Basics of Poetry
“Introduction to Poetry,” Literary
Terms, How to Read a Poem, and
Helpful Websites
Introduction to Poetry
I ask them to take a poem
and hold it up to the light
like a color slide
or press an ear against its hive.
I say drop a mouse into a poem
and watch him probe his way out,
or walk inside the poem's room
and feel the walls for a light switch.
I want them to water ski
across the surface of a poem
waving at the author's name on the shore.
But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.
They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means.
by Billy Collins
- sometimes called an extended metaphor,
is the representation of abstract ideas by characters or
events in narrative, dramatic, or pictorial form.
Alliteration - Alliteration is the succession of similar
consonant sounds. They are not recognized by spelling, but
rather by sounds.
 “Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled
 The wild and woolly walrus waits and
wonders when we'll walk by.
- Referencing a person place or thing, usually
indirectly, that is believed to be known by the reader. Sometimes
these references are footnoted or glossed.
 Act V, scene 8 Macbeth- “Why should I
play the Roman fool, and die on mine
own sword”?
Analogy - The use of words of phrases that share meaning
but are dissimilar.
 shoe is to foot as tire is to wheel
 followers are to a leader as planets are
to a sun
 shells were to ancient cultures as
dollar bills are to modern culture
 Similes and Metaphors are great
examples of analogies
Anaphora - A word or expression used repeatedly at the
beginning of successive phrases. This is usually used for poetic
or rhetorical effect.
This royal throne of kings, this sceptred isle,
This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,
This other Eden, demi-paradise,
This fortress built by Nature for herself
Against infection and the hand of war,
This happy breed of men, this little world,
This precious stone set in the silver sea,
Which serves it in the office of a wall,
Or as [a] moat defensive to a house,
Against the envy of less happier lands;
This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England,
This nurse, this teeming womb of royal kings [. . .]
This land of such dear souls, this dear dear land,
Dear for her reputation through the world,
Is now leas'd out — I die pronouncing it —
Like to a tenement or pelting farm.
—John of Gaunt in Shakespeare's Richard II (2.1.40-51; 57-60)
- Placing a pair of words, phrases, clauses, or
sentences side by side in contrast and opposition.
 "It has been my experience that folks
who have no vices have very few
virtues." —Abraham Lincoln
Apostrophe - the addressing of an absent or imaginary
 It appears often in Shakespeare's and
Whitman's works. An example: "O
Opportunity, thy guilt is great!" from
Shakespeare's "The Rape of Lucrece."
Another: "O Night, thou furnace of foul
reeking smoke!" from the same epic
- The succession of similar vowel sounds
that are not recognized by spelling, rather by sound. Do not
confuse this with alliteration which is the repetition of
 holy and stony
 fleet feet sweep by sleeping
 Act IV, scene 1 Macbeth –
“Double, double, toil and trouble;
fire burn and caldron bubble”.
- A form of verse to be sung or recited and
characterized by its presentation of a dramatic or exciting
EPISODE in simple narrative form.
The Gothic Ballad
I walk carelessly down the dark road
My heavy black boots constantly clicking
Clicking on the cold cement
My long black and velvet Trench coat
Billowing in the slight breeze
My Chest slightly rising under my tight corset
My chains on my pants jingling together
As I walk down this Moon lit road
Staring up at the midnight moon
This is the ballad
The ballad of the lost
Of the silent warriors
Of the people you pass by and call freaks
Of the people
Who will save your soul
For our souls are pure
Our souls sing this ballad
The ballad of the night
The ballad of the pure hearts
Ankoku Gekido
Blank Verse - Simply defined as unrhymed verse or
unrhymed iambic pentameter.
 Act I, scene 4 Macbeth – True, worthy
Banquo; he is full so valiant, and in his
commendations I am fed; it is a banquet
to me. Let’s after him, whose care is
gone before to bid us welcome.
Close Rhyme - A rhyme of two close words.
 such as "red" "head".
Conceit - An ingenious, logically complicated image, or an
elaborate metaphor.
by Robert Herrick
I DREAM'D this mortal part of mine
Was Metamorphoz'd to a Vine;
Which crawling one and every way,
Enthrall'd my dainty Lucia.
Me thought, her long small legs & thighs
I with my Tendrils did surprize;
Her Belly, Buttocks, and her Waste
By my soft Nerv'lits were embrac'd:
About her head I writhing hung,
And with rich clusters (hid among
The leaves) her temples I behung:
So that my Lucia seem'd to me
Young Bacchus ravished by his tree.
My curles about her neck did craule,
And armes and hands they did enthrall:
So that she could not freely stir,
(All parts there made one prisoner.)
But when I crept with leaves to hide
Those parts, which maids keep unespy'd,
Such fleeting pleasures there I took,
That with the fancie I awook;
And found (Ah me!) this flesh of mine
More like a Stock then like a Vine.
Consonance - The close repetition of the same end
consonants of stressed syllables with differing vowel sounds.
 the "t" sound in "Is it blunt and flat?"
Alliteration differs from consonance
insofar as alliteration requires the
repeated consonant sound to be at the
beginning of each word, where in
consonance it is anywhere within the
word, although often at the end.
