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ABECEDARIAN POEM (ay-bee-see-DARE-ee-un)
An alphabetic acrostic poem; a poem having verses beginning with the successive letters of the alphabet.
Sidelight: Although now often considered a learning exercise for children, abecedarii were associated with divinity in ancient cultures.
(Compare Serpentine Verses)

AB OVO (ab OH-voh)
See under In Medias Res

See under Poet Laureate

A term describing a line of verse which is metrically complete, i.e., not shortened by the omission of the ending syllable of the final foot. Acatalexis is the opposite of catalexis.

(Compare Hypercatalectic)

The rhythmically significant stress in the articulation of words, giving some syllables more relative prominence than others. In words of two or more syllables, one syllable is almost invariably stressed more strongly than the other syllables. In words of one syllable, the degree of stress normally depends on their grammatical function; nouns, verbs, and adjectives are usually given more stress than articles or prepositions. The words in a line of poetry are usually arranged so the accents occur at regular intervals, with the meter defined by the placement of the accents within the foot. Accent should not be construed as emphasis.
Sidelight: Two degrees of accent are natural to many multi-syllabic English words, designated as primary and secondary.
Sidelight: When a syllable is accented, it tends to be raised in pitch and lengthened. Any or a combination of stress/pitch/length can be a metrical accent.
Sidelight: A semantic shift in accent can alter meaning. In the statement, "give me the book," for example, the meaning can be altered depending on whether the word "me" or the word "book," receives the more prominent stress. In metrical verse, the meter might help determine the poet's intent, but not always.
Sidelight: In English, when the full accent falls on a vowel, as in PO-tion, that vowel is called a long vowel; when it falls on an articulation or consonant, as in POR-tion, the preceding vowel is a short vowel. In the classical Greek and Latin quantitive verse, however, long and short vowels referred to duration, i.e., how long they were held in utterance.
(See also Cadence, Ictus, Modulation, Rhythm, Sprung Rhythm, Wrenched Accent)
(Compare Caesura, Slack)

Verse in which the metrical system is based on the count or pattern of accented syllables, which establish the rhythm. The accents must be normal speech stresses rather than those suggested by the metrical pattern. The total number of syllables may vary.
Sidelight: Most modern English poetry is a combination of accentual and syllabic verse.
(Contrast Quantitive Verse )

ACEPHALY (ay-SEF-uh-lee)
The omission of a syllable at the beginning of a line of verse. Such a line is described as acephalous.
Sidelight: An acephalous line might be an intentional variance by the poet or a matter of the scanning interpretation.
(Compare Catalectic)
(Contrast Anacrusis)

A poem in which certain letters of the lines, usually the first letters, form a word or message relating to the subject. Of ancient origin, examples of acrostic poems date back as far as the 4th century.
Sidelight: Strictly speaking, an acrostic uses the initial letters of the lines to form the word or message, as in the argument to Jonson's Volpone. If the medial letters are used, it is a mesostich; if the final letters, a telestich. The term acrostic, however, is commonly used for all three. When both the initial and final letters are used, it is called a double acrostic.
(Compare Abecedarian Poem, Serpentine Verses)

A verse consisting of a dactyl followed by a spondee or trochee. It is believed to be so named because of its use in songs during the Adonia, an ancient festival in honor of Adonis.
Sidelight: The festival of Adonia was celebrated by women, who spent two days alternating between lamentations and feasting.
(See also Sapphic Verse)

ADYNATON (uh-DYE-nuh-tahn)
A type of hyperbole in which the exaggeration is magnified so greatly that it refers to an impossibility, e.g., "I'd walk a million miles for one of your smiles."
Sidelight: An adynaton can also be expressed negatively: "Not all the water in Lake Superior could satisfy his thirst."

See Horatian Ode

A creative inspiration, as that of a poet; a divine imparting of knowledge, thus it is often called divine afflatus.

