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Objective correlative

T.S. Eliot used this phrase to describe “a set of objects, a situation, a chain of events which shall be the formula of that particular emotion” that the poet feels and hopes to evoke in the reader (“Hamlet,” 1919). There must be a positive connection between the emotion the poet is trying to express and the object, image, or situation in the poem that helps to convey that emotion to the reader. Eliot thus determined that Shakespeare’s play Hamlet was an “artistic failure” because Hamlet’s intense emotions overwhelmed the author’s attempts to express them through an objective correlative. In other words, Eliot felt that Shakespeare was unable to provoke the audience to feel as Prince Hamlet did through images, actions, and characters, and instead only inadequately described his emotional state through the play’s dialogue. Eliot’s theory of the objective correlative is closely related to the Imagist movement.


A term coined by William Carlos Williams in 1930 that developed from his reading of Alfred North Whitehead’s Science and the Modern World. He described it as looking at a poem “with a special eye to its structural aspects, how it has been constructed.…” Louis Zukofsky expanded the term and attempted to articulate its principles when he guest-edited the February 1931 issue of Poetry. He included Charles Reznikoff, George Oppen, and Carl Rakosi. Later, the poet Lorine Niedecker was closely associated with this movement. These “objectivist” poets, Zukofsky noted, were Imagists rather than Symbolists; they were concerned with creating a poetic structure that could be perceived as a whole, rather than a series of imprecise but evocative images. For more on objectivism, read Peter O’Leary’s feature, “The Energies of Words”. Browse Objectivist poets.

Objectivist Poets

A loosely affiliated group of American poets writing in the 1930s and ’40s. Harriet Monroe famously solicited an edition of Objectivist work for Poetry, guest-edited by Louis Zukofsky, which featured work by many of the poets later associated with the movement. The Objectivist poets, as described by Zukofsky, were influenced by the writing of Ezra Pound and took many cues from the earlier Imagists: both groups wrote poetry that featured highly concentrated language and imagery and terse vers libre. The Objectivists, however, focused on everyday life and language, treating the poem as an object itself and emphasizing sincerity and the poet’s clear vision of the world. Core Objectivist poets include Zukofsky, George Oppen, Carl Rakosi, Lorine Niedecker, Charles Reznikoff, and the British poet Basil Bunting. Browse Objectivist poets.

Occasional poem
A poem written to describe or comment on a particular event and often written for a public reading. Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s “The Charge of the Light Brigade” commemorates a disastrous battle in the Crimean War. George Starbuck wrote “Of Late” after reading a newspaper account of a Vietnam War protester’s suicide. Elizabeth Alexander’s “Praise Song for the Day” was written for the inauguration of President Barack Obama. See also elegy,epithalamion, and ode.

An eight-line stanza or poem. See ottava rima and triolet. The first eight lines of an Italian or Petrarchan sonnet are also called an octave.


A formal, often ceremonious lyric poem that addresses and often celebrates a person, place, thing, or idea. Its stanza forms vary. The GreekorPindaric(Pindar, ca. 552–442 B.C.E.) ode was a public poem, usually set to music, that celebrated athletic victories. (See Stephen Burt’s article “And the Winner Is . . . Pindar!”) English odes written in the Pindaric tradition include Thomas Gray’s “The Progress of Poesy: A Pindaric Ode” and William Wordsworth’s “Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Reflections of Early Childhood.” Horatian odes, after the Latin poet Horace (65–8 B.C.E.), were written in quatrains in a more philosophical, contemplative manner; see Andrew Marvell’s “Horatian Ode upon Cromwell’s Return from Ireland.” The Sapphic ode consists of quatrains, three 11-syllable lines, and a final five-syllable line, unrhyming but with a strict meter. See Algernon Charles Swinburne’s “Sapphics.”

The odes of the English Romantic poets vary in stanza form. They often address an intense emotion at the onset of a personal crisis (see Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “Dejection: An Ode,”) or celebrate an object or image that leads to revelation (see John Keats’s “Ode on a Grecian Urn,”“Ode to a Nightingale,” and “To Autumn”). Browse more odes.


A figure of speech in which the sound of a word imitates its sense (for example, “choo-choo,” “hiss,” or “buzz”). In “Piano,” D.H. Lawrence describes the “boom of the tingling strings” as his mother played the piano, mimicking the volume and resonance of the sound (“boom”) as well as the fine, high-pitched vibration of the strings that produced it (“tingling strings”).

Ottava rima

Originally an Italian stanza of eight 11-syllable lines, with a rhyme scheme of ABABABCC. Sir Thomas Wyatt introduced the form in English, and Lord Byron adapted it to a 10-syllable line for his mock-epic Don Juan.W.B. Yeats used it for “Among School Children” and “Sailing to Byzantium.” Browse more ottava rima poems.

An acronym for Ouvroir de Littérature Potentielle (Workshop for Potential Literature), a group of writers and mathematicians formed in France in 1960 by poet Raymond Queneau and mathematician François Le Lionnais. Unlike the Dada and surrealist movements, OuLiPo rejects spontaneous chance and the subconscious as sources of literary creativity. Instead, the group emphasizes systematic, self-restricting means of making texts. For example, the technique known as n + 7 replaces every noun in an existing text with the noun that follows seven entries after it in the dictionary. Notable members of this group include the novelists George Perec and Italo Calvino, poet Oskar Pastior, and poet/mathematician Jacques Roubaud.

A figure of speech that brings together contradictory words for effect, such as “jumbo shrimp” and “deafening silence.” For instance, John Milton describes Hell as “darkness visible” in Book I of Paradise Lost.

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