Check Out 20 Common Poetry Terms and There Meanings

common poetry terms

Many students would like to write poetry but may not know the common poetry terms to begin with. Poetry is a form of literature in which words are arranged according to certain patterns and rules. This article is created with the purpose of explaining some common terms that many people use when they think about or discuss poetry.

What is an example of poetry?

Poetry is a form of literature in which words are arranged according to certain patterns and rules. Poems may consist of just one stanza or many. Poetry may be lyric poetry, narrative poetry, dramatic poetry, or epic poetry. The definition can also include some poetic forms such as Haiku and sonnets.

What is the ‘meter’ of a poem?

The meter refers to the patterned arrangement of stressed and unstressed syllables used in verse or lines in poems. For example, “Alex sat on the mat” has four lambs (unstressed-stressed) while “and ate his hat” has two trochees (stressed-unstressed).

What do you call a 14 line poem with the rhyme scheme ABC CDCD Efef GG?

According to the traditional rhyme scheme, a poem with 14 lines and the rhyming pattern of ABC CDCD EEFF GG should be called a ballad.

What is a poem with 12 lines called?

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According to the traditional rhyme scheme, a poem with 12 lines and the rhyming pattern of AABB would be called Rondeau Prime.

20 Common Poetry Terms

  1. Alliteration

The repetition of consonant sounds at the beginning of two or more neighboring words, as in “a peck of pickled peppers.”

2. Ballad

A ballad is a poem that tells a story. Many ballads have been written down and passed from generation to generation. They are most often told in quatrains or couplets.

3. Caesura

A caesura is a break within the middle of a line, usually occurring after the third foot. Caesuras can be used for effect, especially at moments of transition or changes in thought. They are also frequently found in satirical poetry to create a comedic pause or to divide up different speakers.

4. Couplet

A couplet is a pair of lines that are rhymed together. Couplets may be written as closed couplets, with two complete lines of verse following each other, or as open couplets, with the second line only partially rhyming with the first line.

5. Elegy

An elegy is a mournful poem about someone who has died. It usually speaks of regrets and painful memories connected to the person’s death. Elegy is also often used loosely to refer to any poem of mourning.

6. End-stopped Line

A line that ends in punctuation (such as a period), rather than continuing on to another line of verse.

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7. Enjambment

The continuation of a line of poetry without punctuation, so that it runs right into the next line, creating one long run-on phrase. Enjambment is typically used to create a dramatic effect or to emphasize emotion. If there is no logical break at the end of a sentence, then enjambment has occurred.

8. Envelope Stanza

An envelope stanza has lines that are arranged in pairs with matching rhyme and meter. The first line rhymes with the last word (or two) of the second line; this creates an envelope shape when read down the page. For example: “I didn’t mean to hurt you” / “I never thought that I would.”

9. Epic

An epic is a large, dramatic poem that tells the story of an entire people–or even of humanity. Epics are most often written in blank verse. They are also usually lengthy poems with many different sub-plots that all weave together to create one grand narrative. The Odyssey is perhaps the best-known Greek epic poetry, while Beowulf and The Iliad are two examples of famous Anglo-Saxon epics.

10. End Rhyme

Rhyming at the ends of lines rather than internally within the line (as in rhyme royal). End rhyme schemes typically have an ABBA or AABB pattern. If you can’t find a match for your end rhyme in this pattern, rearrange the line and try again.

11. Epigram

A very short poem that may or may not be satirical in nature. Epigrams often make clever use of wordplay to get their point across. Many famous epigrams have been written by such poets as Lord Byron, Alexander Pope, and Oscar Wilde.

12. Free Verse

Poetry that does not follow any patterns for rhyme or meter is said to be written in free verse or blank verse. Free verse poetry is most often based on personal experiences and emotions rather than more traditional subjects like history and mythological tales. Walt Whitman and Robert Frost are two well-known American free verse poets whose work explores the relationship between humans and the natural world.

13. Invective

Invective is a harsh, powerful form of insult. Invective poems are often written as diatribes–long, angry screeds meant to attack or denounce some kind of behavior or idea. Invectives were common in the works of such English Renaissance poets as Ben Jonson and George Herbert.

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14. Limerick

A Limerick is a comic verse form with five lines consisting of three metrical feet and a final line of four metrical feet that must be shorter than the other lines in rhythm and content—it has a distinct rhyme scheme: AABBA. The traditional subject matter for limericks includes taboo topics such as sex, drinking, bodily functions, and violence.

15. Lines

A line of poetry is a group of syllables that are organized together to form a complete thought or idea. A rhyming couplet consists of two lines; an Italian sonnet has three sets (tercets) of two lines (the “octave”) followed by one longer line (a “sestet”); a traditional Shakespearean sonnet has alternate four-line sections called quatrains with alternating rhyme, followed by a final pentameter. When discussing the length of lines, however, most people refer to how many feet comprise each line—and most poetic lines consist of between one and five metrical feet.

16. Masculine Rhyme

A rhyme in which the last stressed vowel letter (and any succeeding sounds) of the words match, e.g., “dear” and “bear.”

17. Metaphor

A metaphor is a figure of speech that directly compares two things without using like or as. For example: “Her eyes are diamonds.” Other related figures of speech include simile (“Her eyes are like diamonds”) and personification (“Diamonds winked back at her from their settings”).

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18. Meter

The rhythmic pattern used by scansion to identify stressed and unstressed syllables in a line of poetry–the most common meters are iambic pentameter, dactylic meter, trochaic tetrameter, and anapestic trimeter.

19. Palindrome

A word or sentence that reads the same backward as it does forward—for example: “Madam, I’m Adam.” Palindromes can be found in a number of well-known literary works including Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass and Robert Browning’s poem “A Grammarian’s Funeral,” which begins: “Two small silver spoons.” The word itself is a palindrome because it reads the same backward and forward.

20. Parallelism

A literary device in which the writer repeats a sentence structure to group items or ideas together–it comes in two varieties: syntactic parallelism, when the syntax is identical but the subject matter differs (e.g., “I want something to eat”/”She wants something to drink”); and semantic parallelism, when the syntax is similar but not identical, while the meaning remains coherent (e.g., “You are what you love, not what loves you”). Parallelism can also take place at larger levels of the organization including stanzas/paragraphs/sections, etc.

Final Thoughts

I hope this article has helped illuminate some of the more common poetic terms. The most helpful thing you can do, however, is to read poetry for yourself and get a sense of what you enjoy. Poetry is not meant to be an academic pursuit—the greatest poet will never be successful if his work does not resonate with readers!

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