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.
Augmentation: the spacing of repeated consonant sounds with the last repeated consonant sound separated by a vowel.
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.
Blazon: a poetic form that catalogs a beloved’s physical features or attributes.
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.
Chiasmus: a rhetorical device where identical words and phrases repeat in a reversed order.
Cinquain: a poem or stanza, also known as a quintain or quintet, composed of five lines.
Clerihew: a whimsical, skewed quatrain poem–– two rhyming couplets (aabb) of unequal length about a person’s biography.
Closed Form: a poetic form subject to a fixed structure and pattern; the opposite of open form.
Concrete Poetry: a 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. See Meter.
Denotation: the dictionary meaning of a word.
Diminution: the spacing of repeated consonant sounds with the first consonant sound separated by a vowel.
Dirge: a song of grief, a lament that commemorates the dead.
Doha: a form in Hindi and Urdu verse that consists of rhyming couplets made up of twenty-four syllables each.
Duplex: a form composed of seven couplets, nine to eleven syllables per line, the second line of each couplet is echoed in the first line of the following couplet, and the first line of the poem is also echoed in its last.
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 verse.
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.
Fable: a story in prose or verse that often arrives at a moral.
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: open form 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.
Glosa: or glose, a form originally from Spain, featuring a quatrain epigraph, and four ten-line stanzas with the last line of each stanza being the corresponding line of the epigraph.
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.
Hymn: a lyric poem of devotion or reverence, typically written as a prayer addressing a deity or deities, or personified subjects.
Hyperbole: exaggeration for emphasis.
Iamb: a metrical foot containing two syllables, the first of which is unstressed and the latter of which is stressed. See Meter.
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.
List Poem: a deliberately organized poem containing a list of images or adjectives that build up to describe the poem’s subject matter through an inventory of things.
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.
Lullaby: a song or folk poem meant to help a child fall asleep.
Lyric Poetry: a non-narrative poem, often with songlike qualities, that expresses the speaker’s personal emotions and feelings.
Madrigal: traditionally a polyphonic form, originally from Italy, that typically consists of a five to fourteen-line poem composed of varying meter with seven to eleven syllables per line and the last two lines as a rhyming couplet.
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: also known as free verse, is a poetic form without structural 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.
Pantoum: a 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: is the endowment of inanimate objects, animals, or abstract concepts with animate or human-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.
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. See Meter.
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.
Syllabic Verse: a poetic form having a fixed or constrained number of syllables per line.
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. See Meter.
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.
Zuihitsu: a form that originated in Japan, composed largely of interweaving together writings in prose and poetry on ideas or subjects that typically respond to the author’s surroundings.