Browse this list of poetic terms, including literary devices, poetic forms and techniques, and schools and movements.

Many of these brief definitions link to a longer page including a more detailed definition, example poems, related essays, and other resources. Many of these definitions are reprinted from Edward Hirsch’s A Poet’s Glossary.


Abecedarian: a form guided by alphabetical order in which each line or stanza begins with a successive letter of the alphabet.

Acrostic: a form in which names or words are spelled out through the first letter of each line.

Aisling: an Irish dream poem in which Ireland appears to the poet personified as a woman.

Allegory: a narrative or visual representation with an underlying meaning, moral message, or political significance.

Alliteration: the repetition of consonant sounds, particularly at the beginnings of words. 

Allusion: a reference to a person, event, or literary work outside the poem.

Anapest: a metrical foot containing three syllables, the first two of which are unstressed and the last of which is stressed. 

Anaphora: a technique in which successive phrases or lines begin with the same words, often resembling a litany. 

Anthropomorphism: the attribution of human traits, actions, or emotions to an animal, object, or nonhuman being. 

Aphorism: a short, pithy statement offering instruction, truth, or opinion; like a maxim or an adage. 

Apostrophe: a direct address of an inanimate object, abstract qualities, a god, or a person not living or present. 

Ars Poetica: a poem about poetry, examining the role of poets, poets’ relationships to the poem, and the act of writing.

Assonance: the repetition of similar vowel sounds. 

Aubade: a dawn song that greets the morning while lamenting the end of the night, often concerning the parting of lovers.

Ballad: a plot-driven song with one or more characters and often constructed in quatrain stanzas.

Ballade: a form popular in fourteenth- and fifteenth-century France that contains three main stanzas and a shorter concluding envoi.

Bhakti Poetry: a form that began in India in the sixth century and traditionally celebrates love for and devotion to specific Hindi gods.

Bird Song: an important influence on poets and poetry recurring across cultures and eras.

Blank Verse: poetry that does not rhyme but follows a regular meter, most commonly iambic pentameter. 

Blues Poem: a form that stems from the African American oral tradition and the musical tradition of the blues.

Bop: a recently invented form of poetic argument consisting of three stanzas, each stanza followed by a repeated line or refrain.

Caesura: a pause for a beat in the rhythm of a verse, often indicated by a line break or by punctuation. 

Canto: a unit of division or subsection found in epics or long narrative poetry. 

Cento: a form also known as a collage poem and composed entirely of lines from poems by other poets. 

Chance Operations: methods of generating poetry independent of the author’s will to create unusual syntax and images. 

Cinquain: a poem or stanza, also known as a quintain or quintet, composed of five lines.

Closed Form: a poetic form subject to a fixed structure and pattern; the opposite of open form. 

Concrete Poetrya poem that is as much a piece of visual art made with words as it is a work of poetry.

Connotation: the implied or suggested meaning associated with a word or phrase. 

Consonance: the repetition of similar consonant sounds. 

Contrapuntal: a poetic form that interweaves two or more poems to create a single poem that can be read in multiple ways depending on how the poem is designed on the page.

Couplet: a two-line stanza, or two lines of verse, rhymed or unrhymed.

Dactyl: a metrical foot containing three syllables, the first stressed and the following two unstressed. 

Denotation: the dictionary meaning of a word. 

Doha: a form in Hindi and Urdu verse that consists of rhyming couplets made up of twenty-four syllables each.

Ekphrasis: the use of vivid language to describe or respond to a work of visual art.

Elegy: a form of poetry in which the poet or speaker expresses grief, sadness, or loss.

Elision: the omission, usually via apostrophe, of an unstressed vowel or syllable to preserve the meter of a line of poetry. 

Elliptical Poetry: poetry that is oblique and without prosaic information or a logical sequence of meaning.

End-Stopped Line: a metrical line containing a complete phrase or sentence, or a line of poetry ending with punctuation; the opposite of enjambment.

Enjambment: the continuation of a sentence or clause across one poetic line break.

Epic: a long, often book-length, narrative in verse form that retells the heroic journey of a single person, or group of persons. 

Epigram: a short, pithy saying, usually in verse, often with a quick, satirical twist at the end. 

Epigraph: a quotation set at the beginning of a literary work or one of its divisions to suggest its theme.

Epistolary Poem: also known as an epistle, a poem of direct address that reads as a letter.

Erasure: a form of found poetry wherein a poet takes an existing text and erases, blacks out, or otherwise obscures a large portion of the text, creating a wholly new work from what remains.

Exquisite Corpse: a collaborative poetry game that traces its roots to the Parisian Surrealist Movement.

Fablea story in prose or verse that often arrives at a moral.