(See also Helicon, Muse, Numen)

See Aubade

A Greek lyrical meter, said to be invented by Alcaeus, a lyric poet from about 600 BC. Written in tetrameter, the greater Alcaic consists of a spondee or iamb followed by an iamb plus a long syllable and two dactyls. The lesser Alcaic, also in tetrameter, consists of two dactylic feet followed by two iambic feet.
Sidelight: Though seldom appearing in English poetry, Alcaic verse was used by Tennyson in his ode, Milton.
The standard line in French poetry, consisting of twelve syllables with a caesura after the sixth syllable. There are accents on the sixth and last syllables of the line, and usually a secondary stress within each half-line (hemistich). The English Alexandrine is written in iambic hexameter, thus containing twelve syllables in six metrical feet.
Sidelight: The Alexandrine probably received its name from an old French romance, Alexandre le Grand, written about 1180, in which the measure was first used.
Sidelight: The last line of the Spenserian stanza is an Alexandrine.
(See Poulter's Measure)

A figurative illustration of truths or generalizations about human conduct or experience in a narrative or description by the use of symbolic fictional figures and actions which the reader can interpret as a resemblance to the subject's properties and circumstances.
Sidelight: Though similar to both a series of symbols and an extended metaphor, the meaning of an allegory is more direct and less subject to ambiguity than a symbol; it is distinguishable from an extended metaphor in that the literal equivalent of an allegory's figurative comparison is not usually expressed.
Sidelight: The term, allegoresis, means the interpretation of a work on the part of a reader; since, by definition, the interpretation of an allegory is an essential factor, the two terms function together in a complementary fashion.
Sidelight: Probably the best-known allegory in English literature is Edmund Spenser's The Faerie Queene.
(Compare Aphorism, Apologue, Didactic Poetry, Epigram, Fable, Gnome, Proverb)
(See also Allusion, Metaphor, Personification)

Also called head rhyme or initial rhyme, the repetition of the initial sounds (usually consonants) of stressed syllables in neighboring words or at short intervals within a line or passage, usually at word beginnings, as in "wild and woolly," or the line from Shelley's "The Cloud":

I bear light shade for the leaves when laid
Sidelight: Alliteration has a gratifying effect on the sound, gives a reinforcement to stresses, and can also serve as a subtle connection or emphasis of key words in the line, but alliterated words should not "call attention" to themselves by strained usage.
(See also Euphony, Modulation, Resonance)
(Compare Assonance, Consonance, Rhyme, Sigmatism)

Poetry in which alliteration is a formal structural element in place of rhyme; it was prevalent in a number of old literatures prior to the 14th century, including Anglo-Saxon. In alliterative verse, the first half-line (hemistich) is united with the second half by alliterating stressed syllables; in the first half-line generally two (but sometimes three) syllables alliterate, while in the second half usually only one. Sometimes one alliterating sound is carried through successive lines:
In a somer seson, whan softe was the sonne,
I shoop me into shroudes as I a sheep were,
In habite as an heremite unholy of werkes,
Wente wide in this world wondres to here.

        --The Vision of Piers Plowman, by William Langland, 1330?-1400?
Sidelight: To facilitate maintaining the alliterative pattern, poets made frequent use of a specialized vocabulary, consisting of many synonymous words seldom encountered outside of alliterative verse.
Sidelight: By the 14th century, rhyme and meter displaced alliteration as a formal element, although alliterative verse continued to be written into the 16th century and alliteration retains an important function as one of a poet's sound devices.
An implied or indirect reference to something assumed to be known, such as a historical event or personage, a well-known quotation from literature, or a famous work of art, such as Keats' allusion to Titian's painting of Bacchus in "Ode to a Nightingale."
Sidelight: An allusion can be used by the poet as a means of imagery, since, like a symbol, it can suggest ideas by connotation. Like allegories and parodies, its effectiveness depends upon the reader's acquaintance with the reference alluded to.
See Pattern Poetry

See Cross Rhyme

Applied to words and expressions, the state of being doubtful or indistinct in meaning or capable of being understood in more than one way, in the context in which it is used.
Sidelight: Ambiguity can result from careless or evasive choice of words which bewilder the reader, but its deliberate use is often intended to unify the different interpretations into an expanded enrichment of the meaning of the original expression.

