36 Poetry Terms

By Simon Kewin

Poetry is an area of writing that has a language all of its own, as contributors to the recent poetry competition will be aware. The following are some of the terms specific to the writing of poetry :

alliteration
A repeated sound, usually applied only to consonants.

anapest
A metrical foot : two short/unstressed syllables followed by one long/stressed syllable (dee-dee-DUM – e.g. “energize”).

assonance
A repeated vowel sound.

ballad
A narrative poem in short stanzas, especially one that tells a popular story.

blank verse
Verse that doesn’t rhyme (often iambic pentameter).

caesura
A pause in the middle of a line, often indicated by punctuation

clerihew
A witty, biographical poem of four lines (two rhyming couplets).

couplet
A pair of successive lines of verse, especially when riming together and of the same length.

dactyl
A metrical foot : one long/stressed syllable followed by two short/unstressed syllables (DUM-dee-dee – e.g. “poetry”).

doggerel A word applied to verse of irregular rhythm, trivial content and inappropriate diction. Much comic verse is deliberately written as doggerel.

elegy
A poem mourning the dead.

elision
Deliberate omission of unstressed syllables, typically in order to maintain a rhythm – e.g. “o’er” for “over”.

enjambment
the lack of a pause between two lines of a poem

foot
The unit of poetic rhythm; a pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables.

free verse
Verse that follows no particular form, metre or rhyme scheme.

haiku
Seventeen syllable poems, generally split into three lines of five, seven and five syllables, often with a theme related to nature.

half rhyme
A rhyme where two words have similar consonant sounds but different vowel sounds – e.g. “hell” and “hill”. Also called a slant rhyme or an imperfect rhyme.

heroic couplet
A rhyming pair of iambic pentameter lines.

hexameter
A poem in which the lines have six metrical feet. (And so forth : dimeter = 2 feet, trimeter = 3 feet, tetrameter = 4 feet, heptameter = 7 feet etc.)

iamb
A metrical foot : a short/unstressed syllable followed by a long/stressed syllable (dee-DUM – e.g. “today”).

internal rhyme
A rhyme within the words of a line.

metre
The rhythm of poetry; the pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables

ode
A dignified, lyric poem expressing praise or some other elevated notion.

pastoral
Poetry dealing with rural life.

pentameter
A line that has five metrical feet.

quatrain A four line stanza.
(And so forth : quintain, sestet, septain etc.)

rhyme
A repeated sound, usually at line endings.

rhyme scheme
The pattern of rhyming line-endings in a poem – e.g. “abab” means each stanza has four lines, with lines one and three rhyming with each other (rhyme “a”) and also lines two and four rhyming with each other (rhyme “b”)

sonnet A 14 line poem, of which there are various forms (Shakespearean, Spenserian etc.)

spondee
A metrical foot : two long/stressed syllables (DUM-DUM – e.g. “heartbreak”).

stanza
A a group of metrical lines or verses, usually no fewer than four, arranged in a certain pattern. A stanza is often called a “verse”.

strong ending
A stressed syllable at the end of a line.

tercet
A set or group of three lines bound by rhyme.

trochee
A metrical foot : a long/stressed syllable followed by a short/unstressed syllable (DUM-dee – e.g. “poem”).

weak ending
Ending a line on an unstressed syllable.

wrenched rhyme
A rhyming word whose pronunciation is altered in order to force it into a rhyme scheme

This is far from a complete list : an exhaustive glossary would fill many pages. But it does contain some of the main terms used by poets to discuss their work.

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3 Responses to “36 Poetry Terms”

  • AmaT

    It’s true poetry’s own language is what makes poetry poetry! I enjoyed reading your list of terms. I my not always be able to explain what they mean, but those of us who love poetry somehow know how to read and to use them.

  • Gloson

    Nice! I think you forgot “limerick” though. One example of a limerick is:

    There once was a young girl named Jill.
    Who was scared by the sight of a drill.
    She brushed every day
    So her dentist would say,
    “Your teeth are so perfect; no bill.”

    Copied from: How to Write a Limerick 🙂

  • Sheila Jenkins

    A smile so bright and yet so sad
    makes me feel as if you were mad.

    Always smile cause you are special
    A smile is also a spiritual gesture.

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