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University Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

O'Brien- Poetry: Poetry Terms

Resources for the Poetry Explication Essay

Poetry Terms

Having some of the language used to talk about poetry will be important to writing about it. Definitions from and

Poetic Devices/Meaning

You might be able to spot some of these poetic devices in your poems!

Allusion: a reference to a person, event, or literary work outside the poem.

Anthropomorphism: the attribution of human traits, actions, or emotions to an animal, object, or other nonhuman figure. 

Apostrophe: a direct address of an inanimate object, abstract qualities, a god, or a person not living or present. 

Connotation: the implied or suggested meaning associated with a word or phrase. 

Denotation: the dictionary meaning of a word. 

Figurative Meaning: the associative or connotative meaning of a word, phrase, or poem. 

Hyperbole: exaggeration for emphasis.

Imagery: language in a poem representing a sensory experience, including visual, auditory, olfactory, tactile, and gustatory. 

Irony: a rhetorical device involving contradictions of expectation or knowledge and divided into three primary types: verbal, situational, and dramatic. 

Literal Meaning: the simplest and most obvious meaning of a word, phrase, or poem based on denotation and not connotation.

Metaphor: a comparison between essentially unlike things, or the application of a name or description to something to which it is not literally applicable. 

Metonymy: a word or phrase that replaces the name of an object or concept for another to which it is related.

Onomatopoeia: the use of language that sounds like the thing or action it describes.

Oxymoron: a combination of two words that appear to contradict each other. 

Personification: the endowment of inanimate objects or abstract concepts with animate or living qualities.

Simile: a comparison between two essentially unlike things using words such as like and as. 

Symbol: an object or action that stands for something beyond itself.

Synecdoche: a word for part of an object or idea used as a substitution to describe the whole.


Meter describes the rhythm of a poem, and has a specific set of words used to talk about it.

Anapest: a metrical foot containing three syllables, the first two of which are unstressed and the last of which is stressed. 

Caesura: a pause for a beat in the rhythm of a verse, often indicated by a line break or by punctuation.

Dactyl: a metrical foot containing three syllables, the first stressed and the following two unstressed. 

Elision: the omission, usually via apostrophe, of an unstressed vowel or syllable to preserve the meter of a line of poetry. 

End-stop: the use of terminal punctuation such as a period, colon, or semicolon at the end of a poetic line; the opposite of enjambment.

Enjambment: the continuation of a phrase or sentence from one line to another without an end-stop.

Falling Meter: meter containing metrical feet that move from stressed to unstressed syllables; the opposite of rising meter.

Iamb: a metrical foot containing two syllables, the first of which is unstressed and the latter of which is stressed. 

Iambic Pentameter: a traditional form of rising meter consisting of lines containing five iambic feet, or ten syllables. 

Meter: the measured pattern of rhythmic accents in a line of verse. 

Rising Meter: meter containing metrical feet that move from unstressed to stressed syllables; the opposite of falling meter.

Scansion: the process of determining the meter of a poem or a line of verse.

Spondee: a less common metrical foot in which two consecutive syllables are stressed. 

Trochee: a metrical foot containing two syllables, the first of which is stressed and the second of which is unstressed. 






These are words that can help you describe how the poem sounds.

Alliteration: the repetition of consonant sounds, particularly at the beginnings of words. 

Anaphora: a technique in which successive phrases or lines begin with the same words, often resembling a litany.

Assonance: the repetition of similar vowel sounds. 

Consonance: the repetition of similar consonant sounds. 

Rhyme: the correspondence of sounds in words or lines of verse. 

Rhyme Scheme: the pattern of rhymes falling at the ends of a poem’s lines. 

Slant Rhyme: a rhyme formed with words with similar but not wholly identical sounds; also called an off rhyme, half rhyme, and imperfect rhyme.


While there are many poetic forms, here's a few that might be good to know, as well as some more general ideas.

Acrostic: a form in which names or words are spelled out through the first letter of each line.

Blank Verse: poetry that does not rhyme but follows a regular meter, most commonly iambic pentameter.

Cento: a form also known as a collage poem and composed entirely of lines from poems by other poets. 

Closed Form: a poetic form subject to a fixed structure and pattern; the opposite of open form. 

Elegy: a form of poetry in which the poet or speaker expresses grief, sadness, or loss.

Found Poem: a collage-like form consisting entirely of language taken from outside texts.

Haiku: a form that originated in Japan, is traditionally composed of three lines with seventeen syllables, written in a 5/7/5 syllable count, and often focuses on images from nature.

Open Form: a poetic form free from regularity and consistency in elements such as rhyme, line length, and form; the opposite of closed form.

Sonnet: a fourteen-line poem traditionally written in iambic pentameter, employing one of several rhyme schemes, and adhering to a tightly structured thematic organization. 

Villanelle: a highly structured poem made up of five tercets followed by a quatrain, with two repeating rhymes and two refrains.