(See also Denotation, Paronomasia, Pun)
(Compare Connotation)

AMPHIBRACH (AM-fuh-brak)
In classical poetry, a metrical foot consisting of a long or accented syllable between two short or unaccented syllables, as con-DI-tion or in-FECT-ed.

A verse composition which, while apparently coherent, contains no sense or meaning, as in Nephelidia, a poem written by A. C. Swinburne as a parody of his own alliterative-predominant style, which begins:
From the depth of the dreamy decline of the dawn through a notable nimbus of nebulous noonshine,
Pallid and pink as the palm of the flag-flower that flickers with fear of the flies as they float,
(See also Macaronic Verse, Nonsense Poetry)

AMPHIMACER (am-FIM-uh-suhr)
See Cretic

ANACHRONISM (uh-NAK-ruh-nizm)
The placement of an event, person, or thing out of its proper chronological relationship, sometimes unintentional, but often deliberate as an exercise of poetic license.
Sidelight: Anachronisms most frequently appear in imaginative portrayals with historical settings, such as a clock in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, and a reference to billiards in Antony and Cleopatra.

(Compare Hysteron Proteron, In Medias Res)

In classical poetry, the exchange of place between short and long syllables in Ionic feet to alter the rhythm.

ANACREONTIC (uh-nah-kree-AHN-tik)
A term describing odes written in the style of the Greek poet, Anacreon, convivial in tone or theme, relating to the praise of love and wine, as in Abraham Cowley's Anacreontiques.
Sidelight: Francis Scott Key's 1814 poem, "The Star-Spangled Banner," was set to the tune of a popular song of the day, "To Anacreon in Heaven," composed by John Stafford Smith as a drinking song for London's Anacreontic Society. In 1931 it was officially adopted by the U.S. Congress as the national anthem.
One or more unaccented syllables at the beginning of a line of verse that are regarded as preliminary to and not part of the metrical pattern.

(See also Procephalic)
(Compare Feminine Ending, Hypercatalectic)
(Contrast Acephaly)

ANADIPLOSIS (an-uh-duh-PLOH-sus)
Also called epanadiplosis, the repetition of a prominent (usually the final) word of a phrase, clause, line, or stanza at the beginning of the next, often with extended or altered meaning, as in: "his hands were folded -- folded in prayer" or Keats' repetition of the word, "forlorn," linking the seventh and eighth stanzas of "Ode to a Nightingale."

(Compare Anaphora, Chain Rhyme, Echo, Epistrophe, Epizeuxis,
                 Incremental Repetition, Parallelism, Polysyndeton, Refrain, Stornello Verses

ANAGOGE or ANAGOGY (AN-uh-go-jee)
The spiritual or mystical interpretation of a word or passage beyond the literal, allegorical, or moral sense.

Miscellaneous extracts collected from the works of authors.

An agreement or similarity in some particulars between things otherwise different; sleep and death, for example, are analogous in that they both share a lack of animation and a recumbent posture.
Sidelight: Prevalent in literature, the use of an analogy carries the inference that if things agree in some respects, it's likely that they will agree in others.
(Compare Simile, Symbol)

A metrical foot with two short or unaccented syllables followed by a long or accented syllable, as in inter-VENE or for a WHILE. William Cowper's "Verses Supposed to be Written by Alexander Selkirk," is a poem in which anapestic feet are predominately used, as in the opening line:
I am MON | -arch of ALL | I sur-VEY,

Sidelight: In English poetry, with the exception of limericks, anapestic verse is seldom used for whole poems, but can often be highly effective as a variation.
(See also Meter, Rhythm)

ANAPHORA (uh-NAF-or-uh)
Also called epanaphora, the repetition of the same word or expression at the beginning of successive phrases, clauses, sentences, or lines for rhetorical or poetic effect, as in Lincoln's "we cannot dedicate- we cannot consecrate-we cannot hallow this ground" or from Fitzgerald's The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám:

Sans Wine, sans Song, sans Singer, and--sans End!

