Glossary

alliteration

The repetition of the same or similar sounds at the beginning of words: ‘What would the world be, once bereft/Of wet and wildness?’ (Gerard Manley Hopkins, Inversnaid)

ballad

A poem that tells a story similar to a folk tale or legend and often has a repeated refrain. The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, is an example of a ballad.

elegy

A poem that laments the death of a person, or one that is simply sad and thoughtful. An example of this type of poem is Thomas Gray’s Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard.

epic

A long, serious poem that tells the story of a heroic figure. Two of the most famous epic poems are the Iliad and the Odyssey by Homer, which tell about the Trojan War and the adventures of Odysseus on his voyage home after the war.

epigram

A very short, witty poem: ‘Sir, I admit your general rule/That every poet is a fool/But you yourself may serve to show it/That every fool is not a poet.’ (Samuel Taylor Coleridge)

free verse (also vers libre)

Poetry composed of either rhymed or unrhymed lines that have no set metre.

haiku

A Japanese poem composed of three unrhymed lines of five, seven, and five syllables. Haiku often reflect on some aspect of nature.

limerick

A light, humorous poem of five usually anapestic lines with the rhyme scheme of aabba.

lyric

A poem, such as a sonnet or an ode, that expresses the thoughts and feelings of the poet. A lyric poem may resemble a song in form or style.

metaphor

A figure of speech in which two things are compared, usually by saying one thing is another, or by substituting a more descriptive word for the more common or usual word that would be expected. Some examples of metaphors: the world’s a stage, he was a lion in battle, drowning in debt, and a sea of troubles.

metre

The arrangement of a line of poetry by the number of syllables and the rhythm of accented (or stressed) syllables.

narrative

Telling a story. Ballads, epics, and lays are different kinds of narrative poems.

ode

A lyric poem that is serious and thoughtful in tone and has a very precise, formal structure. John Keats’s Ode on a Grecian Urn is a famous example of this type of poem.

onomatopoeia

A figure of speech in which words are used to imitate sounds. Examples of onomatopoeic words are buzz, hiss, zing, clippety-clop, and tick-tock. Keats’s Ode to a Nightingale not only uses onomatopoeia, but calls our attention to it: ‘Forlorn! The very word is like a bell/To toll me back from thee to my sole self!’ Another example of onomatopoeia is found in this line from Tennyson’s Come Down, O Maid:The moan of doves in immemorial elms/And murmuring of innumerable bees.’ The repeated ‘m/n’ sounds reinforce the idea of ‘murmuring’ by imitating the hum of insects on a warm summer day.

personification

A figure of speech in which things or abstract ideas are given human attributes: dead leaves dance in the wind, blind justice.

rhyme

The occurrence of the same or similar sounds at the end of two or more words. When the rhyme occurs in a final stressed syllable, it is said to be masculine: cat/hat, desire/fire, observe/deserve. When the rhyme occurs in a final unstressed syllable, it is said to be feminine: longing/yearning. The pattern of rhyme in a stanza or poem is shown usually by using a different letter for each final sound. In a poem with an aabba rhyme scheme, the first, second, and fifth lines end in one sound, and the third and fourth lines end in another.

simile

A figure of speech in which two things are compared using the word ‘like’ or ‘as’. An example of a simile usinglike occurs in Langston Hughes’ poem Harlem: ‘What happens to a dream deferred?/ Does it dry up/ like a raisin in the sun?’

song

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

Sonnet

A lyric poem that is 14 lines long. Italian (or Petrarchan) sonnets are divided into two quatrains and a six-line ’sestet’, with the rhyme scheme abba abba cdecde (or cdcdcd). English (or Shakespearean) sonnets are composed of three quatrains and a final couplet, with a rhyme scheme of abab cdcd efef gg. English sonnets are written generally in iambic pentameter.

stanza

Two or more lines of poetry that together form one of the divisions of a poem. The stanzas of a poem are usually of the same length and follow the same pattern of metre and rhyme.

stress

The prominence or emphasis given to particular syllables. Stressed syllables usually stand out because they have long, rather than short, vowels, or because they have a different pitch or are louder than other syllables.

synonym

Word or phrase with the same meaning as another e.g. ‘nice’ and ‘pleasant’.

tanka

A Japanese poem of five lines, the first and third composed of five syllables and the rest of seven.

verse

A single metrical line of poetry, or poetry in general (as opposed to prose).