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Basic Elements of Poetry: Rhyme, Rhythm, and Meter
Poetry as a literary form may be defined simply as a patterned expression of ideas in concentrated or imaginative terms, usually (but not necessarily) containing rhyme and a specific meter.
Form: a poem's design as a whole; its shape or structure
closed form: the poet follows some sort of pattern

open form: the poet does not follow a pattern; instead, the poem is shaped as is move along, often adding emphasis as it goes
Subject: the central topic of a poem
Speaker: the voice telling the poem; a poem may have more than one speaker; the speaker and the poet are not necessarily the same
Persona: a "mask" the poet creates to provide the speaker of a poem; when analyzing poetry, be sure to distinguish between the poet and the speaker (if there is a difference)
Satiric Poetry: poetry that makes fun of human corruption, wickedness, or foolishness
Repetition: the recurrence of sounds, words, phrases, or lines in poetry
Rhyme: the similarity or likeness of sound existing between two words; the repetition of sounds that are similar or identical; expresses strong feelings and enhances the meaning and impact of poetry

masculine rhyme: the rhyme of one-syllable words or words with a final stressed syllable (light/sight, defeat/retreat)
feminine rhyme: occurs in words of two or more syllables; stress is placed on a syllable other than the last (better/setter, Cindy/windy)
internal rhyme: the repetition of similar sounds within lines
end rhyme: the repetition of similar sounds at the end of lines
perfect/exact/true rhyme: different initial consonant sounds are followed by similar vowel sounds (tie/lie, meet/feet)
approximate/slant/off rhyme: only the final consonant sounds are identical (comb/tomb, cat/cot, hope/cup); see consonance
rhyme scheme: the pattern of rhymes formed by the end rhyme in a poem; first sound is a, second sound is b, third sound is c, etc.
Rhythm: the regular pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables (beats) we hear in poetry; stress is simply the greater amount of emphasis we give to a syllable in speaking; stressed syllable is accented (long); unstressed syllable is unaccented (short)
Meter: the pattern of rhythm in a line of poetry; from the Greek word meaning "measure"; the type of meter depends upon the placement of stress within each poetical foot (see chart below)
Poetical foot: unit used to measure rhythm in a line of poetry; consists of two or three syllables; lines of poetry consist of a series of feet; poetic lines are classified according to the number of feet per line (clues in prefixes)

monometer: 1 foot
trimeter: 3 feet
pentameter: 5 feet
heptameter: 7 feet
dimeter: 2 feet
tetrameter: 4 feet
hexameter: 6 feet
octameter: 8 feet

Scansion: the process of analyzing rhythm in a poem and marking poetical meter and feet as stressed ( ¯ or ’ ) and unstressed ( u )


Types of Meter
Foot Description Example iamb (iambic meter) 2 syllables: unstressed - stressed
"rising meter" (pro-CEED, be-LOW)
the most common foot in English Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, "Nature" trochée (trochaic meter) 2 syllables: stressed - unstressed
"falling meter" (FIF-ty, NEV-er) Edgar Allan Poe, "The Raven" anapest (anapestic meter) 3 syllables: 2 unstressed - 1 stressed
"rising meter" (o-ver-COME) James Russell Lowell, A Fable for Critics
Byron, "The Destruction of Sennecherib" dactyl (dactylic meter) 3 syllables: 1 stressed - 2 unstressed
"falling meter" (PAR-a-graph) Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, "Evangeline" spondée (spondaic meter) 2 stressed syllables; often used to slow rhythm of line; two spondées combined into one unit is a dispondée usually compound words (FOOT-BALL, CHILD-HOOD) pyhhric 2 unstressed syllables; also called a dibrach, the shortest metrical foot in Classical verse usually found interspersed with other poetical feet
Meter can be "mixed" within lines of a poem. For example, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's "The Tide Rises, The Tide Falls" contains two trochées and two iambs per line.
Iambic pentameter, the basis of English verse, is a line with five poetic feet (10 syllables).
Caesura : a deliberate pause within a line designed to help express meaning; plural caesurae; means "a cutting" in Latin; may be created by punctuation, but may also result from the meanings of words or the natural rhythms of language; line may or may not have caesura; can be initial (at the beginning), medial (near the middle), or terminal (near the end) of a line; accented (masculine) caesura follows an accented syllable and unaccented (feminine) caesura follows an unaccented syllable


