originally a song performed in ancient Greece with a lyre; now the term refers to any fairly short poem in the voice of a single speaker, though that speaker may sometimes quote others.
Long narrative poems, frequently extending to several “books” (sections of several hundred lines). These poems focus on great, serious subjects or the exploits of a hero.
type of epic poetry; they were originally intended for public recitation and existed in oral form for a long time (such as The Iliad or The Odyssey)
type of epic poetry by known authors who wrote their poems for publication (like Dante’s Inferno or Milton’s Paradise Lost)
sometimes called “strong-stress meter,” it is the oldest form of meter, and the basis of most Germanic poetries – including old English – and of most poems in Modern English in which the number of syllables varies from line to line, but the accents or “stresses” are counted.
a system in which both the number of accents (or stresses) and the syllables are counted in a line of poetry; the measuration is often conceived of in terms of “feet” (the basic unit of a line, which is a combination of two or three stressed/unstressed syllables)
a system in which only the number of syllables per line are counted, without regard to their stress.
a system based on a syllable’s duration in time or the length of the syllable, rather than where accent or stress falls in a line. Each foot consists of “long” and “short” rather than “accented” and “unaccented” syllables.
a traditional morning song expressing the disinclination of lovers to separate; this form often expresses joy and follows no set form or structure.
shorter narrative poem with song-like qualities which often include rhyme and repeated refrains. Also, “a poem meant for singing, quite impersonal in material, probably connected in its origins with the communal dance, but submitted to a process of oral tradition among people who are free from literary influences and fairly homogeneous in character.”
unrhymed iambic pentameter; the most common form in English poetry; this verse form is the closest to the natural rhythms of spoken English. The lack of rhymes allows for variety. This was also the standard meter for Elizabethan poetic drama; common for long poems as well.
a whimsical quatrain characterized by its immense frivolity; usually about a person. This form consists of 2 couplets of any line length (the more unequal, the better). The 1st line is usually the subject’s name.
this “nonce form” was created by Gerard Manly Hopkins; a variation on the sonnet, this form retains the proportions of the 2 Petrarchan parts but reduces their size; the poem consists of a six-line “octave” and a four and a half line “sestet” with a rhyme scheme of abcabc, dbcdc. Also, the form uses uneven meter throughout the stanzas, but the last line is generally a spondee.
poetry that cannot be “voiced” – the term covers a loose category of verbal explorations by avant-garde artists and poets around the world. This poetry exploits the graphic, visual aspect of writing – a work of graphic art – it engages the eye more than the ear; it takes advantage of the shapes of letters and words to make a picture.
usually comic, like a limerick, this eight line poem consists of 2 quatrains. The first 3 lines of each quatrain consists of unrhymed double dactyls, / ? ? / ? ?. The 4th line of each stanza rhymes with the other and is a truncated double dactyl of 4 syllables, /? ?/. The 1st line must be nonsense. The 2nd line must be a proper name; the 6th line must be one word. The 4th line of each stanza could be considered “catalectic” because it ends on a stress.
type of poem in which a single speaker (who is not the poet) addresses a dramatically defined listener in a specific situation and at a critical moment
a poem about a visual artifact, such as a painting, photograph, sculpture or film. Ex. “Musee des Beaux Arts” by Auden references Brueghel’s painting, “Icarus”
a thematic form of English poetry; this sustained and formal poem sets forth meditations on death or another solemn theme (often written on the occasion of a particular person’s death); the form has varied rhyme and meter.
a pithy saying or clever expression, often consisting of two parts. 1. Introduction – stating the occasion and setting the tone. 2. Conclusion – sharply and tersely giving the point.
a form that has been used many times before and whose conventions the reader is presumed to know.
20th century off-shoot of prose poetry; often converts a passage (or passages) of someone else’s prose – from a novel, newspaper, billboard, etc. – into a poem
poetry that makes little or no use of traditional rhyme and meter; lines often break at the length of breath.
it usually consists of 3 stanzas followed by an envoy, though the number of lines per stanza and the number of syllables per line vary.
• Characteristics: 1. A refrain recurring regularly at the end of each stanza and the envoy. 2. The envoy is climactic and addressed to a patron. 3. The poem uses only 3 (or 4) rhymes, occurring in the same position in each stanza, and no rhyme word is repeated except in the refrain.
