Poetic Forms and Literary Terminology

The following list contains terms that we have used during the first part of this quarter. Further definitions can be found in the appendix “Poetic Forms and Literary Terminology” beginning on page A-37 of the Norton Anthology (or any glossary of literary terms).

Rhythm and Meter

foot (A-37)—the unit repeated that gives a steady rhythm to poetry

iamb (iambic foot) (A-37)—unstressed followed by stressed: unite, repeat, insist

trochee (trochaic foot) (A-37)—stressed followed by unstressed: unit, reaper, instant

anapest (anapestic foot) (A-38)—two unstressed followed by stressed: intercede, disarranged

dactyl (dactylic foot) (A-38)—stressed followed by two unstressed: Washington, applejack

spondee (spondaic foot) (A-38)—two stressed: heartbreak, headline

trimeter (A-38)—a verse line of three feet

tetrameter (A-38)— a verse line of four feet

pentameter (A-38)— a verse line of five feet

hexameter (A-38)— a verse line of six feet

caesura (A-39)—strong pause (usually grammatically marked) in a verse line

end-stopped lines (A-39)—verse lines that end with a strong mark of punctuation

enjambment (A-39)—lines where the sense flows over the ends into the next

Sense and Sound

alliteration (A-40)—beginning with same consonant or consonant sound

assonance (A-40)—repetition of same or similar vowel sounds

consonance (A-40)—repetition of pattern of consonant sounds with varied vowels: languor/linger, reader/raider

Rhyme and Stanza

masculine rhyme (A-41)—last syllable rhyme

feminine rhyme (A-41)—two syllable rhyme with second syllable unstressed

blank verse (A-41)—unrhymed iambic pentameter

stanza (A-41)—a recurring unit of a poem

couplet (A-41)—rhymed successive lines

closed couplet (A-41)—couplet expressing a complete thought (ending with semicolon or period)

tetrameter couplets (A-42)—rhymed successive tetrameter lines

ballad stanza (A-42)—alternate tetrameter and trimeter lines usually rhyming abcb (or abab)

sonnet (A-43)—a poem consisting of fourteen lines of iambic pentameter

verse paragraphs (A-43)—divisions in long blank verse or irregularly rhymed verse, usually marked like prose paragraphs (indented first lines)

Figurative Language

simile (A-43)—comparison marked with specific word of likening, such as “like” or “as”

metaphor (A-43)—comparison that likens one thing to another without a word of likening

epic simile (A-43)—an extended simile in which the thing compared is described as an object in its own right

antithesis (A-44)—the placement of opposing ideas in parallel grammar

hyperbole (A-44)—willful exaggeration

paradox (A-44)—a statement that on the surface seems improbable but which turns out to be rational, usually in some unexpected sense

personification (A-45)—the attribution of human qualities to an inanimate object or abstract idea

allegory (A-45)—a narrative where concepts are represented as persons who act out a plot

classical allusion (A-45)—reference to classical literature or mythology

Terms of Literary Art

Allegory, Symbol, Emblem, Type  (A-46-A-47)—Allegory (see above); a literary symbol is the representation of an object or event which has a further range of reference beyond itself; an emblem was a kind of poetry where the text elucidated the meaning of an enigmatic picture; a type was a person or event in the Old Testament which was seen as prefiguring a person or event in the New Testament

Baroque and Mannerist (A-47)—see discussion in the Norton Anthology.

Catastrophe and Catharsis (A-47)—catastrophe is the conclusion of a play and is usually only applied to tragedy (the related term "denouement" (unraveling) refers to the precipitating events in a comedy or a tragedy (i.e. the events that bring about the conclusion); catharsis is from Aristotle and refers to the process supposedly undergone by the audience of a tragedy, where the play "purges" them of the emotions of pity and fear.

Didactic poetry (A-48) teaches a branch of knowledge and is not a derogatory term

Dramatic irony (A-48) occurs when the audience knows more about the "real" situation than a character on the stage.

Eulogy, Elegy (A-48)—eulogy is a work of praise for either a very distinguished or recently dead person; an elegy is a formal, usually long, poetic lament for someone who has died

Fancy, Imagination (A-48)—after Coleridge distinct terms; fancy is the power of combining several known properties into new combinations; imagination is the faculty of using such properties to create something entirely new  

Folios, Quartos, etc., (A-49) are terms used to specify the size of book pages. A folio page is made by folding a single sheet of paper (usually 14" X 20" or larger) once, giving four printable pages. A quarto page is made by folding a single sheet of paper twice, giving eight printable pages.

Genre, Decorum (A-49)—genre is an established literary form or type, such as the epic, the sonnet, the Pindaric Ode, a stage comedy, and so on; decorum, in literary criticism, refers to the principle that there should be fitness between characters, actions and language  

Humors and Temperaments (A-49) are psychological terms used by Renaissance writers. According to the medical knowledge of the time, every person's constitution was made up of four basic humors: the choleric (bile), the sanguine (blood), the phlegmatic (phlegm), and the melancholy (black bile). The temperament, or mixture, of these four humors was held to determine both a person's physical condition and character. When a particular humor predominated in a person's body, then that person's character would be dominated by that humor: choler = anger; sanguine = geniality; phlegm = cold torpor; and melancholy = gloomy self-absorption.

Irony, Sarcasm (A-50)—ways of saying one thing but meaning another; irony implies an attitude on the part of the speaker quite different from the thoughts being expressed; sarcasm is a more broad and taunting form using apparent praise to denigrate  

Myth and Legend (A-50)—Myths are hereditary narratives that purport to explain how the world came to be and why it continues in the same way; legends are old and popularly repeated stories.

Pathos, the Sublime, Bathos (A-51)—pathos refers to scenes or passages designed to evoke the feelings of pity or sympathetic sorrow from an audience; the sublime refers to the effect of terror and pleasure produced by contemplation of the vast, obscure and powerful; bathos is the unintentional descent from high to low which occurs when an author attempts to be lofty and ends up ridiculous

Poetic diction (A-51)—the distinctive language used by a poet which is not current in the discourse of an age

Romance (A-52)—medieval romances were verse narratives of adventure, usually involving quests, and both natural and supernatural trials

Wit, Humor (A-53)—in their present use, both terms refer to elements in a literary work that are designed to amuse an audience; through the Eighteenth century, however, wit had a broad range of meanings, including general intelligence, mental acuity, ingenuity in literary invention, especially in a brilliant and paradoxical style