Verse Forms Based on Meter and Rhyme
Rhymed Verse: contains end rhyme and usually has a regular meter and rhyme scheme; rhyming couplets means that every two lines rhyme; an example of "closed form"


Blank Verse: contains a fixed rhythm and regular line length - unrhymed iambic pentameter (10 syllables per line and no rhyme); an example of "closed form"; often found in poetry dealing with complex subjects; commonly used in narrative and dramatic poetry; because of its regular rhythm, it may become monotonous and "sing-songy" (many poets vary the rhythm to add emphasis and avoid monotony); originated in England with Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey; other examples are Shakespeare's dramatic poetry (plays), John Milton's Paradise Lost (1667), William Cullen Bryant's "Thanatopsis," and Alfred, Lord Tennyson's "Ulysses"

Free Verse: poetry free of traditional metrical and stanzaic patterns; no fixed rhythm or rhyme scheme; uses everyday (colloquial) language, natural speech rhythms, and differing line lengths; key feature is its departure from traditional meters; an example of "open form"; examples are Psalms and Song of Solomon in the King James Bible, John Milton's Samson Agonistes and Lycidas, the poetry of Walt Whitman, and the work of the nineteenth century French symbolists; other poets using free verse include Stephen Crane, Carl Sandburg, Edgar Lee Masters, Ezra Pound, and e.e. cummings Back to Top


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Stanza Forms

A stanza (Italian for "station," "stopping place," or "room") is a unit of poetry longer than a line; it is a way of arranging lines of poetry in a pattern based on thought or form, usually according to rhyme and meter. A stanza serves the same function as a paragraph in prose: it allows the poet to organize his or her thoughts into a unit. A refrain is a group of words, phrases, or lines repeated at regular intervals in a poem. Types are as follows:

terminal refrain: the most common; occurs at the end of a stanza
incremental refrain: the words change slightly with each recurrence

internal refrain: appears within a stanza, usually in a position that stays fixed within the poem


couplet: 2-line stanza; 2 successive lines that rhyme (a-a)
triplet (tercet): 3-line stanza (usually a-b-a or a-a-a)
quatrain: 4-line stanza; most common form in English (a-a-a-a; a-b-a-b; a-b-b-a; a-a-b-b; a-b-a-c)
quintet: 5-line stanza (may be one of a number of rhyme schemes)
sestet: 6-line stanza (sometimes used to refer to last 6 lines of sonnet)
septet: 7-line stanza
octave: 8-line stanza (often used to refer to first 8 lines of sonnet)

Heroic Couplet ("closed couplet"): two successive rhyming verses that contain a complete thought within the two lines; usually iambic pentameter (poetry of Geoffrey Chaucer and John Dryden and Anne Bradstreet's "Upon the Burning of Our House")

Terza Rima: 3-line stanzas (tercets) with interlaced or interwoven rhyme scheme (a-b-a, b-c-b, c-d-c, d-e-d, etc.); usually iambic pentameter (Dante's Divine Comedy, Shelley's "Ode to the West Wind")

Villanelle: French verse form; 19 lines; 5 tercets (all a-b-a) and one quatrain (a-b-a-a); entire first and third lines are repeated alternately as final lines of tercets 2, 3, 4, and 5 and together to conclude the quatrain (Edwin Arlington Robinson's "The House on the Hill," Theodore Roethke's "The Waking," Dylan Thomas's "Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night")

Rime Royal: 7-line stanza in iambic pentameter rhyming a-b-a-b-b-c-c (so named because it was used by King James I)

Ottava Rima: 8 iambic pentameter lines with rhyme scheme a-b-a-b-a-b-c-c; borrowed from the Italians (used by Lord Byron in Don Juan)

Spenserian Stanza: 9-line stanza; 8 lines of iambic pentameter and one line of iambic hexameter (the alexandrine); rhyme scheme of a-b-a-b-b-c-b-c-c (gets name from Edmund Spenser, who started the form in The Faerie Queen)

Limerick: 5-line nonsense poem with anapestic meter; rhyme scheme usually a-a-b-b-a; first, second, and fifth lines contain three stresses; third and and fourth lines contain two stresses; made popular by British painter and author Edward Lear (1812-88)

Ballad Stanza: four lines with rhyme scheme of a-b-c-b; first and third lines in tetrameter; second and fourth lines in trimeter

Haiku: about 17 syllables; usually three lines (5 syllables, 7 syllables, 5 syllables); means "beginning verse"; mostly rhymeless imagery; originated in the sixteenth century in Japan

