Please define the following terms(all discussed in the book A Poetry Handbook by Mary Oliver), and provide an example for each. Semi-vowel, mute, alliteration, assonance, consonance, onomatopoeia,...

Please define the following terms(all discussed in the book A Poetry Handbook by Mary Oliver), and provide an example for each.

Semi-vowel, mute, alliteration, assonance, consonance, onomatopoeia, foot(feet), lamb, trochee, dactyl, anapest, spondee, monometer, dimeter, trimeter, tetrameter, pentameter, hexameter, heptameter, octameter, constancy, variation, couplet, tercet, quatrain, terza rima, Italian Sonnet, English Sonnet, Syllabic verse, free verse.

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Tamara K. H. | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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As we are limited in space, below are a few definitions to help get you started, as well as some links to literary terms dictionaries you can use along with A Poetry Handbook.

A semivowel is a type of phonetic sound that sounds like a vowel, but actually functions like a consonant. Remember how we list the vowels as a, e, i, o, u, and sometimes y? The reason is because y is one example of a semivowel; it sounds like a vowel even though it is classified as a consonant. Another example of a semivowel in the English language can be the consonant w (Dr. Wheeler, "Literary Terms and Definitions, S"). Examples of words in which the consonant y sounds like a vowel are myth, hymn, and my; however, in the word beyond, "there is an obstacle to the breath which can be heard between [the] two vowels" e and o, so in beyond, the y is acting as a consonant ("Is the letter Y a vowel or a consonant?"). Examples of words containing w acting as a vowel are brown and cow.

A mute is very similar to a semivowel in that we are again referring to consonants. Specifically, a mute is a consonant that cannot be spoken at all without being followed by a vowel sound. A mute will also block breath at the end of a syllable, forcing a stop in the sound. There are eight mutes: b, d, k, p, q, t, hard c, and hard g. Examples of words containing mutes are bed, oak, rock, hush, quiet, shut, and up. In the phrase "Please be quite," we actually hear four mutes: p, b, q, and t (Mary Oliver, "Sound").

Alliteration is a form of repetition of sound. We can create alliteration either through consonants or vowels. If the repetition is created through consonants, the consonant sound will be repeated in close proximity. Dr Wheeler gives us the example, "buckets of big blue berries." If alliteration is created through vowels, the vowel sound will be repeated at the beginning of a series of words. Dr. Wheeler gives us the example, "apt alliteration's artful aid." Other forms of sound repetition in your list are assonance and consonance. Both are types of alliteration, and both have to do with repetition of vowels and consonants respectively.

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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1. semi-vowel - Just as the word suggests, a semi-vowel is similar to vowels in acoustic and articulatory [how it is spoken] properties, but it is usually non-syllabic; that is, it does not form a syllable.

Here is what Ms. Oliver writes on semi-vowels:

The semi-vowels are
 n, r, s, v,
 y, z,
 soft. But
 at the end of a syllable is a vowel. And the sound of
 f,g, h,
 can be protracted only as an
 or strong breath.Four of the semivowels—/,
 m, n,
 on account of the fluency oftheir sounds.Four others—
v, tv, y,
—are more vocal than the aspirates.

Example: the /y/ in the word fly, the Y is pronounced like a long i, but it is non-syllabic, although it is sometimes considered an open syllable or a closed one depending upon what part of the country someone's dialect is from. For example, in the Southeast, the word is ended with an open syllable ending in a diphthong [two sounds] and sounds like /flai/ while with a Midwest dialect the word end with a closed syllable: /flaj/

2. mute - This term is sometimes used for voiceless cosonants. Here is what Ms. Oliver writes,

A mute is a consonant that cannot be sounded at all without a vowel, and which at the end of a syllable suddenly stops the breath, as
 k, p, t,
 in ak, ap, at.
The mutes are eight:
 b, d, k, p, q, t,
 hard. Three of
sound exactly alike.
 B, d,
 hard stop
e.g. peg

3. alliteration - This is the repetition of initial consonant sounds in a line or lines of poetry e.g. by the bright, briny sea the/b/ is repeated.

4. assonance - This is the repetition of a vowel sound in stressed syllables containing dissimilar consonant sounds. e.g. In "Andrea del Sarto," poet Robert Browning uses assonance in this line:

Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp"

as the long e is repeated in the words reach and exceed in stressed syllables containing the consonants r--ch and c--d

5. consonance - This is the repetition of consonant sounds in stressed syllables containing dissimilar vowel sounds. e.g. Edgar Allan Poe employs consonace in "The Raven" in this line:

And the silken sad uncertain rustling of each purple curtain

The /s/ is the same in the words uncertain and rustling.

6. onomatopoeia - This is the use of words that imitate sounds. e.g. fizz, murmur, hiss

7. foot/feet - A poetic foot is "a basic repeated sequence of meter composed of two or more accented or unaccented syllables." Poetic feet are often divided by vertical lines when scansion of a poem is done to determine what type of feet is used. There are eight different types of feet.

