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English Language Arts: Poetic Language

Dictionary of Literary and Thematic Terms

Figurative Language

Figurative Language: The imaginative language that makes a poem rich to a
reader. Figurative language often relies on comparison devices like simile,
metaphor, and personification to make the point. Figurative language is the
opposite of literal language.

a direct comparison using ‘like’, ‘than’, or ‘as’
Ex. He slithers like a snake

an implied comparison between two different things. The comparison suggests a similarity.
Ex: Freedom is a train. My sister is a star. Juliet is the sun.

a figure of speech in which a non-human thing is given human qualities
Ex. The flowers danced in the wind. OR Death reached out its cold hand.

Extended Metaphor:
If a metaphor is a direct comparison between two dissimilar items (see below), an extended metaphor is a longer version of the same thing. In an extended metaphor, the comparison is stretched through an entire stanza or poem, often by multiple comparisons of unlike objects or ideas.

Poetic Verse Forms

Two lines of poetry that rhyme. The last two lines of an English sonnet work together to make a couplet.
The following is an example of a couplet:
Roses are red, violets are blue
Sugar is sweet and so are you

Eight lines of poetry that have a rhyme scheme. The first part of an Italian sonnet is an octave.

Four lines of poetry that have a rhyme scheme. Quatrains often have an abab, abcb, or aabb rhyme scheme. The first three verses of an English sonnet are quatrains.

Six lines of poetry that have a rhyme scheme. The second part of an Italian sonnet is a sestet.

Another word for “verse paragraph”. See below.

Verse (technically: Verse Paragraph):
A paragraph of writing in a poem. These paragraphs are written as clusters of rhyming lines in traditional poetry, such as octaves, sestets and quatrains. Also known as a stanza.

Poetic Devices - Sound

The repetition of initial letter sounds (at the start of the words) in closely connected words
Ex. Peter Piper picked a pack of pickled pepper

the close repetition of similar vowel sounds
Ex. He rolled the holy stone into place.

Sounds that are unpleasant and harsh to the ear. Usually, cacophonyis achieved through repeating “s”, “c”, “k” or other, similarly harsh-sounding sounds. For example: “and squared and stuck their squares of soft white chalk.”
The opposite of euphony.

consonant sounds repeated in the middle or at the end of a word.
Ex. Fiddle Faddle / Kitty Litter
Of the plodding and sordid crowds I see around me - Whitman

Sounds that are very pleasant to the ear. The opposite of cacophony.

a word that suggests the sound of what it's describing.
Ex. the buzzing of bees OR the clanking of machinery

Rhyme and Rhythm

Blank Verse:
Unrhymed iambic pentameter. All sonnets, Shakespearian plays
and the King James version of the Bible are written in blank verse. Unrhymed
iambic pentameter is said to closely mimic the cadences of natural speech. See
below for more information on iambic pentameter.

End Rhyme:
Rhyme that occurs at the ends of verse lines. The nursery rhyme in
“rhyme scheme” below is written with end rhyme.

Iambic Pentameter:
A line of poetry that is ten syllables in length. The syllables follow a pattern in which an unstressed syllable is followed by a stressed one. The words “giraffe” and “destroy” are iambs. An iamb is two syllables, and “penta” means five, so five iambs in a row = iambic pentameter. A line of iambic pentameter bounces gently along (soft-hard-soft-hard-soft-hard-soft-hard-softhard).
For example, when Romeo says, “O, she doth teach the torches to burn
bright” (Romeo and Juliet, I.v.44), he is speaking in iambic

The following is an example from Macbeth:
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor play’r
That struts and frets his hour up on the stage

Internal Rhyme:
When two or more words rhyme within the same line of poetry.
For example;Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered weak and weary”
is an example of internal rhyme. (NT)

The chorus of a ballad, or a repeating set of words or lines, is the refrain of a poem. Refrains add to the musical quality of a poem and make them more song-like. This is interesting because the ancestral origin of poetry was song.

When sounds match at the end of lines of poetry, they rhyme (technically, it is end-rhyme). The examples below in “rhyme scheme” and“couplet” demonstrate this.

Rhyme Scheme:
The pattern of rhyme in a poem, indicated with letters of the alphabet. To decide on a rhyme scheme, you assign a letter of the alphabet to all rhyming words at the ends of lines of poetry, starting with the letter “a”. When you run out of one rhyme sound, you start with the next letter of the alphabet. For example, the following is an example of an aabb rhyme scheme (star, are, high,
Twinkle, twinkle, little star
How I wonder what you are

Up above the world so high
Like a diamond in the sky

A pattern of sound in a poem; it may be a regular or irregular pattern.
Rhythm is the musical beat of the poem, and some poems are more musical than

Poetic Language - Meaning

A reference in one piece of literature to something from another piece of literature. Allusions can also be references to person/events/places in history, religion, or myth. Allusions are frequently made in poetry, but they can/do occur in other genres as well.

Addressing an absent person as if they were present, the dead as if they were living, and inanimate objects as if they were human
Ex. 0 world, I cannot hold thee close enough!

A phrase, line or expression that has been so overused, it is boring and commonplace, such as “it was a dark and stormy night” or “red with anger.”

The unspoken, unwritten series of associations made with a particular word. For example, the word “dog,” depending on how it is used, might connote faithfulness, loyalty, and devotion. On the other hand, the word “dog”could connote viciousness.

The literal meaning of the word that a person would find in the dictionary.

A deliberate exaggeration to make a point. I am hungry enough to eat the fridge is a hyperbole.

A single mental picture that the poem creates in the reader’s mind.

Poets create pictures in the reader’s mind that appeal to the sense of sight; they also create descriptions to appeal to the other four senses. This collection of appeals to the five senses is called the imagery of the poem. Also: the collection and/or pattern of images in a poem.

Literal language:
The literal meaning of the poem, which ignores imagery, symbolism, figurative language and any imagination on the part of the poet or the reader. Literal language is the opposite of figurative language.

The emotion of the poem. The atmosphere. The predominant feeling created by or in the poem, usually through word choice or description. The feelings created by the poem in the reader; mood is best discovered through careful consideration of the images presented by the poem, and thinking about what feelings those images prompt. For example: if the “rain weeps,” the mood is
sad; and if the “rain dances”, the mood is happy. Mood and tone are not the same.

An oxymoron is a pair of single word opposites placed side by side for dramatic effect. A contradiction in terms. For example, “cold fire” or “sick health” or “jumbo shrimp”.

A large oxymoron. An apparently contradictory statement that, despite the contradiction, has an element of truth in it. Wordsworth’s “the child is the father of the man” is a paradoxical statement.

Deliberately repeated words, sounds, phrases, or whole stanzas. Repetition is used to make a point in the poem.

Something that represents something else. For example, a dove often
represents the concept of peace.