(See also Epistrophe, Symploce)
(Compare Anadiplosis, Echo, Epizeuxis, Incremental Repetition,
                 Parallelism, Polysyndeton, Refrain, Stornello Verses

ANASTROPHE (uh-NAS-truh-fee)
A type of hyperbaton involving the inversion of the natural or usual syntactical order of a pair of words for rhetorical or poetic effect, as "hillocks green" for "green hillocks," or "high triumphs hold" for "hold high triumphs" in Milton's "L'Allegro," or from the same poem:
Meadows trim, with daisies pied,
Shallow brooks, and rivers wide;
(Compare Antistrophe, Chiasmus, Hypallage)

See under Stanza

ANTANACLASIS ( an-tuh-NAK-luh-sis)
A figure of speech in which the same word is repeated in a different sense within a clause or line, e.g., "while we live, let us live."
Sidelight: Since the play on senses can be used to create homonymous puns, antanaclasis is related to paronomasia.
(See also Epanalepsis, Epizeuxis, Ploce, Polyptoton)

See under Polyptoton

A collection of selected literary, artistic, or musical works or parts of works.

(See also Canon, Companion Poem, Cycle, Lyric Sequence, Sonnet Sequence)

In classical poetry, a metrical foot consisting of two long syllables followed by a short syllable.

The intentional use of elevated language to describe the trivial or commonplace, or a sudden transition from a significant thought to a trivial one in order to achieve a humorous or satiric effect, as in Pope's The Rape of the Lock:
Here thou, great Anna! whom three realms obey,
Dost sometimes counsel take -- and sometimes tea.
An anticlimax also occurs in a series in which the ideas or events ascend toward a climactic conclusion but terminate instead in a thought of lesser importance. Bathos is an anticlimax which is unintentional.

(See also Purple Patch)

ANTIMETABOLE (an-tye-muh-TAB-uh-lee)
See Chiasmus

ANTIPHRASIS (an-TIF-ruh-sus)
The ironic or humorous use of words in a sense not in accord with their literal meaning, as "a giant of three feet four inches."

(Compare Burlesque, Hudibrastic Verse, Oxymoron, Parody, Satire)

ANTISPAST (AN-ti-spast)
In classical poetry, a metrical foot consisting of two long syllables between two short syllables.

ANTISTROPHE (an-TIS-troh-fee)
The second division in the triadic structure of Pindaric verse, corresponding metrically to the strophe; also, the stanza following or alternating with and responding to the strophe in ancient lyric poetry; also, in rhetoric, the reversal of terms mutually dependent on each other, as from "the captain of the crew" to "the crew of the captain."

(See also Epode)
(Compare Anastrophe)

A figure of speech in which a thought is balanced with a contrasting thought in parallel arrangements of words and phrases, such as, "he promised wealth and provided poverty," or "it was the best of times, it was the worst of times," or from Pope's An Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot:
Willing to wound, and yet afraid to strike,
Also, an antithesis is the second of two contrasting or opposing constituents, following the thesis.

(Compare Oxymoron)

ANTONOMASIA (an-tuh-no-MAY-zhuh)
The use of a name, epithet, or title in place of a proper name, as Bard for Shakespeare.

(Compare Cataphora, Metonymy)

One of two or more words that have opposite meanings.

(Compare Homonym, Paronym, Synonym)

A type of elision in which a letter or syllable is omitted at the beginning of a word, as 'twas for it was.