Numbers 8-12 will define five of these:

8. Iamb = a foot with one unstressed syllable followed by one stressed syllable. e.g. aloud. (this is the most common foot in English)

9. Trochee = a foot with one stressed syllable followed by one unstressed syllable. e.g. headache

10. Anapest = a foot with two unstressed syllables followed by one stressed syllable. e.g. disembark

11. Dactyl = a foot with one stressed syllable followed by two stressed syllables. e.g. solitude

12. Spondee = a foot with two stressed syllables. e.g. upload

13. monometer = verse written in one foot lines. e.g. William Blake's Spring:

Sound the Flute! Now its mute Brids delight Day and Night

14. dimeter = verse written in two foot lines e.g. William Blake's "The Sick Rose":

O Rose, / thou are sick,
The invis / ible worm,
That flies / in the night
In the how / ling storm:
Has found / thy bed

15. trimeter = verse written in three foot lines e.g. William Blake's "The Garden of Love:

I went / to the Gard /en of Love
And saw / what I nev /er had seen

16. tetrameter = verse written in four foot lines e.g. Blake's "London":

I wand / er through /each chart /er'd street

17. pentameter = verse written in five foot lines (English speech fits the pattern of iambic pentameter): e.g. Prologue of Romeo and Juliet

Two house/holds both/ alike / in dig/nity

18. hexameter = verse written in six foot lines e.g. Shelley's Adonais

He had /adorned/ and hid/ the com/ ing bulk/ of death

19. heptameter = verse written in seven foot lines e.g. Poe's "Annabel Lee"

That a maid/en there lived /whom you may /know by the /name of An/nabel Lee

20. octameter = verse written in eight foot lines e.g. Poe's "The Raven"

While I/ nodded,/ nearly / napping,/ sudden/ly there /came a /tapping

21. constancy = Words and phrases rhyme or almost rhyme because of a similar structure such as the same number of syllables and stresses and endings e.g. policy, possibly, probably, progeny

Constancy can also refer to the length of lines in poetry as being similar.

22. variation = In poetry this can refer to the line length or the meter being different at a certain point in the poem from what has been written. e.g. A. R. Ammons's "Loss":

When the sun
falls behind the sumac
thicket the
yellow daisies
in diffuse evening shade
lose their
rigorous attention

23. couplet = A pair of rhyming lines written in the same meter. Often sonnets end in such couplets e.g. Shakespeare's Sonnet CXVI:

If this be error, and upon me proved,
I never write, nor no man ever loved.

24. tercet = Three lines of poetry that form a stanza e.g. Byron's "The Prophecy of Dante"

Thy gentle heart will pardon me the crime.
Thou, in the pride of Beauty and of Youth,
Spak'st; and for thee to speak and be obey'd

25. quatrain = Four lines of poetry that form a stanza e.g. Dylan Thomas's "Do Not Go Gentle Into the Night"

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

26. terza rima ["third rhyme" in Italian] = A stanza form of three lines that have interlocking rhymes that move from one stanza to the next. The pattern of these lines is typically aba, bcb, cdc, ded, etc. In Dante's Divine Comedy, terza rima's tripartite is the poetic unit. e.g. Percy Bysshe Shelley used this form in his "Ode to the West Wind"

The winged seeds, where they lie cold and low,
Each like a corpse within its grave, until
Thine azure sister of the Spring shall blow

27. Italian sonnet = Also known as the Petrachan sonnet, this is a fourteen-line lyric poem with a single theme that is divided into two parts: an 8-line octave with the rhyme scheme of abba, abba, and a 6-line sestet with the rhyme scheme of cde, cde or some combination of cd rhymes. The two parts of the sonnet complement one another: the first raises a question, states a problem or presents a brief narrative; the sestet answers the question, solve the problem, or comments on the narrative.

e.g. Elizabeth Barrett Browing's Sonnet 43 [How Do I Love Thee?]

28. English sonnet = This is also called the Shakespearean sonnet. It has three four-line quatrains plus a concluding two-line couplet. The rhyme scheme of such a sonnet is usually abab cdcd efef gg. Each of the three quatrains usually explores a different variation of the main theme. Then, the couplet presents a summation or a concluding statement.

e.g. Shakespeare's Sonnet XVIII

29. Syllabic verse = A pattern is set up and strictly followed in a syllabic verse.  This pattern, established in the first stanza is strictly adhered to in the following stanzas. e.g. "Before a Cashier's Window in a Department Store"


Am I dead? And, if not, why not?
For she sails there, alone, looming in the
   heaven of the beautiful.
She knows
The bulldozers will scrape me up
After dark, behindThe officers' club.
 30. Free verse = Verse that is without metrical design; however, it is not completely free as there is some kind of design. Free verse is composed of sound and line and patterns of rhythm with an expectation that is met at the end of the poem.   e.g."Loss" by A. R. Ammons
When the sun
falls behind the sumac
thicket the
yellow daisies
in diffuse evening shade
lose their
rigorous attention....
and lifttheir
petals up
to float
off their stems
and go

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