Glossary : Poetry through the Ages

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This glossary defines and describes some of the terminology used in Poetry through the Ages, and provides insight into the language of poetics. The Poetry tour reveals more than 250 additional forms and some of the poets who practiced them.

Altar Poetry
A poem that takes on the approximate shape of its subject or central movement. Derivations have also been called Pattern Poetry and Concrete Poetry. Most popular during the Middle Ages, it was reprised to some degree by modern poets e.e. cummings and Dylan Thomas.
Alliteration
the repetition of similar sounds within a line, phrase, or sentence.
  • Consonance is a type of alliteration that specifically refers to the repetition of consonant sounds ("ugly beagle").
  • Assonance specifically refers to the repetition of vowel sounds ("moody poodle").
  • Dissonance refers to discordant sounds within a line, phrase, or sentence ("barking Chihuahua").
Anacreontic Verse
A true poem of love, wine and song, often celebrating Dionysus in its 20 to 30 three- to five-syllable lines. Learn more about Anacreontic Verse.
Anapests
Metrical movements within a poem that consist of two stressed syllables followed by one stressed syllable.
Antistrophe
The second part of an ode, metrically identical to the strophe but telling the "other side" of the tale.
Ballad
A song-story, told with action-packed verse and dialogue, originated by Homer, then cultivated in medieval France and Denmark before reviving in Italy and England during the Renaissance. Now the most popular form of lyric writing in pop music. Learn more about Ballad.
Broadside
Single sheet of paper upon which poetry is printed. Originated in the Elizabethan era, when poets printed and sold their work.
Canzone
A predecessor of the sonnet, with a poem-verse form consisting of stanzas written in 10- to 12-syllable lines, without a refrain and used in three ways: tragic, comic, and elegiac. Learn more about Canzone.
Chain Verse
A rare, primarily oral verse form in which the last word of one line becomes the first word of the next line. Sometimes, entire last lines of one stanza were repeated in the opening line of the next stanza. Learn more about Chain Verse.
Enjambment
When a sentence, phrase, or thought moves from one line to the next without stopping.
Envoi
The final, parting lines of a story-poem, most often used in ballads and, in pre-Renaissance Italy, canzones.
Epic
A poem of considerable length, recounting the heroic trials, tribulations, and triumphs of one or more characters. Homer’s The Iliad and The Odyssey are the two most famous epics ever written.
Epode
The conclusive segment of an ode, summing up the result of the previous two segments (strophe and antistrophe). It carries a different meter than the other segments.
Experimental/Visual Poetry
The presentation of a poetic movement in a visual manner that implies other meanings or implications that aren’t reflected in the words themselves. In a sense, the page serves as a vocal score of tone or personality. Learn more about Experimental/Visual Poetry.
Fable
A moralistic story, told most often through animals, that were very popular in Ancient Greece. Aesop is perhaps the best-known fable author.
Fixed Verse
A form of poetry for which there are prescribed and established rules for the number of lines, meter, line length, and rhyme pattern.
A metrical foot consists of two or more accented and/or unaccented syllables that convey a rhythm (see also Meter). The five most common metrical feet in English-language poetry include:
  • Dimeter: Two feet per line
  • Trimeter: Three feet per line
  • Tetrameter: Four feet per line
  • Pentameter: Five feet per line
  • Hexameter: Six feet per line
Free Verse
Popularized by 20th century poets e.e. cummings, William Carlos Williams, and Allen Ginsberg, this form has no regular meter or line length throughout the poem, and often depends on natural speaking rhythms. Learn more about Free Verse.
Glossolalia
A type of language that cannot be understood, glossolalia is often referred to as "speaking in tongues."
Homographs
Two words with identical spellings, but different meanings and pronunciations (i.e. tear – what one sheds when sad; tear – the ripping of an object).
Homonyms
Two words having identical spellings and pronunciations, but different origins and meanings (i.e. rest – repose; rest – remainder, left over)
Iambs
Metrical movements within a poem that consist of an unstressed syllable, followed by a stressed syllable. They form the structural basis of most fixed-form English language poetry.
Jingoism
A verse or verses with catchy rhythms, emphatic rhymes, and/or alliteration.
Limerick
Ireland’s most famous poetic export, a catchy and often bawdy light verse consisting of a series of five-line stanzas with an aabba rhyme scheme. Learn more about Limerick.
Lipogram
