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Genre

A class or category of texts with similarities in form, style, or subject matter. The definition of a genre changes over time, and a text often interacts with multiple genres. A text’s relationship to a particular genre—whether it defies or supports a genre’s set of expectations—is often of interest when conducting literary analysis. Four major genres of literature include poetry, drama, nonfiction, and fiction. Poetry can be divided into further genres, such as epic, lyric, narrative, satirical, or prose poetry. For more examples of genres, browse poems by type.

Georgianism

A poetic movement in England during the reign of George V (1910–1936), promoted in the anthology series Georgian Poetry. Its ranks included Rupert Brooke, Siegfried Sassoon, Walter de la Mare, Robert Graves, A.E. Housman, and D.H. Lawrence. The aesthetic principles of Georgianism included a respect for formalism as well as bucolic and romantic subject matter. The devastation of World War I, along with the rise of modernism, signaled the retreat of Georgianism as an influential school of poetry. Browse more Georgian poets.

Georgic

A poem or book dealing with agriculture or rural topics, which commonly glorifies outdoor labor and simple country life. Often takes the form of a didactic or instructive poem intended to give instructions related to a skill or art. The Roman poet Virgil famously wrote a collection of poems entitled Georgics, which has influenced poets since. Read a translated excerpt from Virgil's Georgics Book III or Book IV.

Ghazal

(Pronounciation: “guzzle”) Originally an Arabic verse form dealing with loss and romantic love, medieval Persian poets embraced the ghazal, eventually making it their own. Consisting of syntactically and grammatically complete couplets, the form also has an intricate rhyme scheme. Each couplet ends on the same word or phrase (the radif), and is preceded by the couplet’s rhyming word (the qafia, which appears twice in the first couplet). The last couplet includes a proper name, often of the poet’s. In the Persian tradition, each couplet was of the same meter and length, and the subject matter included both erotic longing and religious belief or mysticism. English-language poets who have composed in the form include Adrienne Rich, John Hollander, and Agha Shahid Ali; see Ali’s “Tonight” and Patricia Smith’s “Hip-Hop Ghazal.”


Browse more ghazal poems.

Gnomic verse

Poems laced with proverbs, aphorisms, or maxims. The term was first applied to Greek poets in the 6th century BCE and was practiced in medieval Germany and England. See excerpts from the Exeter Book. Robert Creeley explored the genre in his contemporary “Gnomic Verses.”

Haiku (or hokku)

A Japanese verse form most often composed, in English versions, of three unrhymed lines of five, seven, and five syllables. A haiku often features an image, or a pair of images, meant to depict the essence of a specific moment in time.

Not popularized in Western literature until the early 1900s, the form originates from the Japanese hokku, or the opening section of a longer renga sequence. In this context, the hokku served to begin a longer poem by establishing a season, often with a pair of seasonal images. Unlike the rest of the renga sequence, which was composed collaboratively, the hokku was often created by a single poet working alone, and was subsequently used as an exercise for students. Over time, the hokku began to be appreciated for its own worth and became distinct as a poetic form, formally mastered by poets such as Basho and Yosa Buson.

In 1905, Paul-Louis Couchoud became one of the first European translators of the form, converting many short Japanese verses into his native French. This began the popularization of haiku in Europe, where the form was translated by French and Spanish poets, such as José Juan Tablada. Throughout the two World Wars and the rise of Modernism, haikus were gradually adapted and celebrated by Imagist poets, such as Ezra Pound, H.D., and T.E. Hulme. In this context, the haiku was appreciated for its linguistic and sensory economy. Most notably Pound’s “In a Station of the Metro,” though not intended as a haiku, adapts the sparse, visual style of the Japanese form.

Despite its formal history, the haiku’s composition has expanded somewhat over time. This is due in part to the differences between the Japanese language and Western languages. In its original Japanese form, the haiku is often divided into 17 mora (a Japanese unit of syllable weight) and arranged in a single vertical line. However, in English there is no exact equivalent to the mora unit. As a result, in English and other languages, haikus are most frequently adapted into three lines of verse, usually unrhymed, composed of five, seven, and five syllables, adding up to seventeen syllables total. However, many American poets, such as Jack Kerouac, began to gradually depart from this traditional syllable and line count, in favor of depicting images as succinctly as possible.