(Compare Apocope, Syncope, Synaeresis, Synaloepha)
(See also Aphesis)

APHESIS (AFF-uh-sus)
A form of aphaeresis in which the syllable omitted is short and unaccented, as in 'round for around.

A brief statement containing an important truth or fundamental principle.

(Compare Allegory, Apologue, Didactic Poetry, Epigram, Fable, Gnome, Proverb)

APOCOPE (uh-PAH-kuh-pee)
A type of elision in which a letter or syllable is omitted at the end of a word, as in morn for morning.

(Compare Aphaeresis, Syncope, Synaeresis, Synaloepha)

An allegorical narrative such as a fable, usually intended to convey a moral or a useful truth.

(Compare Allegory, Aphorism, Didactic Poetry, Epigram, Gnome, Proverb)

APOSIOPESIS (ap-uh-sy-uh-PEE-sis)
Stopping short of a complete thought for effect, thus calling attention to it, usually by a sudden breaking off, as "he acted like--but I pretended not to notice," leaving the unsaid portion to the reader's imagination.

(See Ellipsis)

APOSTROPHE (uh-PAHS-truh-fee)
A figure of speech in which an address is made to an absent or deceased person or a personified thing rhetorically, as in William Cowper's "Verses Supposed to be Written by Alexander Selkirk":
O solitude! Where are the charms
That sages have seen in thy face?
An apostrophe is also a punctuation mark used to indicate the omission of letter(s) in an elision.
Sidelight: When the poet addresses a muse or a god for inspiration, it is called an invocation.
(Compare Prosopopeia)

See Near Rhyme

A region or scene characterized by idyllic quiet and simplicity, often chosen as a setting for pastoral poetry, from Arcadia, a picturesque region in ancient Greece.

(See also Bucolic, Eclogue, Idyll, Madrigal)

ARCHAISM (AHR-kee-izm)
The intentional use of a word or expression no longer in general use, for example, thou mayst is an archaism meaning you may. Archaisms can evoke the sense of a bygone era.
Sidelight: Spenser's The Faerie Queene contains a number of archaisms. Syntactic inversions such as the hyperbaton can also provide an archaic effect.
The subject matter or central theme of a work of literature or a summary of the work, often used as a prologue to a drama, epic, or narrative, as in Jonson's Volpone.

A treatise by the Roman poet, Horace (65BC-8BC), setting forth principles of poetic composition. The term is also applied to other authoritative works dealing with the art of poetry.

The accented part of a poetic foot; the point where an ictus is put.
Sidelight: In musical terminology, the arsis is the upbeat, the unaccented part of a measure; due to an early confusion which was later recognized but never reversed, the meaning of the term is the opposite when used in reference to the poetic foot.
(Contrast Thesis)

The relatively close juxtaposition of the same or similar vowel sounds, but with different end consonants in a line or passage, thus a vowel rhyme, as in the words, date and fade.
Sidelight: The effective use of internal assonantal sounds is displayed throughout Byron's "She Walks in Beauty."
(See also Euphony, Near Rhyme, Resonance, Sound Devices)
(Compare Alliteration, Consonance, Modulation, Rhyme)

ASYNDETON (uh-SIN-duh-tahn)
The omission of conjunctions that ordinarily join coordinate words and phrases, as in "see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil."

(Contrast Polysyndeton)

AUBADE (OH-bahd)
A song or poem with a motif of greeting the dawn, often involving the parting of lovers, or a call for a beloved to arise, as in Shakespeare's "Song," from Cymbeline.
Sidelight: The dawn song is also known as an alba (Provençal), aube (Old French), and tagalied (German).
(Compare Serenade)

See Aubade

The innovating artists or writers who promote the use of new or experimental concepts or techniques.

(See Imagism, Impressionism, Objectivism, Realism, Symbolism)


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A poet without love were a physical and metaphysical impossibility.

---Thomas Carlyle

Look, then, into thine heart, and write!

---Henry Wadsworth Longfellow