Falling Meter: meter containing metrical feet that move from stressed to unstressed syllables; the opposite of rising meter.

Figurative Meaning: the associative or connotative meaning of a word, phrase, or poem. 

Filídh: a historic rank of Irish poet who practiced an elaborate oral tradition and were known for their mysticism.

Form: the structure of a poem, including its line lengths, line breaks, meter, stanza lengths, and rhyme scheme. 

Found Poem: a collage-like form consisting entirely of language taken from outside texts.

Fragment: a part of a larger work, or a poem made to appear discontinuous or incomplete.

Free Verse: poetry not dictated by an established form or meter and often influenced by the rhythms of speech.

Futurism: an avant-garde movement in early twentieth-century arts and literature that emphasized technology, speed, and movement.

Ghazal: a form with its roots in seventh-century Arabia that is composed of five to fifteen structurally and thematically autonomous couplets.

Haiku: a form that originated in Japan, is traditionally composed of three lines with seventeen syllables, written in a 5/7/5 syllable count, and often focuses on images from nature.

Hudibrastic Verse: a narrative, humorous form related to the mock epic and consisting of eight-syllable lines and rhyming couplets.

Hyperbole: exaggeration for emphasis. 

Iamb: a metrical foot containing two syllables, the first of which is unstressed and the latter of which is stressed. 

Iambic Pentameter: a rising meter form consisting of five pairs of unstressed and stressed or accented syllables as five iambic feet per line. 

Idiom: a short expression that is peculiar to a language, people, or place that conveys a figurative meaning without a literal interpretation of the words used in the phrase.

Imagery: language in a poem representing a sensory experience, including visual, auditory, olfactory, tactile, and gustatory. 

Inaugural Poem: a poem read at a Presidential inauguration

Incantation: a chant or formulaic use of words invoking or suggesting magic or ritual.

Irony: a rhetorical device involving contradictions of expectation or knowledge and divided into three primary types: verbal, situational, and dramatic. 

Lament: a poem or song expressing personal loss and grief.

Limerick: an often comical or nonsensical form composed of five lines and popular in children’s literature.

Line: a fundamental unit in verse, carrying meaning both horizontally across the page and vertically from one line to the next.

Litany: a poetic form that typically uses repetition to catalog a series of invocations or supplications in resemblance to or actually serving as a type of prayer.

Literal Meaning: the simplest and most obvious meaning of a word, phrase, or poem based on denotation and not connotation. 

Lullaby: a song or folk poem meant to help a child fall asleep.

Lyric Poetrya non-narrative poem, often with songlike qualities, that expresses the speaker’s personal emotions and feelings. 

Metaphor: a comparison between essentially unlike things, or the application of a name or description to something to which it is not literally applicable. 

Meter: the measured pattern of rhythmic accents in a line of verse. 

Metonymy: a word or phrase that replaces the name of an object or concept for another to which it is related. 

Monostich: a one-line stanza or a single verse of poetry.

Naked Poetry: free-verse poetry written without a set form and stripped of any artifice or ornament. 

Nature Poetry: poetry that engages with, describes, or considers the natural world.

Negative Capability: a phrase coined by John Keats to describe the poet’s ability to live with uncertainty and mystery.

Nocturne: a poem set at night.

Nonsense verse: lighthearted whimsical verse that is nonsensical by nature with prosodic elements of rhyme and repetition of phrases and made-up words.

Occasional Poem: a poem written to document or provide commentary on an event. 

Octave: an eight-line stanza, and also refers to the first eight lines of a Petrarchan sonnet, usually in iambic pentameter and with a rhyme scheme.

Ode: a lyric address to an event, a person, or a thing not present.

Onomatopoeia: the use of language that sounds like the thing or action it describes. 

Open Form: a poetic form free from regularity and consistency in elements such as rhyme, line length, and form; the opposite of closed form.

Oral-Formulaic Method: a formula of repetition used by oral epic singers to allow for more fluent composition and memorization.

Organic Form: a form that is dictated by its specific content and not by a mechanic or pre-determined system.

Oríkì: the oral praise poetry of the indigenous Yórùbá communities of Western Africa. 

Pantouma poem of any length, composed of four-line stanzas in which the second and fourth lines of each stanza serve as the first and third lines of the next stanza. The last line of a pantoum is often the same as the first.

Paradox: a situation or phrase that appears to be contradictory but that also contains some measure of truth.

Pastoral: referring to a creative tradition as well as individual work idealizing rural life and landscapes.

Persona Poem: a poem also known as a dramatic monologue in which the poet assumes the voice of another person, fictional character, or identity.

Personification: the endowment of inanimate objects or abstract concepts with animate or living qualities.