Despite its many adaptions into multiple languages and styles, the haiku remains a powerful form due to its economic use of language to evoke a specific mood or instance. Most often occurring in the present tense, a haiku frequently depicts a moment by using pair of distinct images working in tandem, as in these lines by Kobayashi Issa, translated by Jane Hirshfield:

        On a branch
        floating downriver
        a cricket, singing.


(Notice how, in translating from Japanese to English, Hirshfield compresses the number of syllables.)

The haiku continues to be a popular form today, and its different qualities have been emphasized and expanded by a wide variety of writers. Poets such as Etheridge Knight, emphasize the formal and sonic quality of the verse, as seen in his piece “Haiku,” whereas poets such as Scott Helmes have chosen to emphasize the haiku’s visual arrangement, as seen in his piece, “haiku #62.”

For further examples, see also “Three Haiku, Two Tanka” by Philip Appleman and Robert Hass’s “After the Gentle Poet Kobayashi Issa.” In addition, see the Imagist poets of the early 20th century, most notably Ezra Pound.

Look here to 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. The movement was key to developing a new sense of Black identity and aesthetics as writers, visual artists, and musicians articulated new modes of African-American experience and experimented with artistic forms, modernist techniques, and folk culture. Harlem Renaissance artists and activists also influenced French and Caribbean Négritude and Negrismo movements in addition to laying a foundation for future Black Arts champions like Sonia Sanchez and Amiri Baraka. Writing luminaries of the period 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.

Iamb

A metrical foot consisting of an unaccented syllable followed by an accented syllable. The words “unite” and “provide” are both iambic. It is the most common meter of poetry in English (including all the plays and poems of William Shakespeare), as it is closest to the rhythms of English speech. In Robert Frost’s “After Apple Picking” the iamb is the vehicle for the “natural,” colloquial speech pattern:

       My long two-pointed ladder’s sticking through a tree
       Toward heaven still,
       And there’s a barrel that I didn’t fill
       Beside it, and there may be two or three
       Apples I didn’t pick upon some bough.
       But I am done with apple-picking now.
       Essence of winter sleep is on the night,
       The scent of apples: I am drowsing off.

Imagery

Elements of a poem that invoke any of the five senses to create a set of mental images. Specifically, using vivid or figurative language to represent ideas, objects, or actions. Poems that use rich imagery include T.S. Eliot’s “Preludes,” Percy Bysshe Shelley’s “Ode to the West Wind,” Sylvia Plath’s “Daddy,” and Mary Oliver’s “At Black River.”

Imagism

An early 20th-century poetic movement that relied on the resonance of concrete images drawn in precise, colloquial language rather than traditional poetic diction and meter. T.E. Hulme, H.D., and William Carlos Williams were practitioners of the imagist principles as laid out by Ezra Pound in the March 1913 issue of Poetry (see A Retrospect” and “A Few Don'ts). Amy Lowell built a strain of imagism that used some of Pound's principles and rejected others in her Preface to the 1916 anthology, Some Imagist Poets. Browse more imagist poets.

Invocation

An address to a deity or muse that often takes the form of a request for help in composing the poem at hand. Invocations can occur at the beginning of the poem or start of a new canto; they are considered conventions of the epic form and are a type of apostrophe. See the opening of John Milton’s Paradise Lost. Alexander Pope mocked the convention in the first canto of “The Rape of the Lock.” A contemporary example is Denise Levertov’s poem “Invocation.”

Irony

As a literary device, irony implies a distance between what is said and what is meant. Based on the context, the reader is able to see the implied meaning in spite of the contradiction. When William Shakespeare relates in detail how his lover suffers in comparison with the beauty of nature in “My Mistress’ Eyes Are Nothing like the Sun,” it is understood that he is elevating her beyond these comparisons; considering her essence as a whole, and what she means to the speaker, she is more beautiful than nature.

Dramatic or situational irony involves a contrast between reality and a character’s intention or ideals. For example, in Sophocles’ Greek tragedy Oedipus Rex, King Oedipus searches for his father’s murderer, not knowing that he himself is that man. In “The Convergence of the Twain,” Thomas Hardy contrasts the majesty and beauty of the ocean liner Titanic with its tragic fate and new ocean-bottom inhabitants:

             Over the mirrors meant
                          To glass the opulent
            The sea-worm crawls — grotesque, slimed, dumb, indifferent.

Italian sonnet

See Sonnet.
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