Poetic Devices and Literary Terminology

Mr. Steel



When several symbols work together in a narrative to create a separate level of meaning.
A story or narrative, like a fable, in which a moral principle or abstract truth is presented by means of fictional characters.



The repetition of similar initial consonant sounds. The repetition of consonant sounds, particularly at the beginning of words.

"From stem to stern."

"Yanked out yards of yellow yak yutt."

"Great green gobs of greasy gooey gopher guts."

"Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers."



A brief, indirect reference to a historical or literary person, event or object. The writer assumes that the reader will recognize the reference and superimpose the ideas and meaning associated with it into the current context.



The arrangement of contrasting words, sentences, or ideas in a balanced grammatical structure. It can be stylistically effective as well as a source of extra emphasis.

"Willing to wound, and yet afraid to strike."



An impassioned address to something abstract or inanimate, or to someone (usually absent) as if he/she were present. This technique is often used to create a powerful emotional effect, and consequently is often used in oratory. A direct address of an inanimate object, abstract qualities, or a person not living or present. A figure of speech in which an address is made to an absent or deceased person or a personified thing rhetorically.

"Beware, O Asparagus, you've stalked my last meal."

"O solitude! Where are the charms
That sages have seen in thy face?"



The repetition of similar stressed vowel sounds. The repetition of similar vowel sounds. Similarity of sounds; particularly, as distinguished from rhyme, the similarity of like vowels followed by unlike consonants.

"cat" and "map"

"holy" and "story"

"I rose and told him of my woe"

"All is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil"


Ballad Stanza

A 4-line stanza of which the first and third lines are iambic tetrameter and the second and fourth lines are iambic trimeter, the second and fourth lines rhyming. The meter of the ballad stanza, called also common meter, is often varied in practice (ex. Coleridge's Rime of the Ancient Mariner).



A traditional French verse-form consisting of three stanzas and a concluding envoy. In its original form, a refrain at the end of each stanza states the main theme of the poem. This "envoy" is usually addressed to the poet's patron, or a member of the court. The entire poem usually contains only three rhymes, with the rhyme scheme consistent in each stanza. A poem commonly of three 8-line stanzas with all stanzas following the rhyme-scheme ababbcbc, concluded by a four-line envoy rhyming bcbc. Chaucer wrote ballades, as did some late-19th century poets.



The use of unpleasant sounds or rhythms to create a jarring effect.



The repetition of similar final consonant sounds.


Dramatic Monologue

A lyric poem in which the speaker addresses a silent but identifiable listener. There is generally a specific physical setting and a dramatic situation to which the speaker is responding. Dramatic monologues are similar to the soliloquy in effect. The purpose of both is to enable readers to learn more about the speaker's thoughts and feelings, and as such they are an excellent vehicle for character revelation. A type of poem perfected by Robert Browning that consists of single speaker talking to one or more unseen listeners and often revealing more about the speaker than he or she seems to intend.



A poem whose purpose is to express grief or sorrow. The theme is usually death. A poem of lament, praise, and consolation, usually formal and sustained, over the death of a particular person; also, a meditative poem in plaintive or sorrowful mood.



The omission of an unstressed vowel or syllable to preserve the meter of a line of poetry. The running together of vowels in adjacent words, for the sake of eliminating a syllable.

"th'eternal, as happy'as I."

"Th' expense of spirit in a waste of shame"



Occurs when the sense of a poetic line runs over to the succeeding line. The running of one line into another. Lines not enjambed are end-stopped.

"In that blest moment from his oozy bed
Old father Thames advanc'd his reverend head."



A stanza, usually of 4 or 5 lines, concluding a ballade, a sestina, or some other such form; normally interlaced with the foregoing stanzas by its rhyme-scheme.

A long narrative poem that records the adventures of a hero. Epics typically chronicle the origins of a civilization and embody its central values. Examples from western literature include Homer's Iliad and Odyssey, Virgil's Aeneid, and Milton's Paradise Lost.



A brief, pithy statement that is often antithetical. Appears in prose as well as poetry.



The use of inoffensive, mild, or vague words in place of harsher, more blunt ones. Often used to reduce the risk of offending someone. "We are experiencing heavy casualties" (many soldiers are being killed).



The musical effect achieved when a poet uses words and phrases that create pleasant, harmonious sounds and rhythms.



A group of two or three syllables constituting the unit of a metrical line. Normally, in English, an iamb, trochee, anapest or dactyl.


Free verse

Poetry that contains no structured form or rhyme scheme, and does not follow a standard metrical pattern.


Found poetry

A piece of prose selected and arranged to look like poetry. Snatches from other people's work collected into a poem. A poem created from prose found in a non-poetic context, such as advertising copy, brochures, newspapers, product labels, etc. The lines are arbitrarily rearranged into a form patterned on the rhythm and appearance of poetry.



A Japanese poem in three lines, of 5, 7, and 5 syllables, which represents a clear picture so as to at once to arouse emotion and suggest spiritual insight.

"The falling flower
I saw drift back to the branch
Was a butterfly"



Deliberate exaggeration in order to emphasize a fact or feeling. It can be used to create either a comic or a serious effect.

Exaggeration for emphasis (the opposite of understatement)

"I'm so hungry I could eat a horse."

"I've told you a billion times to put the cap back on the toothpaste tube!"

"I'd give my right arm for a piece of pizza."



