Poetry Writing Techniques

giving human characteristics to something nonhuman. Examples: summer’s blood, ” the mercy of a rude stream that must for ever hide me”

comparison, or writing/speaking about one thing as if it were another thing. Example: “sweet boy with cheeks yet blooming”

this term is for poems and plays only — a comparison between two unlike things that continues throughout a series of lines in a poem.

(In prose, this is called an extended metaphor) Example: “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players; They have their exits and their entrances; And one man in his time plays many parts.”

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descriptive language that can function as a way for the reader to better imagine the world of the piece of literature by drawing on the five senses, namely the details of taste, touch, sight, smell, and sound. Example: “the nugget of dense sap, branching vines, the dark burred faintly belching bogs.

giving objects or actions a certain meaning that is different from their original meaning or function in that it establishes theme and/or charactierzation. Examples: Harry Potter’s scar and wand, the mirror and apple in Cinderella, Odysseus’s journey

a contrast of absolute opposite expectations for a situation versus reality. This can be a difference between the surface meaning of something that is said and the underlying meaning. It can also be a difference between what might be expected to happen and what actually occurs. It differs from coincidence in that it is a mockery of the appropriate result and often establishes theme and/or characterization. Example: In The Little Mermaid, Ariel gives up her voice to be with Eric, but it is her voice that he fell in love with.

the emotional or cultural association with that word rather than its dictionary definition. Example: the meaning of “home” differs from that of “house”

specific words, incidents, images, or events an author uses to establish characterization and/or theme. Example: “he rented a house and tended the garden…and now rides commuter trains, serves on various committees..


reoccurrence of a word, phrase, or sentence to add emphasis, unity, and/or power. Example: “Now, far from women’s arms and memory of women…”

word choice that establishes tone, creates imagery, and establishes ideas. Types include formal, informal, colloquial, childlike, etc.

speaker’s attitude towards characters and/or subjects.

Diction, imagery, details, language, and syntax to establish this. Examples include morbid, playful, melancholy, critical, etc.

a specific reference to something from literature, history, popular culture, etc. most people would know.

Examples are “he falls like Lucifer, never to hope again”

Punctuation: novels and plays are underlined; poems and short stories are in quotation marks. Meaning: often has significance

two unlike ideas are placed side by side to highlight their differences. Example: “All’s fair in love and war”

using “like” or “as” in a comparison. Example: “The dark pours down, sticky as Coke,but the light from the kitchengleams like a beacon.”

a statement or proposition that seems self-contradictory or absurd but in reality expresses a possible truth. Example: “I must be cruel to be kind”

a work written to expose and criticize foolishness and corruption of an individual or a society by using humor, irony, exaggeration or ridicule. Example: “Icarus” poem

type of metaphor that relies on associations Example: “white picket fences”

type of metaphor in which a part is used to reference the whole.

Example: “”Friends, Romans, Countrymen, lend me your ears.”

repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of consecutive lines or sentences. Example: “I have been one acquainted with the night. I have walked out in rain—and back in rain. I have outwalked the furthest city light.”

speaking to an absent person or abstract idea as if it can hear and understand. Example: “So farewell to the little good you bear me.

Farewell! a long farewell, to all my greatness!”

this term is for poetry only and indicates the continuation of a sentence without a pause beyond the end of a line or stanza. Example: “Thought I saw you in Vegas.It was not pretty, but she wasnot your wife”

this term is for poetry only and indicates a pause, usually indicated by punctuation, in the middle of a line. Example: “But I killed for you. I see armed firs”

slant or near rhyme
words that nearly rhyme but not exactly (this helps break the sing-song feel that rhyming poems can often have) in poetry only. Example: “bridge/grudge”

serves as a sound pattern for the verses, as it gives poetry a rhythmical sound. It is studied by looking at stressed and unstressed syllables.

Type: Iambic Pentameter

iambic pentameter
a line of poetry with five metrical feet, each consisting of one short (or unstressed) syllable followed by one long (or stressed) syllable (this equals 10 syllables total) Example: “My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun”

blank verse
unrhymed iambic pentameter. Example: “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall.That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it”

free verse
poetry without limitations of regular meter or rhythm and does not rhyme with fixed forms.

Example: “Crossing the Swamp” poem

a mournful poem that laments the dead. Example: “My Captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still,My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse nor will” (from “O Captain! My Captain!” by Walt Whitman, written in honor of Abraham Lincoln after his death)

a literary work idealizing the rural life (especially the life of shepherds). Example: “Come live with me and be my Love,And we will all the pleasures proveThat hills and valleys, dale and field,And all the craggy mountains yield”

Shakespearean sonnet
consists of 3 quatrains and a couplet. volta is often before the couplet. Rhyme scheme is abab cdcd efef gg

Spenserian sonnet
consists of 3 quatrains and a couplet. volta is often before the couplet.

Rhyme scheme is ab ab bc bc cd cd ee

Petrarchan/Italian sonnet
consists of 1 octave and a sestet. volta is often before the sestet. rhyme scheme for ocative is abbaabbad. Rhyme scheme for seset varies

in sonnets only, this is the tone shift or turn of thought

repetition of consonant sounds at the beginning of wordsExample: “The soul selects her own society.”

The repetition of identical or similar vowel sounds in neighboring words.

Example: “Try to light the fire”

repetition of consonant sounds within words or at end of words. Example: “Spies hiss in the stillness, Hansel”

divides a thing into two equal and contradictory parts or between two opposing groups. Examples: good/evil, light/dark, young/old, life/death

a stanza in a poem that has exactly four lines with usually some form of rhyme scheme. Example: Who knows how long I’ve loved youYou know I love you stillWill I wait a lonely lifetimeIf you want me to, I will(“I Will” by The Beatles)

a successive pair of lines in a poem. The pair of lines that comprise this generally rhyme with each other and contain the same meter. Shakespearean sonnets always ends in this and it often summarizes the poem or provides a twist. Example: So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,So long lives this and this gives life to thee.

(“Sonnet 18” by William Shakespeare)

stanza of 8 lines. Petrarchan sonnets begin with this

stanza of 6 lines. Petrarchan sonnets end with this and the volta usually occurs at the start of it

also known as inversion, the normal order of words is reversed in order to achieve a particular effect of emphasis or meter. Examples: the soldier strong, sad is the man