January 11, 2022
  • January 11, 2022

A guide from A to Z on poetry and poetic terminology

By on May 17, 2021 0

One of my favorite magazines is the one based on creativity Uppercase. This quarterly publication offers an overview of various artists, art forms and design across the world, and is packed with colors and shapes that make it not only fabulous to read, but inspiring to simply flip through.

Each issue contains an A to Z article on a topic and whatever the goal, I find myself revisiting that particular piece over and over again. It’s a highly designed spread and always leads me to learn new things about arts and crafts that I never knew before.

I wanted to take this idea and see it applied to the book world, performing a periodic AZ function. This time, let’s take a look at poetry and poetic terminology. Some of these will be colloquial terms, while others may be new or historical in nature and therefore, not as widely known or used.

What makes poetic terminology particularly fun is how applicable it is to literature at large, as well as to the exploration of lyrics. Why does this song really mean something to you? It may have to do with one (or more) of the reasons below.

Consider this as a practical guide to learning trivia and familiarizing yourself with poetry and how to talk about aspects of poetry / poetic language in new ways. It will not and is not meant to be exhaustive, but rather an opportunity to learn a little more about a topic that might inspire you to explore even more.

A guide from A to Z on poetry and poetic terminology


Assonance: The repetition of internal vowels in words close to each other. An example from “The Bells” by Edgar Allan Poe: “Listen to the sweet wedding bells. ”


Ballad: From poetry to music, ballads are among the most diverse forms of poetic writing. It is simply a poem that tells a story. There are, of course, elements of a work that give them an “official” mark as a ballad. A ballad, according to the poetic definition of 13th century France, has three eight-line stanzas, followed by a four-line envoy (i.e. a short stanza), and often the last line of the first stanza is repeated at the end of the following stanzas and envoys. These ballads also often have a rhyming pattern of ABABBCBC BCBC.

What makes ballads fascinating, however, is not the strict adherence to form. On the contrary, almost every culture has its own form of ballad. They are often epic poems that explore cultural mythology. “The time of the old sailor. ”


Consonance: Companion of assonance, consonance is the repetition of consonant sounds in words close to each other. “Lit” and “bad” in the immediate vicinity would constitute consonance (just like “would constitute consonance!”).


Dramatic monologue: Technique borrowed from the theater, where the speaker of the poem addresses a listener who may or may not be the reader. TS Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” is an excellent example of this technique, as are many works by Robert Browning.


Spanning: An aspect of the visual presentation of a poem, in which a line has no punctuation at the end but instead extends into the following line (s). Think of it as a continuous sentence. The crossing allows the fluidity of a piece, whether it is a poem or a song. Langston Hughes’ “Harlem” uses spanning, as does “This Is Just To Say” by William Carlos Williams (who uses it often in his work).

Compare crossing over has a terminus, this is where the line of a poem has a solid ending identified by a punctuation mark.


Free verse: Poetry that does not stick to a rhyme scheme or a metric, but rather follows a more natural form of speech. The majority of modern and contemporary poetry can be described as free verse.


Kind: In literature, the genre describes texts whose theme, form, style or subject are similar. Poetry also falls into the genre in this manner, but the poetic genre also refers to the type of poem (i.e. epic, lyrical, ballad, etc.).


Heroic Verse: When the verse is composed of two successive verses, generally of the same length, which rhyme, the heroic verse goes even further. The lines are written in iambic pentameter (see below!).


Iambic pentameter: The most common meter in poetry and the one that most imitates current speech patterns. The iambic pentameter consists of an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable. The pentameter part of “iambic pentameter” refers to the number of unstressed-stressed patterns in a row; in this case, it’s five sets. Shakespeare used the iambic pentameter in all his plays and poems – the line “If music is the food of love, play” from Twelfth Night perfectly demonstrates the five sets of unstressed-stressed syllables.


Jabberwocky: absurd language. The word was coined by Lewis Carroll in his poem of the same name.


