WORD LISTS

Some Helpful Poetry Terms

September 4, 2014
One of the stumbling blocks when trying to study poetry is that it seems like a different world. Familiar things, like words, are put to unfamiliar use, and there is an entire descriptive vocabulary that is completely foreign and quite often puzzling. This list seeks to explain the words used to describe poetry through examples from famous poems. Nassim Nicholas Taleb said, "If you want to annoy a poet, explain his poetry," but we are willing to take that risk to make the world of literary analysis a little clearer and further illuminate the mystery of poetry.
alliteration
The light from the porthole was a pulsing purple.— Slaughterhouse Five, Kurt Vonnegut
Your poetry is alive with alliteration; bursting with evocative images; and brimming with thoughtful rhythms, unexpected wordplay and heartfelt emotion.
—Seattle Times May 6, 2011
allusion
She was dancing below a noose, an allusion to the hanging of dissidents under her father’s regime.
—New York Times Aug 30, 2014
apostrophe
O stranger of the future!
O inconceivable being!
whatever the shape of your house,
however you scoot from place to place,
no matter how strange and colorless the clothes you may wear,
I bet nobody likes a wet dog either.
I bet everyone in your pub,
even the children, pushes her away.
—To a Stranger Born in Some Distant Country Hundreds of Years from Now, Billy Collins
Her unfortunate position, and the singular apostrophe she had addressed to me, pierced me to the heart.
—Jacques Casanova de Seingalt
assonance
Those images that yet,
Fresh images beget,
That dolphin-torn, that gong-tormented sea.
– Byzantium, W.B. Yeats
His work exhibits ease and elasticity of rhythm, liquid smoothness of assonance, sympathetic beauty of thought, with subtle skill in wedding sense to sound.
—William Henry Oliphant Smeaton
caesura
I'm nobody! Who are you?
Are you nobody, too?
Then there's a pair of us — don't tell!
—I'm Nobody ! Who are you?, Emily Dickinson
But the third line, with its caesura before the last foot, complicates the grandfather's absence, extends his influence, and begins to restore his existence.
—The Guardian Jul 15, 2013
consonance
I'll swing by my ankles.
She'll cling to your knees.
As you hang by your nose,
From a high-up trapeze.
But just one thing, please,
As we float through the breeze,
Don't sneeze.
— The Acrobats, Shel Silverstein
Occasionally the author breaks into verse, or stretches of consonance or alliteration.
—New York Times Jan 9, 2012
couplet
For sweetest things turn sourest by their deeds;
Lilies that fester smell far worse than weeds.
- Sonnet 94, William Shakespeare
In "Keeping Hope Alive," he triggers a world of emotions in a brief couplet: "Pride and pain/Cloud my brain."
—Los Angeles Times May 28, 2014
enjambment
A thing of beauty is a joy forever:
Its loveliness increases; it will never
Pass into nothingness but still will keep
A bower quiet for us, and asleep
Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing.
—Endymion, John Keats
But poetry critics have a more precise term for the kind of enjambment Obama employs: “bad line breaks.”
—Salon Jul 17, 2012
hyperbole
I’ll love you, dear, I’ll love you
Till China and Africa meet,
And the river jumps over the mountain
And the salmon sing in the street,
I’ll love you till the ocean
Is folded and hung up to dry
— As I Walked One Evening, W.H. Auden
That’s not hyperbole; statistics prove this to be true.
—Time Aug 17, 2014
internal rhyme
Double, double toil and trouble,
Fire burn and cauldron bubble
—Macbeth, William Shakespeare
That songlike quality would fit well in a poem, especially the internal rhyme and near-rhyme of “night and light” with “alike.”
—Washington Post July 17, 2014
litotes
We were going through the three first acts, and not unsuccessfully upon the whole.
--Mansfield Park, Jane Austen

The litotes here is "not unsuccessfully."
Litotes describes the object to which it refers not directly, but through the negation of the opposite.
—J.R. Bergmann, Veiled Morality
metaphor
She really was a most charming girl, and might have passed for a captive fairy, whom that truculent ogre, Old Barley, had pressed into his service.
-Great Expectations, Charles Dickens
Her extreme cosmetic aesthetic has been an apt metaphor for the excesses and vanities of Hollywood.
—Salon Sep 4, 2014
octave
For the moon never beams without bringing me dreams
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And the stars never rise but I feel the bright eyes
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And so, all the night-tide, I lie down by the side
Of my darling, my darling, my life and my bride,
In the sepulchre there by the sea,
In her tomb by the sounding sea.
—Annabel Lee, Edgar Allan Poe
One of these [two interpretations] must be in the octave and the other in the sestet.
—Joyce Kilmer
onomatopoeia
It went zip when it moved and bop when it stopped,
And whirr when it stood still.
I never knew just what it was and I guess I never will.
—The Marvelous Toy, Tom Paxton
What a succession of groans, hurrahs, cheers, and all the onomatopoeia of which the American language is so full.
—Jules Verne
paradox
I can resist anything but temptation.
— Oscar Wilde
The brilliant paradox of Flanagan’s introspective novel is that a work of such powerful remembrance should so movingly capture our inmost longing to forget.
—Seattle Times Aug 27, 2014
personification
Pearl Button swung on the little gate in front of the House of Boxes. It was the early afternoon of a sunshiny day with little winds playing hide-and-seek in it.
—How Pearl Button Was Kidnapped, Katherine Mansfield
Gordon-Levitt may also direct and star in the film, which is to tell the story of the brooding hero Morpheus, the immortal personification of dreams.
—Los Angeles Times Aug 22, 2014
anapest
‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
—'Twas the Night Before Christmas, Clement Clarke Moore

