American Literature Poetry Terms

Ballad
A song or poem that tells a story. This usually tells a tragic story in the form of a monologue or dialogue. Contains a simple, steady rhythm, a rhyme pattern, and a refrain.
EX: Oh don’t you remember sweet Betsy from Pike,
Who crossed the big mountains with her lover Ike,
With two yoke of oxen, a big yellow dog,
A tall Shanghai rooster, and one spotted hog?

Blank Verse
Poetry written in unrhymed iambic pentameter.

Cadence
The natural, rhythmic rise and fall of a language as it is normally spoken. Walt Whitman used this.

Caesura
A pause or break within a line of poetry. Some pauses are indicated by punctuation; others are suggested by phrasing or meaning.
Example: Arrives the snow, [and,] driving o’er the fields

Catalog
A list of things, people, or events.
Walt Whitman does this in Leaves of Grass.

Concrete Poem
A poem in which the words are arranged on a page to suggest a visual representation of the subject.

Connotation
The associations and emotional overtones that have become attached to a word or phrase, in addition to its strict dictionary definition. These words are often called loaded words or suggestive words.
Example: Thin, slim, slender, and skinny all have the same dictionary definition. Thin, slim, and slender are usually meant as compliments whereas skinny is often an insult.

Consonance
The repetition of the same or similar final consonant sounds on accented syllables or in important words.
Example: ticktock or singsong (notice the “ck” and the “ng” at the end of each word.

Couplet
Two consecutive rhyming lines of poetry. If the two rhyming lines express a complete thought, they are called a closed couplet.
Example: If ever wife was happy in a man,
Compare with me, ye woman, if you can.

Dactyl
A metrical foot of three syllables in which the first syllable is stressed and the next two are unstressed.
Example: tendency

Dramatic Monologue
A poem in which a character speaks to one or more listeners. The reactions of the listeners must be inferred by the reader. From the speaker’s words, the reader learns about the setting, the situation, the identity of the other characters, and the personality of the speaker.

Elegy
A poem of mourning, usually written about someone who has died. Most are written to mark a person’s death, but some extend their subject to reflect on life, death, and the fleeting nature of beauty.

Epic
A long marrative poem, written in heightened language, which recounts the deeds of a heroic character who embodies the values of a particular society.
Example: Beowulf, Leaves of Grass, and Paradise Lost

Epithet
A descriptive word or phrase that is frequently used to characterize a person or thing.
Example: The “father of this country” is usually meant to mean George Washington. The “big apple” usually means New York City.

Foot
A metrical unit of poetry. It always contains at least one stressed syllable and, usually, one or more unstressed syllables. An iamb is a common foot in English poetry.

Free Verse
Poetry that does not conform to a regular meter or rhyme scheme. Usually mimics spoken language and uses the traditional poetic elements of imagery, figures of speech, repetition, internal rhyme, alliteration, assonance, and onomatopoeia.

Iamb
A metrical foot in poetry that has an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable, as in the word protect.

Iambic Pentameter
A line of poetry that contains five iambic feet.
Example:
In May, when sea winds pierced our solitudes.

Imagism
A twentieth-century movement in European and American poetry that advocated the creation of hard, clear images, concisely expressed in everyday speech.

Internal Rhyme
Rhyme that occurs within a line of poetry or within consecutive lines.
Example:
And so, all the night-tide, I lie down by the side
Of my darling-my darling- my life and my bride.

Lyric Poem
A poem that does not tell a story but that expresses the personal feelings or thoughts of the speaker.
Example: Thanatopsis

Meter
A pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables in poetry.

Octave
An eight-line poem, or the first eight lines of Petrarchan, or Italian, sonnet.
In Petrarchan, the octave states the subject of the sonnet, or poses a problem or question.

Ode
A lyric poem, usually long, on a serious subject and written in dignified language.

Quatrain
A poem consisting of four lines, or four lines of a poem that can be considered a unit.

Rhyme
A style of writing, developed in the nineteenth century, that attempts to depict life accurately without idealizing or romaticizing it.

End Rhyme
Rhyming words at the end of the lines of poetry.

Rhyme Scheme
The pattern of rhymes in a poem.

Slant Rhyme
Words that have some correspondence in sound but that are not exact.
Example: flash and flesh or storm and stream.

Rhythm
The alternation of stressed and unstressed syllables in language. It occurs naturally.

Scanning
The analysis of a poem to determine its meaning.

Sestet
Six lines of poetry, especially the last six lines of Petrarchan, or Italina, sonnet.

Sonnet
A fourteen-line poem, usually written in iambic pentameter, that has one of two basic structures.

Spondee
A metrical foot consisting of two syllables, both of which are stressed.
Example: nineteen

Trochee
A metrical foot made up of an accented syllable followed by an unaccented syllable, as in the word taxi.