A type of constrained writing that occurs when a writer decides to eliminate the use of words that contain particular letters of the alphabet.
Lyric Poetry
In Ancient Greece, the lyric was a poem between 20 and 50 lines used to describe the feelings and thoughts of the poet. Lyric poetry now describes many variations of fixed and free verse, but is most often associated with music lyrics. Learn more about Lyric Poetry.
Meter
The rhythmic measure of a line of spoken or written poetry, measured in stressed and unstressed syllables, very similar in origin and intent to a musical time signature. Among the most common types of metrical feet used in poetry are:
  • Iamb: Unstressed syllable, followed by a stressed syllable ("He took")
  • Trochee: Stressed syllable, followed by an unstressed syllable ("Money")
  • Spondee: Two stressed syllables ("Stop him!")
  • Anapest: Two unstressed syllables, followed by a stressed syllable ("You must call")
  • Dactyl: A stressed syllable, followed by two unstressed syllables ("Superman")
These meters are used to define the metrical feet in a poetic line. For example, an iambic pentameter is five (penta) metrical feet written in iambs (each foot consisting of an unstressed syllable, followed by a stressed syllable).
Neologism
A new word or phrase that ties together existing words or ideas. See Lewis Carroll’s "Jabberwocky" for a poem that incorporates several of them.
Ode
Originated by Sappho and Pindar, and featuring elaborate stanza structures and stateliness in tone and style, plus lofty sentiments and thoughts. Later revived by the Romantic poets, particularly Shelley. Learn more about Ode.
Poem
The written presentation of a movement, experience, event, or observation, most often obtained from the poet’s life. Poems utilize and explore great detail, and are most often presented in verse form. They differ from narrative literature in their use of meter, rhythm, stanzas, rhymes, interlocking phrases, or rhyming patterns and other devices.
Prosody
The study or science of versification and its many aspects. Poetry through the Ages is an exhibition of prosody.
Quatrain
A stanza consisting of four lines, usually coupled with other quatrains or fixed-line stanzas. The lines usually contain the same number of metrical feet, and may or may not employ rhyming patterns.
Rhyme
  • True Rhyme – Words with stressed syllables that share identical sounds ("fast" and "past").
  • Slant Rhyme (or Half Rhyme)– two words that share similar, but not identical, sounds ("steeple" and "ample").
  • Redundant Rhyme – when a word is repeated at the end of two different lines.
  • Rime Riche – Rhyming syllables in which accented vowels and the consonants before and after the vowels sound identical. When spelled the same, they are homographs ("tear" and "tear"); when spelled differently, they are homophones ("rain" and "reign"). Also called Identical Rhyme or Perfect Rhyme.
Rondel
A French poem structure of considerable antiquity that was eight lines in length, with an AB aA ab AB rhyme scheme, with A and B representing refrains. Both the Rondeau and Triolet derived from the Rondel.
Rondeau
A medieval French ancient poem of 13 to 15 octosyllabic lines, in three stanzas, with the first two lines serving as the refrain. Learn more about Rondeau.
Sestina
A verse poem of troubadour origin with six six-line stanzas ending with a three-line envoi. Adding a twist to the repeating line tradition of Provencal poets, the same six end words occur at the end of each stanza.
Sonnet
Originated by Giacomo de Lentino in the 13th century, it is one of the world’s most famous and most taught poetic forms, known for its 14-line lengths and variable rhyme schemes. Learn more about Sonnet.
Stanza
A group of lines of verse, determined by two factors: the poetic form being used or, in free verse, a pause in the movement.
Strophe
The first part of a choral ode in Ancient Greek drama, in which the chorus moved from one part of the stage to the other. It later became identified with the first movement in a poetic ode.
Tercet
A stanza structure of three lines, metrically aligned. The lines may or may not rhyme in each stanza, but the three-line form carries through an entire poem. Learn more about Tercet.
Triolet
A medieval French fixed form consists of eight lines and two rhymes, with the first, fourth, and seventh lines repeating, and the second and eighth lines repeating. Learn more about Triolet.
Villanelle
A fixed poetic form of five three-line stanzas followed by a final quatrain, with the first and third lines of the first stanza recurring in subsequent stanzas. Learn more about Villanelle.
Virelai
A form of medieval French verse used in poetry and music. One of the three formes fixes (the others being ballade and rondeau), it was one of the most common verse forms set to music in Europe from the late 13th to the 15th centuries.
 

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