Elements of Poetry and Prose

Ballad
A short poem, often written by an anonymous author, comprised of short verses intended to be sung or recited.

Canto
The main section of a long poem.

Elegy
A poem that is a mournful lament for the dead. Examples include William Shakespeare’s “Elegy” from Cymbeline, Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Requiem,” and Alfred Lourd Tennyson’s “In Memoriam.”

Epic
A long narrative poem detailing a hero’s deeds. Examples include The Aeneid by Virgil, The Illiad and The Odyssey by Homer, Beowulf, Don Quixote by Miguel Cervantes, War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy, Faust by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, and Hiawatha by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

Haiku
A type of Japanese poem that is written in 17 syllables with three lines of five, seven and five syllables, respectively. Haiku expresses a single thought.

Limerick
A humorous verse form of five anapestic (composed of feet that are short-short-long or unaccented-unaccented-accented) lines with a rhyme scheme of aabba.

Lyric
A short poem about personal feelings and emotions.

Sonnet
A fourteen-line poem, usually written in iambic pentameter, with a varied rhyme scheme. The two main types of sonnet are the Petrarchan (or Italian) and the Shakespearean (or English). A Petrarchan sonnet opens with the octave that states a proposition and ends with a sestet that states the solution. A Shakespearean sonnet include three quatrains and a couplet.

Stanza
A division of poetry named for the number of lines it contains.

Couplet: Two-line stanza
Triplet: Three-line stanza
Quatrain: Four-line stanza
Quintet: Five-line stanza
Sestet: Six-line stanza
Octave: Eight-line stanza

Fable
A short story or folktale that contains a moral, which may be expressed explicitly at the end as a maxim. Examples of Aesop’s fables include The Country Mouse and the Town Mouse, The Tortoise and the Hare, and The Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing.

Fairy tale
A narrative that is made up of fantastic characters and creatures, such as witches, goblins and fairies, and usually begins with the phrase “Once upon a time….” Examples include Rapunzel, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and Little Red Riding Hood.

Fantasy
A genre that uses magic and other supernatural forms as a primary element of plot, theme, and/or setting. Examples include J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia, and William Morris’ The well at the World’s End.

Folktale
A narrative form, such as an epic, legend, myth, song, poem, or fable, that has been retold within a culture for generations. Examples include The People Could Fly retold by Virginia Hamilton and And the Green Grass Grew All Around: Folk Poetry from Everyone by Alvin Schwartz.

Frame tale
A narrative technique in which the main story is composed primarily for the purpose of organizing a set of shorter stories, each of which is a story within a story. Examples include Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, Ovid’s Metamorphoses, and Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights.

Historical fiction
Narrative fiction that is set in some earlier time and often contains historically authentic people, places or events–for example, Lincoln by Gore Vidal.

Horror
Fiction that is intended to frighten, unsettle, or scare the reader. Horror fiction often overlaps with fantasy and science fiction. Examples include Stephen King’s The Shining, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, and Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes.

Legend
A narrative about human actions that is perceived by both the teller and the listeners to have taken place within human history and that possesses certain qualities that give the tale the appearance of truth or reality. Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow is a well known legend; others include King Arthur and the Holy Grail.

Mystery
A suspenseful story that deals with a puzzling crime. Examples include Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Murder in Rue Morgue” and Charles Dickens’ The Mystery of Edwin Drood.

Myth
Narrative fiction that involves gods and heroes or has or has a theme that expresses a culture’s ideology. There are myths from around the world. Examples of Greek myths include Zeus and the Olympians and Achilles and the Trojan War. Roman myths include Hercules, Apollo and Venus.

Novel
An extended fictional prose narrative.

Novella
A short narrative, usually between 50 and 100 pages long. Examples include George Orwell’s Animal Farm and Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis.

Parody
A text or performance that imitates and mocks an author or work.

Romance
A novel comprised of idealized events far removed from everyday life. This genre includes the sub genres gothic romance and medieval romance. Examples include Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, William Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida, and King Horn (anonymous)

Satire
Literature that makes fun of social conventions or conditions, usually to evoke change.

Science Fiction
Fiction that deals with the current or future development of technological advances. Examples include Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five, George Orwell’s 1984, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, and Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451.

Short Story
A brief fictional prose narrative. Examples include Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery,” Washington Irving’s “Rip Van Winkle,” D.H. Lawrence’s “The Horse Dealer’s Daughter,” Arthur Conan Doyle’s “Hound ofthe Baskervilles,” and Dorothy Parker’s, “Big Blond.”

Tragedy
Literature, often drama, ending in a catastrophic event for the protagonist after he or she faces several problems or conflicts.

Western
A novel in the western United States featuring the experiences of cowboys and frontiersmen. Examples include Zane Grey’s Riders of the Purple Sage, Trail Driver; Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove; Conrad Richter’s The Sea of Grass; Fran striker’s The Lone Ranger; and Owen Wister’s The Virginian.

Autobiography
A person’s account of his or her own life.

Biography
A story about a person’s life written by another person.

Document (letter, diary, journal)
An expository piece written with eloquence that becomes part of the recognized literature of an era. Documents often reveal historical facts, the social mores of the times, and the thoughts and personality of the author.

Essay
A document organized in paragraph form that can be long or short and can be in the for of a letter, dialogue, or discussion. examples include Politics and the English Language by George Orwell, The American Scholar by Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Moral Essays by Alexander Pope.