Tanka: 5 lines of 31 syllables (5, 7, 5, 7, 7)

Concrete Poetry: poem visibly resembling the object which it describes; key is the arrangement of words

Acrostic: initial letter of each line, read downward, spells out word or words
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Types of Poetry

Lyric Poetry: expresses the personal thoughts and feelings of a single speaker (a single emotional event); may or may not contain definite stanza forms and patterns of rhyme and rhythm; may be "open" or "closed" form (rhymed verse, blank verse, or free verse); may tell a story, but shorter than a narrative or dramatic poem; generally between 12 and 30 lines, and rarely over 60 lines; emphasizes sound and imagery over dramatic and narrative content; often rich in musical devices; once had a narrow meaning: it was "musical" poetry (name comes from the Greeks, who sang the poems to the music of the lyre; some notable Greek lyric poets were Anacreon, Sappho, and Archiolochus
Sonnet: 14-line stanza, usually in iambic pentameter, following a specific rhyme scheme

Petrarchan (Italian) Sonnet: contains eight lines (octave) following the rhyme scheme a-b-b-a a-b-b-a, followed by six lines (sestet) with a varying rhyme scheme (c-d-e-c-d-e or c-d-c-d-c-d); turn between the octave and the sestet is the volta; usually divided into comparison/contrast or question/resolution according to the divisions of the octave and sestet; used in American literature by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Shakespearean (English) Sonnet: contains three quatrains and one couplet following the rhyme scheme a-b-a-b-c-d-c-d-e-f-e-f-g-g; each quatrain is usually a variation of the basic theme of the poem, and the couplet is usually a conclusion Note: while both types follow a rhyme scheme and (usually) are written in iambic pentameter, Shakespeare ended his sonnets with a couplet A sonnet cannot be written in blank verse because a sonnet rhymes and blank verse does not.

Ode: long lyric poem in stanzas of varied metrical patterns; often a serious poem on a dignified theme; formal, lofty language and admiration for the subject; generally celebrates a subject of public interest and involves the performance of a group of people; sung in honor of gods or heroes in Greek and Roman literature

Elegy: sadly meditative poem dealing with the subject of death, often telling what a deceased person was like, expressing sorrow for the loss, and offering consolation; in the past, an elegy (from the Greek word elegus meaning "a song of mourning or lamentation") was any meditative poem dealing with a serious theme; the most famous examples are Thomas Gray's "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard" and Walt Whitman's "When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd"
Narrative Poetry: tells a story; often has a strong dramatic element
Epic Poem: most famous type of narrative poem; a long narrative poem about a national or legendary hero; examples are the Iliad, Odyssey, Aenead, Columbiad, Beowulf, Dante's Divine Comedy, and Milton's Paradise Lost; a
Homeric Simile, common in epic poetry, is an extended comparison of two actions or objects that develops mounting excitement and usually ends in a climax; a canto is a subdivision of an epic poem
Ballad: a narrative poem in short stanzas (often rhymed and in quatrains) sometimes set to music; among the most common subjects are love, jealousy, revenge, death, adventure, mystery, and war; frequently focuses on a dramatic or tragic incident and contains dialogue of characters; often involves historical or legendary figures; commonly uses a refrain to add emphasis or suspense; the French word for ballad once meant "to dance"; Bishop Thomas Percy's Reliques of Ancient English Poetry (1765) increased popular interest


Folk ("popular") Ballads: composed to be sung; arose from anonymous folk origins; strong and simple rhythms; passed down orally for generations before ever written down (because of widespread illiteracy); storytellers told different versions of these ballads (ninety-two variations of "Bonny Barbara Allan" are part of of Virginia folklore)
Broadside Ballads: printed on one sheet of paper; often set to traditional tunes (Lord Byron, Andrew Marvell, Jonathan Swift)
Literary Ballads: unlike folk ballads, have known authors; not meant for singing; written by sophisticated poets for book-educated readers (Samuel Taylor Coleridge's "Rime of the Ancient Mariner" and John Keats's "La Belle Dame Sans Merci")
Dramatic Monologue: a poem written as a speech made at some decisive or revealing moment; usually addressed by the speaker to someone else; first developed by Robert Browning in "My Last Duchess"; also used by T. S. Eliot, Carl Sandburg, Edwin Arlington Robinson, Robert Frost, and Allen Tate

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