Word or sequence of words representing a sensory experience

"bells knelling classes to a close" (auditory)



Consists of a discrepancy between expectation and reality.

A contradiction of expectation between what is said and what is meant (verbal irony) or what is expected in a particular circumstance or behaviour (situational), or when a character speaks in ignorance of a situation known to the audience or other characters (situational).

        Verbal irony

Involves a contradiction between what is said and what is meant.

        Situational irony

Contains an inconsistency between what one would expect to happen and what does happen.

        Dramatic irony

Involves a discrepancy between what a character says and what the author means.



A light or humorous verse form of five chiefly anapestic verses of which lines one, two and five are of three feet and lines three and four are of two feet, with a rhyme scheme of aabba.


A flea and a fly in a flue

Were caught, so what could they do?

Said the fly, "Let us flee."

"Let us fly," said the flea.

So they flew through a flaw in the flue.



Occurs when something is understated by stating the negative of its opposite. A figure of speech in which an assertion is made by the negation of its opposite.

"It little profits... an idle king"

"A fact of no small importance"

"She was not disappointed by the news" instead of, "She was thrilled by the news."

"not unhappy" or "a poet of no small stature."


Lyric poetry

Poetry which focuses on a single, unified experience and expresses a powerful emotion or sentiment.



A brief lyric, averaging eight or ten lines, suitable for part singing. Popular in Elizabethan England. (ex. Fletcher's "Take, O, Take those Lips Away.")



A deliberate understatement, used for emphasis, or to create a humorous effect. Understatement occurs when we say less than what we actually mean, or use less force than the context requires or deserves.

The use of understatement to enhance the impression on the hearer.

"The lottery winner was just a little excited."

"The building of the pyramids took a little bit of effort."



An implied analogy, consisting of a comparison between two essentially unlike elements. "Like" or "as" is not used.

Comparison between essentially unlike things without using words OR application of a name or description to something to which it is not literally applicable

"[Love] is an ever fixed mark, / that looks on tempests and is never shaken."



The use of a closely related term to represent an object with which it is associated. It is often used interchangeably with synecdoche in which a part of an object is used to refer to the whole object.

Referring to a concept by an attribute of it.

A closely related term substituted for an object or idea.

A figure of speech involving the substitution of one noun for another of which it is an attribute or which is closely associated with it, e.g., "the kettle boils" or "he drank the cup." Metonymy is very similar to synecdoche.

The crown referring to a monarch: "We have always remained loyal to the crown."



All language is naturally rhythmic. Poets will sometimes manipulate this random rhythm by arranging their words in such a way so that the accented and unaccented syllables of the words conform to a regular pattern. When this occurs and the pattern is measurable, it is called a metre. Metre is described in terms of the number and type of metrical "feet" in each line. A metrical foot is the basic unit of rhythm. Measured pattern of rhythmic accents in a line of verse. (ex. Iambic Pentameter, Trochaic Tetrameter, Iambic Tetrameter, Anapoestic Tetrameter)


Narrative poetry

Poetry which tells a story, and can contain many of the same elements as narrative prose.



The use of a word that closely resembles the sound to which it refers; the use of words to imitate the sounds they describe

(ex. "crack" or "whir")



A combination of two contradictory or conflicting words. It differs from a paradox in that it compactly creates its effect through the combination of two successive words. A combination of two words that appear to contradict each other.

"bittersweet, cool fire, deafening silence, wise folly"

"Oh heavy lightness, serious vanity!"

"Led Zeppelin"

"Iron Butterfly"



A statement that reads as being contradictory, but upon closer examination reveals some truth. A situation or phrase that appears to be contradictory but which contains a truth worth considering.

"In order to preserve peace, we must prepare for war."

"He that findeth his life shall lose it:  and he that loseth his life for My sake shall find it."



A special form of metaphor in which human characteristics are attributed to animals, inanimate objects, or ideas. The endowment of inanimate objects or abstract concepts with animate or living qualities

"Time let me play / and be golden in the mercy of his means."

"And twilight silver footed creeps
Down the dimming paths"



Play on words OR a humorous use of a single word or sound with two or more implied meanings.

"They're called lessons . . . because they lessen from day to day."

"Eve was nigh Adam
Adam was naive."



A line or phrase of regular recurrence, appended typically to the several stanzas of a stanzaic poem. Refrains may be the same throughout, or similar but with progressive variations. They may also repeat the last line or phrase of each successive stanza.



A repetition of similar vowel sounds followed by similar consonant sounds, results in rhyme. To determine the kind of rhyme being used, count the number of syllables that sound similar. If the last syllable is stressed and rhymes, it is a masculine rhyme, otherwise known as a single rhyme. If two syllables rhyme and the second syllable is unstressed, it is a feminine rhyme, otherwise known as double rhyme. If three syllables rhyme, this is a triple rhyme. Correspondence of terminal sounds of words or of lines of verse.



A direct comparison using the words "like" or "as" between two unlike things. "My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun"



A fourteen line poem in iambic pentameter with a prescribed rhyme scheme; its subject is traditionally that of love.



Unit of a poem often repeated in the same form throughout a poem; a unit of poetic lines ("verse paragraph")



The use of a concrete object as both a literal and a metaphorical representation of something else. An object or action that stands for something beyond itself (ex. white = innocence, purity, hope)



A figure of speech in which a part is substituted for the whole. Same as metonymy. Referring to a concept by a part of it.

"Lend me a hand."

"All of the big names in the field were there.