An anapest here is "Twas the night".
An Anapest is a three-syllable foot accented on the last syllable.
—William Franklin Webster
dactyl
Half a League, Half a League, Half a League, onward
—The Charge of the Light Brigade, Alfred Lord Tennyson
There's a lovely contrast between the skippety dactyl of "Merry mites" and the surprising, ceremonious spondee, "Welcome".
—The Guardian Mar 29, 2010
spondee
'By the shore of Gitche Gumee,
By the shining Big-Sea-Water,
—The Song of Hiawatha, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

A spondee here is "By the".
"Hot sun" and "cool fire" are both spondees.
—The Guardian Oct 11, 2010
trochee
Tyger! Tyger! Burning bright
—The Tyger, William Blake

The trochee here is "Burning bright".
"Beauty" by this usage, is a trochee, "beautiful" a dactyl, "relate" an iamb, "intercede" an anapest.
—Paull Franklin Baum
iamb
I have been one acquainted with the night.
I have walked out in rain -- and back in rain.
I have outwalked the furthest city light.
I have looked down the saddest city lane.
—Acquainted with the Night, Robert Frost
“ ‘Feminine’ brand names, like Chanel, are often iambs; ‘masculine’ ones, like Black & Decker, tend to be trochees,” he writes.
—New York Times Jul 26, 2011
sestet
O mistress mine, where are you roaming?
O stay and hear! your true-love's coming
That can sing both high and low;
Trip no further, pretty sweeting,
Journey's end in lovers' meeting—
Every wise man's son doth know.
—Twelfth Night, Act II, Scene 3, William Shakespeare
In the sestet usually the first line rhymes with the fourth, the second with the fifth and the third with the sixth.
—Charles Herbert Sylvester
simile
...impressions poured in upon her of those two men, and to follow her thought was like following a voice which speaks too quickly to be taken down by one’s pencil . . .
—To the Lighthouse, Virginia Woolf
He repeatedly underlines the inhumanity of the situation prisoners face by using similes comparing them to animals.
—New York Times Jul 2, 2013
synaesthesia
Tasting of Flora and the country green,
Dance, and Provencal song, and sun burnt mirth!
—Ode to a Nightingale, John Keats
Synaesthesia is where the senses are mixed together - for example seeing colour when listening to music - or tasting food and hearing chords.
—BBC Apr 19, 2014

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Comments from our users:

Wednesday September 10th 2014, 10:46 PM
Comment by: Helen W.
Thanks for updating me on terminology...
Sunday September 14th 2014, 7:01 PM
Comment by: Anonymous
Good review of these terms.
Thursday September 25th 2014, 11:49 AM
Comment by: Nick *Wait for it* Raptis (NY)
Nice review of necessary poetry words.
Saturday October 4th 2014, 1:22 PM
Comment by: Divyanshu (India)
you can add 'anaphora' also.
Saturday October 4th 2014, 1:22 PM
Comment by: Divyanshu (India)
you can add 'anaphora' also.
Tuesday April 5th 2016, 1:53 PM
Comment by: natey (NM)
life is a paradox in quantum physics
Tuesday April 5th 2016, 2:31 PM
Comment by: natey (NM)
add anaphora
Tuesday April 5th 2016, 10:08 PM
Comment by: -=|PT_Gaming|=- (CA)
HAHAHA!!! When I saw this list, I thought it said POTERY... And that's what caught my eye to come here but never mind...
Tuesday April 12th 2016, 12:51 PM
Comment by: Benjamin R. (Cambodia)
Personally, I have to do this for my English class. I do not like doing this because I am being forced. I would rather being reading a book.
Tuesday April 19th 2016, 9:39 PM
Comment by: -=|PT_Gaming|=- (CA)
Speaking of Quantum Physics, I just made a list for Quantum Physics!
Tuesday April 26th 2016, 2:15 PM
Comment by: Daniel M. (NC)
spelling bee hard on my 3rd word
Wednesday May 4th 2016, 5:04 PM
Comment by: justind7885 (FL)
good list.
Friday May 27th 2016, 11:20 PM
Comment by: iammarianoelle (Philippines)
Gosh thanks this is really helpful.
Monday June 6th 2016, 9:41 PM
Comment by: Michael C. (NY)
Ya'll need to get yee vocab right:)

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