Kenning: Most often seen in Old English poems, a kenning occurs when two or more words are substituted for the more common name of a person or thing. Kennings are in use today and some that might be most familiar include the ankle bite for a child or the bookworm for someone who enjoys reading. “Beowulf” uses kenning throughout.


Understatement: The opposite of hyperbole, understatement is a euphemism used for deliberate effect. “Not half bad” for something good is an example. The understatements can be related to irony in poetry or prose.


Pattern: An image or action in a work of poetry or prose that is shared by other works. A motif is not a theme or a message, but is rather used to give a larger meaning to a work; any work can contain many motifs. When it comes to poetry, the use of a long trip can be a motive. The patterns can look like archetypes.


Neologism: A new word. It may or may not be suitable for use. See “Jabberwocky”.


Ode: A formal but often festive style of poetry that addresses a person, a place or a thing. There is not a single stanza or form that constitutes an ode, as odes are more about content than style. While odes existed before the English Romantic poets – the Greeks used odes to celebrate sporting victories, for example – the Romantic ode might be the most recognizable and can include very touching addresses at the start of a play.


Poet laureate: Thank the Greeks for seeing poets worthy of laurels. British and American Poets Laureates are recognized for their contributions to poetry, and it is an honor for them to promote poetry through public lectures, education, etc. Take a closer look at what a Poet Laureate does.


Quatrain: A stanza of four lines. There are a number of rhyme schemes for the quatrain, including ABAC or ABCB, often seen in ballads; AABB, the double verse; ABAB, often seen in heroic poetry; ABBA; and AABA.

A quintaine is a five-line stanza and it too can vary in the rhyme scheme.


Chorus: A line repeated throughout a poem. Abstentions are like the refrain of a song.


Sonnet: A 14-line poem that can have various rhyming patterns. A sonnet typically explores a single sentiment with a shift in perspective in the final lines. There are three main types of sonnets, each of which has branched out into several other variations. The three main types are Petrarchan, which begins with an eight-line stanza in ABBAABBA’s rhyme scheme and a six-line stanza rhyming CDCDCD or CDECDE; the Italian sonnet is similar in configuration to the Petrarch, although the rhyme scheme of the six-line stanza is CDDCEE; the Shakespearean / English sonnet uses three quatrains and a final verse with the rhyme scheme ABABCDCDEFEFGG.


Trochee: The opposite of an iamb, a trochea is a foot made up of a stressed syllable, followed by an unstressed syllable.


Ubi sunt: A motif in poetry that asks the question “Where are they?” (“Ubi Sunt” in Latin). The early use of the motif indicated poetry that questioned the nature of life and death. Ubi sunt is still used today and is both a motif and as a means of approaching the themes of life and death.


Villanelle: A verse form in which there are five stanzas of three lines, followed by a final quatrain. The first and third lines of the first stanza are repeated in subsequent stanzas and become the last two lines of the quatrain. See Elizabeth Bishop’s “an art. ”


Spirit: Intellectual humor. When it comes to poetry, the spirit is often associated with metaphysical poetry, as well as the works of and during Shakespeare’s time. The wit can be heavy on puns and a lot less on laughing humor.


Xenophane: Taken from Xenophanes, the wandering poet of classical Greece, the phrase refers to wandering poets who use satire and joke.


Yugen: A concept in traditional Japanese aesthetics which, when applied to poetry, means that something is so mysterious that it goes beyond what can be said – even though it is completely grounded in this world.


Zeugma: A figure of speech in which a verb or a preposition allows two other objects to join. An example of zeugma would be “she broke her car and her heart”. In Shakespeare’s Cymbeline, the song “Fear No More the Heat o ‘the Sun” presents an excellent example of zeugma: “Golden Lads, and Girles all must / As chimney-sweepers come to dust. ”

If you can’t get enough of literary nerdry, check out this handy guide to literary terminology – many terms, naturally, apply to poetry as well. Another outstanding resource, which has assisted in the search for this coin, is The Poetry Foundation Glossary of Poetic Terms.

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