• The most common form is as follows: 3 eight line stanzas rhyming ababbcbc and a bcbc envoy.
an exotic version of the tercet; a tiny and exquisite form imported from Japan. The lines are syllabically designed: 5 syllables, 7 syllables, 5 syllables.
An ode relating to or resembling the works or style of the Greek poet Horace; consisting of uniform stanzas, complex in their metrical systems and rhyme schemes. Typically less elaborate and more contemplative than the Dorian ode, it is not split into the 3 part structure characteristic of the regular Pindaric ode. Example: Keats’s “Ode to a Nightingale.”
a comic five line poem rhyming aabba, with anapestic trimeter in lines 1, 2, and 5, and anapestic dimeter in lines 3 and 4. (the lines could also consist of both iambs and anapests). This type of poem is generally bawdy in subject matter.
certain kinds of metaphysical poetry of the 16th and 17th centuries that yoke religious meditations with Renaissance poetic techniques. This type of poetry deals with memorable moments of self-knowledge and union with transcendent reality
a variation on the Petrarchan sonnet – it follows the same rhyme scheme (abba abba cde cde) and consists of 14 lines of iambic pentameter. The main difference is the placement of the turn or “volta”; here, the turn may occur within line 9 or even later in the sestet.
a form invented for a single poetic occasion; for some reason the form just didn’t quite survive. Ex. Hopkins’s curtal sonnet
general term to describe a lyric type of poem, usually meditative in nature; this form is a single, unified strain of exalted lyrical verse, directed to a single purpose and dealing with one theme; this type of poem is elaborate, dignified, and imaginative.
poem that came into English poetry by way of 19th century French poetry. The form may consist of any number of quatrains, where lines 2 and 4 of one quatrain become lines 1 and 3 of the next quatrain. The form is associated with obsessiveness because every line of the poem is repeated
type of poem classified by subject matter, not form. Traditionally, it deals with shepherds and rustic life, though in modern times it has come to refer to any poem of rural people and settings. These poems often use imagery seen in the Psalms (fields, sheep, hills, etc.)
an English form based more on subject matter than stanzaic form; this poem uses traditional pastoral imagery written in dignified, serious language. It usually expresses grief at the loss of a friend or important person. Ex. Milton’s “Lycidas”
14 line poem in iambic pentameter with the rhyme scheme of abba/abba/cdecde (or cdcdcd). Usually broken clearly into an octave followed by a sestet. The octave presents a situation, problem, or question, and the sestet presents a conclusion, resolution, or an answer. The turn in the poem between the octave and the sestet is called the volta.
long lyric poem of elevated style and elaborate structure, often written to celebrate something or someone. It is composed of sections of varying length, varying line-length, and varying rhyme scheme. The form is broken into a 3 part structure, in which the 3 sections build tension, release tension, then hold still:
Strophe – a build-up stanza that is irregular (every third section after the first in a strophe)
Antistrophe – the release
Epode – the “stay still”
a poem printed as prose with both margins justified. It may have any or all the features of a lyric poem, but it is set on the page for the eye (though not the ear) as prose.
a work/ poem that blends a censorious attitude with humor and wit for improving humanity
39 line poem, usually in iambic pentameter, which uses a complicated sequence repeating the six words that end the lines of the first stanza. Form: 6 sestets and a final tercet; the six words that end the lines of the initial stanza follow this sequence:123456, 615243, 364125, 532614, 451362, 246531 and the tercet (or envoy) (2)5(4)3(6)1
(also known as the English sonnet) 14 line poem in iambic pentameter consisting of 3 quatrains and a final couplet rhyming abab/cdcd/efef/gg.
Considered the most flexible sonnet because the turn can occur at several different places, and the argument or organization of thought can be broken up in several ways:
1. 3 quatrains and a couplet.
2. An octave and a sestet.
3. Twelve lines and a couplet.
Also known as “shaped poetry.” Not the same as concrete poetry because it can be voiced. This poetry appeals to both the eye and the ear because the poem takes the shape of a picture (ex. Herbert’s “Easter Wings”). In other words, a poem whose printed form suggests its subject matter.
(or tumbling verse); a “composite form” – a rollicking form of verse employed by English poet John Skelton (1460 – 1529) consisting of short lines rhymed in groups of varying length designed to suggest unconventionality and lack of dignity – “poetry of revolt.” This was the first form to really break convention – the single rhyme scheme runs until inspiration and the resources of the language run out. Breathless urgency in this form, which has intrigued modern poets such as Auden.
a lyric poem adapted to musical expression. Perhaps the most spontaneous lyric form; usually short, simple, sensuous, and emotional. This type of English verse is based on theme, not a set form. It was a very popular form during the Elizabethan time.
more abstract form of concrete poetry – it has been called the “ultimate performance poetry” – works only for the ear, not the eye. It has a musical quality to it, but looks like nonsense on the page.