Poetic Contest: a verbal duel in which two or more contestants face off in a verse-based exchange.

Poetic Diction: the language, including word choice and syntax, that sets poetry apart from other forms of writing.

Poetry: a form of writing vital to culture, art, and life.

Political Poetry: poetry that is related to activism, protest, and social concern, or that is commenting on social, political, or current events.

Praise Poem: a poem of tribute or gratitude.

Prose Poem: a poem that lacks the line breaks traditionally associated with poetry.

Proverb: a short statement or saying that expresses a basic truth.

Prosody: the systematic study of meter, rhythm, and intonation of language found in poetry, but also prose.

Pun: a play on words or the humorous use of a single sound or word with two or more implied meanings. 

Quatrain: a four-line stanza, or unit of four lines of verse, rhymed or unrhymed. 

Quintain: a five-line stanza, or unit of five lines of verse, rhymed or unrhymed, also known as a quintet. 

Refrain: a phrase, line, or set of lines, usually appearing at the end of a stanza. repeated at intervals throughout a poem

Renga: a form consisting of alternating tercets and couplets written by multiple collaborating poets.

Repetition: the poetic technique of repeating the same word or phrase multiple times within a poem or work.

Rhyme: the correspondence of sounds in words or lines of verse. 

Rhyme Scheme: the pattern of rhymes falling at the ends of a poem’s lines. 

Riddle: a short poetic form with roots in the oral tradition that poses a question or metaphor.

Rising Meter: meter containing metrical feet that move from unstressed to stressed syllables; the opposite of falling meter.

Rondeau: a traditionally French form composed of a rhyming quintet, quatrain, and sestet.

Sapphic: a form dating back to ancient Greece made up of metered, four-line stanzas.

Saudade: a Portuguese term expressing nostalgia or yearning for something that might have been.

Scansion: the process of determining the meter of a poem or a line of verse. 

Septet: a seven-line stanza, or unit of seven lines of verse, rhymed or unrhymed, also known as a rhyme royal.

Sestet: a six-line stanza, or unit of six lines of verse, or the final six lines of a Petrarchan sonnet, rhymed or unrhymed.  

Sestina: a complex, thirty-nine-line poem featuring the intricate repetition of end-words in six stanzas and an envoi.

Sijo: a Korean poetic form consisting of 44-46 syllables, traditionally in a three-line or six-line poem with varying syllables per line.

Simile: a comparison between two essentially unlike things using words “such as,” “like,” and “as.” 

Slant Rhyme: a rhyme formed with words with similar but not wholly identical sounds; also called an off rhyme, half rhyme, and imperfect rhyme. 

Sonnet: a fourteen-line poem traditionally written in iambic pentameter, employing one of several rhyme schemes, and adhering to a tightly structured thematic organization. 

Speaker: the voice of the poem, similar to a narrator in fiction.

Spondee: a less common metrical foot in which two consecutive syllables are stressed. 

Stanza: a grouping of lines that forms the main unit in a poem.

Stress: the term describing when a greater amount of force is used to pronounce one syllable over an adjacent, unstressed syllable. 

Surrealism: a 1920s artistic movement celebrating imagination over realism and, more broadly, to the incorporation of fantasy and strangeness in poetry and art.

Syllable: a unit of pronunciation in speech. 

Symbol: an object or action that stands for something beyond itself. 

Synecdoche: a word for part of an object or idea used as a substitution to describe the whole. 

Synesthesia: an attempt to fuse different senses by describing one in terms of another.

Tanka: a thirty-one-syllable poem, Japanese in origin, that is traditionally written in a single unbroken line but is better known in its five-line form.

Tercet: a three-line stanza, or unit of three lines of verse, rhymed or unrhymed. 

Terza Rima: a form invented in fourteenth-century Italy that is composed of tercets woven into a complex rhyme scheme. 

Tlamatine: a Náhuatl word for “the one who knows” referring to fourteenth- and fifteenth-century Aztec poets.

Tone: a literary device that conveys the author’s attitude toward the subject, speaker, or audience of a poem.

Translation: the art of transferring a poem's meaning from one language to another.

Triolet: an eight-line poem, French in origin, with only two rhymes used throughout. 

Trochee: a metrical foot containing two syllables, the first of which is stressed and the second of which is unstressed. 

Verbless Poetry: poetry written without the use of verbs.

Verse Novel: a hybrid form in which a narrative with structural and stylistic similarities to a traditional novel is told through poetry.

Villanelle: a highly structured poem made up of five tercets followed by a quatrain, with two repeating rhymes and two refrains.

Volta: a rhetorical shift that marks the change of a thought or argument in a poem.