metaphor
a direct comparison between dissimilar things. “Your eyes are stars” is an example.

metaphysical poetry
refers to the work of poets like John Donne who explore highly complex, philosophical ideas through extended metaphors and paradox

meter
a pattern of beats in poetry

metonymy
a figure of speech in which a representative term is used for a larger idea. (“The pen is mightier than the sword.”)

monologue
a speech given by one character. (Hamlet’s “To be or not to be…”)

motif
the repetition or variations of an image or idea in a work which is used to develop theme or characters

narrative poem
a poem that tells a story

narrator
the speaker of a literary work

octave
an eight-line stanza, usually combined with a setset in a Petrarchan sonnet.

ode
a formal, lengthy poem that celebrates a particular subject

onomatopoeia
words that sound like the sound they represent (hiss, gurgle, bang)

oxymoron
an image of contradictory terms (bittersweet, pretty ugly, giant economy size)

parable
a story that operates on more than one level and usually teaches a moral lesson. (“The Pearl” by John Steinbeck in a fine example.)

paradox
a set of seemingly contradictory elements which nevertheless reflects an underlying truth. For example, in Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing,” the Friar says to Hero, “Come, Lady, die to live.”

parallel plot
A secondary story line that mimics and reinforces the main plot. (Hamlet loses his father, as does Ophelia.)

parody
a comic imitation of a work that ridicules the original

pathos
the aspects of a literary work that elicit pity from the audience

personification
the assigning of human qualities to inanimate objects or concepts. (Wordsworth personifies “the sea that bares her bosom to the moon” in the poem “London, 1802.”)

plot
a sequence of events in a literary work

point of view
the method of narration in a work

protagonist
the hero or main character of a literary work, the character the audience sympathizes with

quatrain
a four-line stanza

resolution
the denouement of a literary work

rhetorical question
a question that does not expect an explicit answer. It is used to pose an idea to be considered by the speaker or audience. (Ernest Dowson asks, “Where are they now the days of wine and roses?”)

rhyme/rime
The duplication of final syllable sounds in two or more lines

rhyme scheme
the annotation of the pattern of the rhyme

rhythm
the repetitive pattern of beats in poetry.

romanticism
a style or movement of literature that has as its foundation an interest in freedom, adventure, idealism, and escape.

satire
a mode of writing based on ridicule, which criticizes the foibles and follies of society without necessarily offering a solution (Jonathan Swift’s “Gulliver’s Travels” is a great satire that exposes mankind’s condition.)

scansion
analysis of a poem’s rhyme and meter

setset
a six-line stanza, usually paired with an octave to form a Petrarchan sonnet

sestina
a highly structured poetic form of 39 lines, written in iambic pentameter. It depends upon the repetition of six words from the first stanza in each of the six stanzas.

setting
the time and place of a literary work

simile
an indirect comparison that uses the word, “like” or “as” to link the differing items in the comparison. (“Your eyes are like the stars.”)

soliloquy
a speech in a play which is used to reveal the character’s inner thoughts to the audience. (Hamlet’s “To be or not to be…” is one of the most famous soliloquies in literature.)

sonnet
a 14-line poem with a prescribed rhyme scheme in iambic pentameter

spondee
a poetic foot consisting of two accented syllables, (‘ ‘)

stage directions
the specific instructions of a playwright includes concerning sets, characterization, delivery, etc.

stanza
a unit of a poem, similar in rhyme, meter, and length to other units in the poem

structure
the organization and form of a work

style
the unique way an author presents his ideas. Diction, syntax, imagery, structure, and content all contribute to a particular style

subplot
a secondary plot that explores ideas different from the main storyline (In Hamlet, the main storyline has Hamlet avenging the death of his father. The subplot has Hamlet dealing with his love for Ophelia.)

subtext
implied meaning of a work or section of a work

symbol
something in a literary work that stands for something else. (Plato has the light of the sun symbolize truth in “The Allegory of the Cave.”)

synecdoche
a figure of speech that utilizes a part as representative of the whole. (“All hands on deck” is an example.)

syntax
the grammatical structure of prose and poetry

tercet
a three-line stanza

theme
the underlying ideas that the author illustrates through characterization, motifs, language, plot, etc.

tone
the author’s attitude toward his subject

tragic hero
According to Aristotle, a basically good person of noble birth or exalted position who has a fatal flaw or commits an error in judgement which leads to his downfall. The tragic hero must have a moment of realization and live and suffer.

trochee
a single metrical foot consisting of one accented (stressed/long) syllable followed by one unaccented (unstressed/short) syllable

understatement
the opposite of exaggeration. It is a technique for developing irony and/or humor where one writes or says less than intended

villanelle
a highly structured poetic form that comprises six stanzas: five tercets and a quatrain. The poem repeats the first and third lines throughout.