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.
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.
Annotation: the close analysis of a poem or text through written notes and comments.
Anthropomorphism: the attribution of human traits, actions, or emotions to an animal, object, or other nonhuman figure.
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.
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 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.
Couplet: two successive lines of poetry, often rhymed.
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.
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-Stop: the use of terminal punctuation such as a period, colon, or semicolon at the end of a poetic line; the opposite of enjambment.
Enjambment: the continuation of a phrase or sentence from one line to another without an end-stop.
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.
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.
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 traditional form of rising meter consisting of lines containing five iambic feet, or ten syllables.
Imagery: language in a poem representing a sensory experience, including visual, auditory, olfactory, tactile, and gustatory).
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.
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 Poetry: a 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.
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.
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.
Oxymoron: a combination of two words that appear to contradict each other.
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.
Prose Poem: a poem that lacks the line breaks traditionally associated with poetry.
Proverb: a short statement or saying that expresses a basic truth.
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 grouping of four lines of verse.
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.
Sestina: a complex, thirty-nine-line poem featuring the intricate repetition of end-words in six stanzas and an envoi.
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.
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.
Synechdoche: 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.
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.
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.