14 line poem in iambic pentameter consisting of 3 quatrains and a final couplet, rhyming abab/bcbc/cdcd/ee. The rhyme scheme creates an interlocking pattern between the quatrains, implying a greater sense of unity of theme than in other sonnet forms.
organization of lines in a poem in which line follows line without any formal or mathematical grouping of lines into stanzas.
organization of a poem in which the lines are arranged in stanzas of varying degrees of logical complexity; this type of organization is most appropriate for dense and closely circumscribed moments of emotion or argument.
terza rima sonnet
sonnet written in 3 line stanzas with an interlocking rhyme scheme: aba bcb cdc ded aa. Ex. Frost’s “Acquainted with the Night” which returns to the a-rhyme in the final couplet; the repeated line at the end gives the effect of a rondel (Frost repeats line one as line 14)
19 lines of iambic pentameter; aba rhyme scheme, five tercets and a final quatrain with two refrain lines: A1 and A2 (A1 occurs in lines 1,6, 12, and 18, and A2 occurs in lines 3, 9, 15, and 19).
a verse with six iambic feet (iambic hexameter); the most obvious use of this type of line is its appearance as the ninth line of a Spenserian stanza (it follows eight lines of iambic pentameter, and its use breaks the monotony of these stanzas). The length of the line allows for plenty of modifiers in a line of poetry.
(also called common measure); a quatrain of alternating lines of iambic tetrameter and trimeter, rhyming abab or abcb. It is sometimes called “common meter” because of its frequent appearance in English poetry; it was especially popular in Middle English (1100-1500 AD; Ex. “Sir Patrick Spens”). Often this quatrain has been used for hymns; it creates a lyrical effect. The quatrain seems sincere and open, but it can be used ironically.
two lines together that usually rhyme; the principle unit of English poetry since rhyme entered the language.
(or heroic quatrain or elegiac quatrain); a four line stanza of iambic pentameter rhyming abab; this stanza carries a tone of weight and solemnity due to its association with Gray’s “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard.” It is also often associated with the heroic subjects poets focused on during the Restoration period; while considered a dignified and serious stanza, this type of quatrain has also been used ironically by modern and contemporary poets.
a conventionalized stanza that closes certain types of poems, specifically the ballade and the sestina
couplet written in iambic pentameter. This is the form that dominated English verse for decades; it was often associated with heroic or epic subjects during the Restoration and 18th century. With its abundant modifiers and qualifications, it is likely to be more shaded, subtle, and busy than a tetrameter or “short” couplet
(aka English or elegiac quatrain); four lines of rhyming iambic pentameter with abab or aabb rhyme scheme; this four line stanza is often formed from 2 heroic couplets. The form carries weight and solemnity; it is often associated with noble subject matter. (ex. Gray’s “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard”)
six line stanza of iambic pentameter rhyming abbacc. “Year’s End” by Richard Wilbur is written in these stanzas.
tetrameter couplets which rely on comical double (or “feminine”) rhymes and on a pseudo-crude placement of stresses. This couplet was named after Samuel Butler’s use of the form in “Hudibras.”
In Memoriam stanza
quatrain named for its use in Tennyson’s “In Memoriam” (1850). Four tetrameter lines rhyming abba (aka envelope rhyme) which creates the effect of an external couplet gripping an internal one; this stanza creates the illusion of powerful emphasis at the end of line 3 because of its rhyme with the last word of line 2; in other words, there is a build up of momentum by the end of line 3. The stanza is usually associated with a sense of sturdiness or seriousness.
a four line stanza of iambic pentameter rhyming abba. The envelope rhyme of the 2 “outside” rhymes (the a’s) contains the internal couplet of the b’s. Ideally the phrases or clauses rhymed “a” should relate closely to each other while the “b” couplet should exhibit an even closer logical relationship due to their proximity to each other.
tetrameter quatrain rhyming abab. This type of stanza is usually associated with hymns; it’s an extended version of the ballad stanza. This stanza provides an illusion of primitive sincerity and openness within a hymn, though Eliot and Dickinson were known for using this form ironically – taking advantage of its bareness for sardonic or sophisticated purposes.
