Glossary Terms

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Haiku (or hokku)
A Japanese verse form of three unrhyming lines in five, seven, and five syllables. It creates a single, memorable image, as in these lines by Kobayashi Issa, translated by Jane Hirshfield:

        On a branch
        floating downriver
        a cricket, singing.
(In translating from Japanese to English, Hirshfield compresses the number of syllables.)

See also “Three Haiku, Two Tanka” by Philip Appleman and Robert Hass’s “After the Gentle Poet Kobayashi Issa.” The Imagist poets of the early 20th century, including Ezra Pound and H.D., showed appreciation for the form’s linguistic and sensory economy; Pound’s “In a Station of the Metro” embodies the spirit of haiku. Browse more haiku.

Harlem Renaissance
A period of musical, literary, and cultural proliferation that began in New York’s African-American community during the 1920s and early 1930s. Its writing luminaries include Langston Hughes, Countee Cullen, James Weldon Johnson, Claude McKay, and Arna Bontemps. See Hughes’s article “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain” and Elizabeth Alexander’s “The Black Poet as Canon-Maker”. Browse more Harlem Renaissance poets.

Hendecasyllabic
A Classical Greek and Latin metrical line consisting of 11 syllables: typically a spondee or trochee, a choriamb, and two iambs, the second of which has an additional syllable at the end. The classical Latin poet Catullus favored the line. It is seldom used in English, although Algernon Charles Swinburne worked with the meter in “Hendecasyllabics”:

              In the month of the long decline of roses
              I, beholding the summer dead before me,
              Set my face to the sea and journeyed silent,
              Gazing eagerly where above the sea-mark
              Flame as fierce as the fervid eyes of lions
              Half divided the eyelids of the sunset . . .

Heptameter
A meter made up of seven feet and usually 14 syllables total (see Fourteener). George Chapman’s translation of Homer’s the Iliad is written in heptameter, as is Edgar Allan Poe’s “Annabel Lee.” See also Poulter’s measure.

Heroic couplet
See couplet.

Hexameter
A metrical line of six feet, most often dactylic, and found in Classical Latin or Greek poetry, including Homer’s Iliad. In English, an iambic hexameter line is also known as an alexandrine. Only a few poets have written in dactylic hexameter, including Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in the long poem Evangeline:

               Now had the season returned, when the nights grow colder and longer,
               And the retreating sun the sign of the Scorpion enters.
               Birds of passage sailed through the leaden air, from the ice-bound,
               Desolate northern bays to the shores of tropical islands.

Horatian ode
See ode.

Hymn
A poem praising God or the divine, often sung. In English, the most popular hymns were written between the 17th and 19th centuries. See Isaac Watts’s “Our God, Our Help,” Charles Wesley’s “My God! I Know, I Feel Thee Mine,” and “Thou Hidden Love of God” by John Wesley.

Hyperbole
A figure of speech composed of a striking exaggeration. For example, see James Tate’s lines “She scorched you with her radiance” or “He was more wronged than Job.” Hyperbole usually carries the force of strong emotion, as in Andrew Marvell’s description of a forlorn lover:

             The sea him lent those bitter tears
             Which at his eyes he always wears;
             And from the winds the sighs he bore,
             Which through his surging breast do roar.
             No day he saw but that which breaks
             Through frighted clouds in forkèd streaks,
             While round the rattling thunder hurled,
             As at the funeral of the world.

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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