English 102: Poetry terms
Persona/-ae: the speaker(s) of the poem. Poetry was meant to be spoken, a remnant of the oral tradition in ancient literature. A poem has melody and rhythm so that it is pleasing to hear and easy to memorize. The poem may be a confessional (first-person narrator); it may have a third-person narrator. It is always addressed to the auditor, or listener/reader.
Genres are literary categories delineated by distinctive styles, form and content. A lyric is traditionally accompanied by a lyre in ancient literature, to be sung or chanted, more about a subject and less about a narrative story. The subject might be the poet’s emotions, ideas, a satirical insight, or a description of a person or a place. Epigrams (a satire of a person), elegy (poem on an occasion of a death), and an ode (a long poem on a theme) are examples of lyric poetry. Some longer poems tell a story, like a folk epic, ballad, metrical romance, and realistic narrative. Dramatic poetry (or dithyramb), from the chorus in ancient drama, now refers to a fictional persona’s speech (like a monologue in a play). There could also be dialogue in poetry, like a debat in the Middle Ages, where two characters debate about a subject.
Diction is the way words are used in a poem, as in slang or formal speech. The poem might employ archaic words (like “thy” which is high or formal), syncope (dropping the last letter for rhyme, like “droppin’,” more informal), denotation (the exact concrete meanings of words), connotation (implied meanings), coinage/neologism (new or invented words), imagery (perceived by the senses), abstract diction (more of the philosophical meaning), onomatopoeia (spelled as it sounds), or puns (a play on words).
Syntax is the order of words in a poem. Examples would be inversion (words out of expected order) and ellipses (words taken out of order). Examples of parallel syntax are anaphora (repetition at the beginning), epistrophe (repetition at the end), antithesis (contrasting words, meant for surprise), and chiasmus (“crossing” parallels).
Figures of speech (tropes) are comparisons of words, either explicit or implied, for various levels of meaning. A tenor (the thing or feeling being described) is linked to a vehicle (concrete image): for example, “my love (tenor) is like a red, red rose (vehicle).” Examples would be metaphors (implied, conceit), similes (using “like”), hyperboles (overstatement), understatements, allusions (referring to something else), metonymy (object representing another object), synecdoche (a part for a whole), personification (object with human traits), apostrophe (object being addressed), paradox and oxymoron (opposing comparisons), and synesthesia (different types of sensory experiences combined).
Tone refers to the mood of the poem, as in irony (sarcasm, situational or dramatic) or pure.
Sounds of words, like euphony/cacophony (pleasant/unpleasant sounds), are based on consonance (identical consonant sounds), alliteration (words beginning with the same letter), assonance (identical vowel sounds), masculine rhymes (single syllables: dog/fog), feminine rhymes (double syllables: table/label), and slant or off-rhymes (table/angel). Most poems have end rhymes, which happens at the end of a line, although there can be internal rhymes in the middle of the verse.
Verse meters (or measures) are syllabic (verses have quantitative syllables like Alexander rimes – 12-syllabic verse – or octosyllabic – 8-syllabic verse) and refers to the accented syllables, stressed or unstressed within the metrical feet. A haiku is a 17-syllable, 3-line poem, 5-7-5. Rising meters: iambic – one unstressed, one stressed; anapestic – two unstressed, one stressed. Falling meters: trochee – one stressed, one unstressed; dactylic – one stressed, two unstressed. Others include pyrrhic – at the end two unstressed syllables – and spondee – at the end two stressed. Caesura is a pause in the middle of the measure; enjambment lines continue the syntax from the end of the verse to the next line.
Stanzas are the groups of verses, like couplets (aa, bb) and triplets (aa, bb, cc). Patterns of stanzas are usually rhymed, like terza rima (aba, bcb, cdc, ded), a quatrain (abab, cdcd), and a sonnet (a 14-line poem: abab, cdcd, efef, gg).