Mad Song Stanza
a verse spoken or sung by an insane person, characterized by repetition, nonsense, incoherence, and bawdy or morbid wordplay. This type of verse often occurs in Shakespearean plays among crazy characters (Ophelia in Hamlet) or the Mad Hatter’s speech in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (“Twinkle, twinkle little bat…”)
Peter Bell Stanza
variation on the “mad song” stanza; 5 lines rhyming abccb. The first line sort of gets lost because it is never rhymed. It is basically the “In Memoriam” stanza with an extra line at the beginning
an 8 line stanza, often consisting of 2 quatrains; typically the first 8 lines of a Petrarchan sonnet are referred to as the _____ (rhyming abbaabba); this stanza is associated with the buildup of pressure or tension in a poem.
the most popular fixed form of 8-line stanzas; this stanza consists of 8 lines of iambic pentameter rhyming abababcc. It was popular during the Renaissance. Due to its six lines of interlocked rhyme scheme followed by its couplet of climax, release, or commentary, the form constitutes a paradigm of inflation and deflation. Each stanza swells until it bursts, creating a “mock-heroic” or facetious tone. Byron’s “Don Juan” is the poem most widely associated with this form. “Sailing to Byzantium” is a serious use of the form.
any four line stanza; it may be rhymed or unrhymed. It is the most common of all English stanzas.
a tail rhyme stanza, one in which 2 lines, usually in tetrameter, are followed by a short line, usually in trimeter; this pattern is repeated and the two successive short lines rhyme. As, for example, aabccb, where the “a” and “c” lines are tetrameter and the “b” lines are trimeter.
a seven line stanza of iambic pentameter rhyming ababbcc; the stanza is capable of great unity. It consists of a heroic quatrain and 1 ½ heroic couplets. The stanza is associated with the narration of high and noble subject matters; the imaginative world of romance and the erotic-heroic. It was popular from the Middle Ages to the end of the 16th century. Ex. Wyatt’s “They Flee From Me”
a type of quatrain consisting of 3 eleven syllable lines (hendecasyllables) followed by a five-syllable line. The lines consist of dactyls and trochees with a spondee or trochee usually in the 2nd position of each 11 syllable line. The final short line is always composed of a dactyl and a trochee. The disadvantage of this stanza is its rigidity of meter because it doesn’t allow for meaningful metrical variations. This stanza implies a certain passion and seriousness of tone.
6 line stanza, often with ending rhyme scheme. The last 6 lines of a Petrarchan sonnet are referred to as the ______, with the rhyme scheme of cdcdcd or cdecde.
a nine line stanza rhyming ababbcbcc. The first 8 lines are in iambic pentameter and the ninth line is in iambic hexameter (a.k.a. an alexandrine). The ninth line (or alexandrine) breaks the monotony of the rhythm while still concluding the stanza with a couplet. Named for his use of this stanza in “The Fairie Queene,” but perfected in “The Eve of St. Agnes” by Keats
a six-line stanza containing two dimeter “bobs” or “tails,” one following a triplet of iambic tetrameters and one following a final iambic tetrameter line. Rhyme scheme: aaabab; sometimes the “bob” lines are used to add a final overlay of tenderness, but usually the bobs are used as fillips of impudent irony
any 3 line stanza (not to be confused with a triplet which is a 3 line stanza that rhymes); a _____ can be composed of lines of equal length and can rhyme or be unrhymed. It is not as popular as couplets or quatrains.
iambic pentameter tercets with an interlocking rhyme scheme of aba bcb cdc ded. This form’s rarity suggest that stanzas of an even number rather than an odd number of lines appeal more to our sensibility.
3 lines of any length ending with the same rhyme (aaa, bbb). The same rhyme sound repeated in sequence without relief tends to produce comic or bizarre effects; the _____ is thus, not a very popular stanza in English poetry because it is so risky and hard to write seriously.
venus and adonis stanza
a six-line stanza of iambic pentameter rhyming ababcc; this stanza is named after Shakespeare’s poem. The final heroic couplet of the stanza (cc) tempts the poet to offer some sort of witty commentary or tongue-in-cheek hyperbole which inhabits a different world from that which the quatrain concerns itself. (The stanza offers the same tone as the last 6 lines in the Shakespearean sonnet).
a nonstanzaic, continuous form, in which the lines are grouped in unequal blocks according to content. (ex. Andrew Marvell’s “To His Coy Mistress”)