and abstract; for example, ‘yonder before us lie/Deserts of vast Eternity’. Simile and metaphor are two types of imagery.
Metaphor
image in which one thing is substituted for another, or the quality of one object is identified with another. The sun, for Shakespeare, becomes ‘the eye of heaven’.
Metre
(from the Greek metron, 'measure’) measurement of a line of poetry, including its length and its pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables. There are different metres in poetry. Most sonnets, for example, written in English are divided into lines of ten syllables with five stresses – a measure known as pentameter (from the Greek pente for ‘five’). The sonnet also tends to use a line (known as the iambic line) in which an unstressed syllable is followed by a stressed one, as in this line: ‘If I should die, think only this of me’. Most sonnets, then are written in iambic pentameters.
Narrative
the telling of a series of events (either true or fictitious). The person relating these events is the narrator. However, it is often more usual in poetry to refer to ‘the speaker’.
Octave
group of eight lines of poetry, often forming the first part of a sonnet.
Ode
a poem on a serious subject, usually written in an elevated formal style; often written to commemorate public events.
Onomatopoeia
a word that seems to imitate the sound or sounds associated with the object or action, for example, ‘cuckoo’.
Ottava rima
a poem in eight-line stanzas, rhyming a b a b a b c c.
Personification
writing about something not human as if it were a person, for example ‘Busy old fool, unruly Sun,/Why dost thou thus,/Through windows and through curtains call onus?’.
Poetic inversion
reversing the order of normal speech in order to make the words fit a particular rhythm, or rhyme, or both.
Pun
double meaning or ambiguity in a word, often employed in a witty way. Puns are often associated with wordplay.
Quatrain
group of four lines of poetry, usually rhymed.
Refrain
a line or phrase repeated throughout a poem, sometimes with variations, often at the end of each stanza.
Rhyme
echo of a similar sound, usually at the end of a line of poetry. Occasionally, internal rhymes can be found, as in: ‘Sister, my sister, O fleet, sweet swallow’.
Rhyme scheme
pattern of rhymes established in a poem. The pattern of rhymes in a quatrain, for instance, might be ‘a b a b’ or ‘a b b a’.
Rhythm
the pattern of beats or stresses in a line creating a sense of movement. Sestet: group of six lines of poetry, often forming the second part of a sonnet.
Simile
image in which one thing is likened to another. The similarity is usually pointed out with the word ‘like’ or ‘as’: ‘My love is like a red, red rose’.
Sonnet
fourteen iambic pentameter lines with varying rhyme schemes.
Spondee
see under foot.
Syllable
single unit of pronunciation. ‘Sun’ is one syllable; ‘sunshine’ is two syllables.
Tercet
group of three lines in poetry, sometimes referred to as a triplet. Trochee: see under foot.
Turn
distinctive movement of change in mood or thought or feeling. In the sonnet, the turn usually occurs between the octave and the sestet, though the closing couplet in Shakespeare's sonnets often constitutes the turn.
Villanelle
an intricate French verse form with some lines repeated, and only two rhyme sounds throughout the five three-line stanzas and the final four-line stanza.
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