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Aubade

A love poem or song welcoming or lamenting the arrival of the dawn. The form originated in medieval France. See John Donne’s “The Sun Rising” and Louise Bogan’s “Leave-Taking.” Browse more aubade poems.

Augustan Age

The first half of the 18th century, during which English poets such as Alexander Pope and Jonathan Swift emulated Virgil, Ovid, and Horace—the great Latin poets of the reign of the Emperor Augustus (27 BCE to 14 CE). Like the classical poets who inspired them, the English Augustan writers engaged the political and philosophical ideas of their day through urbane, often satirical verse. Browse more Augustan poets.

Ballad

A popular narrative song passed down orally. In the English tradition, it usually follows a form of rhymed (abcb) quatrains alternating four-stress and three-stress lines. Folk (or traditional) ballads are anonymous and recount tragic, comic, or heroic stories with emphasis on a central dramatic event; examples include “Barbara Allen” and “John Henry.” Beginning in the Renaissance, poets have adapted the conventions of the folk ballad for their own original compositions. Examples of this “literary” ballad form include John Keats’s “La Belle Dame sans Merci,” Thomas Hardy’s “During Wind and Rain,” and Edgar Allan Poe’s “Annabel Lee.” Browse more ballads.

Ballade

An Old French verse form that usually consists of three eight-line stanzas and a four-line envoy, with a rhyme scheme of ababbcbc bcbc. The last line of the first stanza is repeated at the end of subsequent stanzas and the envoy. See Hilaire Belloc’s Ballade of Modest Confession and Algernon Charles Swinburne’s translation of François Villon’s “Ballade des Pendus” (Ballade of the Hanged).

Beat poets

A national group of poets who emerged from San Francisco’s literary counterculture in the 1950s. Its ranks included Allen Ginsberg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Gregory Corso, and Gary Snyder. Poet and essayist Kenneth Rexroth influenced the development of the “Beat” aesthetic, which rejected academic formalism and the materialism and conformity of the American middle class. Beat poetry is largely free verse, often surrealistic, and influenced by the cadences of jazz, as well by Zen and Native American spirituality. Browse more Beat poets.

Black Mountain poets

A group of progressive poets who, in the 1940s and 1950s, were associated with the experimental Black Mountain College in North Carolina. These poets, including Charles Olson, Robert Creeley, and Robert Duncan, promoted a nontraditional poetics described by Olson in 1950 as “projective verse.” Olson advocated an improvisational, open-form approach to poetic composition, driven by the natural patterns of breath and utterance. Browse more Black Mountain poets.

Blank verse

Unrhyming iambic pentameter, also called heroic verse. This 10-syllable line is the predominant rhythm of traditional English dramatic and epic poetry, as it is considered the closest to English speech patterns. Poems such as John Milton’s Paradise Lost, Robert Browning’s dramatic monologues, and Wallace Stevens’s “Sunday Morning,” are written predominantly in blank verse. Browse more blank verse poems.

Blazon

Blazon: French for “coat-of-arms” or “shield.” A literary blazon (or blason) catalogues the physical attributes of a subject, usually female. The device was made popular by Petrarch and used extensively by Elizabethan poets. Spenser’s “Epithalamion” includes examples of blazon: “Her goodly eyes like sapphires shining bright, / Her forehead ivory white …” Blazon compares parts of the female body to jewels, celestial bodies, natural phenomenon, and other beautiful or rare objects. See for example Thomas Campion’s “There Is a Garden in Her Face.” Contreblazon inverts the convention, describing “wrong” parts of the female body or negating them completely as in Shakespeare’s famous sonnet “My mistress’s eyes are nothing like the sun.” For a contemporary example, see “My Boyfriend” by Camille Guthrie. 

Bucolic

See pastoral poetry.

Cacophony

Harsh or discordant sounds, often the result of repetition and combination of consonants within a group of words. The opposite of euphony. Writers frequently use cacophony to express energy or mimic mood. See also dissonance.

Cadence

The patterning of rhythm in natural speech, or in poetry without a distinct meter (i.e., free verse).

Caesura

A stop or pause in a metrical line, often marked by punctuation or by a grammatical boundary, such as a phrase or clause. A medial caesura splits the line in equal parts, as is common in Old English poetry (see Beowulf). Medial caesurae (plural of caesura) can be found throughout contemporary poet Derek Walcott’s “The Bounty.” When the pause occurs toward the beginning or end of the line, it is termed, respectively, initial or terminal. Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s “Mother and Poet” contains both initial (“Dead! One of them shot by sea in the east”) and terminal caesurae (“No voice says ‘My mother’ again to me. What?”)

Canto

A long subsection of an epic or long narrative poem, such as Dante Alighieri’s Commedia (The Divine Comedy), first employed in English by Edmund Spenser in The Faerie Queene. Other examples include Lord Byron’s Don Juan and Ezra Pound’s Cantos.

Canzone

Literally “song” in Italian, the canzone is a lyric poem originating in medieval Italy and France and usually consisting of hendecasyllabic lines with end-rhyme. Early versions include Petrarch’s five to six-line stanzas plus an envoi, as well as Dante’s modification: five twelve-line stanzas with repeated end words, finished by a five-line envoi. The canzone influenced the development of the sonnet and later writers such as James Merrill, W.H. Auden, and Ezra Pound took up the form. See Daryl Hine’s “Canzone” and “About the Canzone,” by John Hollander.

Carol

A hymn or poem often sung by a group, with an individual taking the changing stanzas and the group taking the burden or refrain. See Robert Southwell’s “The Burning Babe”. Many traditional Christmas songs are carols, such as “I Saw Three Ships” and “The Twelve Days of Christmas.”

Carpe diem

In Latin, “Seize the day.” The fleeting nature of life and the need to embrace its pleasures constitute a frequent theme of love poems; examples include Andrew Marvell’s “To His Coy Mistress” and Robert Herrick’s “To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time.”

Chiasmus

Repetition of any group of verse elements (including rhyme and grammatical structure) in reverse order, such as the rhyme scheme ABBA. Examples can be found in Biblical scripture (“But many that are first / Shall be last, / And many that are last / Shall be first”; Matthew 19:30). See also John Keats’s “Ode on a Grecian Urn” (“Beauty is truth, truth beauty”).

Choriamb

Greek and Latin metrical foot consisting of two stressed syllables enclosing two unstressed; a trochee followed by an iamb. It is rarely used as a metrical scheme in English poetry, though Algernon Charles Swinburne imitated this classical meter in “Choriambics.”

Circumlocution

A roundabout wording, such as Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “twice five miles of fertile ground” (i.e., 10 miles) in “Kubla Khan.” Like periphrasis, which also involves the use of more words to convey what could be said in fewer, circumlocution is a way of saying something in a less direct manner. 

Cockney School of poets

A dismissive name for London-based Romantic poets such as John Keats, Leigh Hunt, and Percy Bysshe Shelley. The term was first used in a scathing review in Blackwood’s Magazine in October 1817, in which the anonymous reviewer mocked the poets’ lack of pedigree and sophistication.
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