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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 https://poets.org/glossary and https://www.writersdigest.com/writing-articles/common-poetry-terms.

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/Rhythm

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. 

 

 

 

 

Sound/Rhyme

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.

Structure/Types

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.