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Poetry and Literary Terms
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- accent The prominence or emphasis given to a syllable or word. In the word poetry, the accent (or stress) falls on the first syllable.
- 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.
- carpe diem A Latin expression that means “seize the day.” Carpe diem poems urge the reader (or the person to whom they are addressed) to live for today and enjoy the pleasures of the moment. A famous carpe diem poem by Robert Herrick begins “Gather ye rosebuds while ye may…”
- figure of speech A verbal expression in which words or sounds are arranged in a particular way to achieve a particular effect. Figures of speech are organized into different categories, such as alliteration, assonance, metaphor, metonymy, onomatopoeia, simile, and synecdoche.
- 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.
- onomatopoeia A figure of speech in which words are used to imitate sounds. Examples of onomatopoeic words are buzz, hiss, zing, clippetyclop, and ticktock. 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.
- pastoralA poem that depicts rural life in a peaceful, idealized way.
- personification A figure of speech in which things or abstract ideas are given human attributes: dead leaves dance in the wind, blind justice.
- refrain A line or group of lines that is repeated throughout a poem, usually after every stanza.
- 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 using like occurs in Langston Hughes's poem “Harlem”: “What happens to a dream deferred?/ Does it dry up/ like a raisin in the sun?”
- 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 meter and rhyme.
- verse A single metrical line of poetry, or poetry in general (as opposed to prose).
About this Document
This is a modified list of literary terms to be used as a study guide in Language Arts