- Two lines of VERSE with similar END-RHYMES.
Formally, the couplet is a two-line STANZA with both
grammatical structure and idea complete within itself.
 Act IV, scene I Macbeth –
 That will never be.
Who can impress the forest, bid the tree
Unfix his earth-bound root? Sweet
bodements, good!
Rebellious dead, rise never, till the Wood…
Diction - choice of words esp. with regard to correctness,
clearness, or effectiveness
 In A Lesson Before Dying – Jefferson’s Diary
Dirge - A poem of grave meditation, or lament. The dirge is a
song of lamentation that is apt to be less meditative than the
Dramatic Poem - A composition of verse that
portrays the story of life or character, involving conflict and
 Traditional dramatic poetry differs from
dramatic prose mainly in the formal
construction of the poetic utterance, which is
organized on the basis of a repetitive rhythmic
structure for each line. Dramatic poetry, in
other words, gives us spoken language which
departs considerably from naturalistic speech
patterns, mainly because the poetry is more
tightly and formally organized (i.e., patterned).
End Rhyme – A rhyme occurring in the terminating word
or syllable of one line of poetry with that of another line, as
opposed to internal rhyme.
Epic - An Epic is a long narrative poem celebrating the
adventures and achievements of a hero...epics deal with the
traditions, mythical or historical, of a nation.
Beowulf, The Iliad and the Odyssey,
and Aeneid
Epigram - Epigrams are short satirical poems ending with
either a humorous retort or a stinging punch-line.
 “What is an Epigram? A dwarfish whole,
Its body brevity, and wit its soul.”
--Samuel Coleridge
Extended Metaphor - A metaphor which is drawnout beyond the usual word or phrase to extend throughout a
stanza or an entire poem, usually by using multiple comparisons
between the unlike objects or ideas.
Well, son, I'll tell you:
Life for me ain't been no crystal stair.
It's had tacks in it,
And splinters,
And boards torn up,
And places with no carpet on the floor -Bare.
But all the time
I'se been a-climbin' on,
And reachin' landin's,
And turnin' corners,
And sometimes goin' in the dark
Where there ain't been no light.
So boy, don't you turn back.
Don't you set down on the steps
'Cause you finds it's kinder hard.
Don't you fall now -For I'se still goin', honey,
I'se still climbin',
And life for me ain't been no crystal stair.
-- “Mother to Son” by Langston Hughes
Figurative Language – language that intentionally departs from the
normal construction or meaning of words in order to create a certain effect or to
make an analogy between two seemingly dissimilar things.
Alliteration - The repetition of usually initial consonant sounds in two or more neighboring words or syllables
 The wild and woolly walrus waits and wonders when we'll walk by.
Assonance - A resemblance of sound in words or syllables
 holy and stony and fleet feet sweep by sleeping geese
Cliché - A word or phrase that has become overly familiar or commonplace
 No pain, no gain
Hyperbole- Big exaggeration, usually with humor
 mile-high ice-cream cones
Idiom - The language peculiar to a group of people
 She sings at the top of her lungs.
Metaphor - Comparing two things by using one kind of object or using in place of
another to suggest the likeness between them.
 I'm drowning in money.
Onomatopoeia- Naming a thing or an action by imitating the sound associated with it
 buzz, hiss, roar, woof
Personification - Giving something human qualities
Synecdoche – the use of a part to stand for something whole.
The stuffed bear smiled as the little boy hugged him close.
Your eyes will pierce my heart forever.
Simile - A figure of speech comparing two unlike things that is often introduced by like or as
 The sun is like a yellow ball of fire in the sky.
Examples of Figurative
Language in Macbeth
 Act 1, scene 3 – “The Thane of Cawdor lives:
why do you dress me in borrowed robes”?
 Act I, scene 7 – “Was the hope drunk wherein
you dressed yourself? Hath it slept since? And
wakes it now, to look so green and pale at what
it did so freely”?
 Act IV, scene 3 – “Let not your ears despise my
tongue forever, which shall possess them with
the heaviest sound that ever yet they heard”.
– A rhythmic or metrical unit; the division in verse of a
group of syllables, one of which is long or accented.
Iamb or Iambus (iambic): = u /
behold, amuse, arise, awake, return, Noel, depict, destroy, inject,
inscribe, insist, employ, "to be," inspire, unwashed, "Of Mice and
Men," "the South will rise again."
Trochee (trochaic): = / u
happy, hammer, Pittsburgh, nugget, double, incest, injure, roses,
hippie, bubba, beat it, clever, dental, dinner, shatter, pitcher,
Cleveland, chosen, planet, chorus, widow, bladder, cuddle, slacker,
doctor, Memphis, "Doctor Wheeler," "Douglas County," market, picket
Spondee (spondaic): = / /
football, Mayday, D-Day, heartbreak, Key West, shortcake, plopplop,
fizz-fizz, drop-dead, dead man, dumbbell, childhood, goofoff,
race-track, bathrobe, black hole, breakdown, love-song
Dactyl (dactylic): = / u u
strawberry, carefully, changeable, merrily, mannequin, tenderly,
prominent, buffalo, Bellingham, bitterly, notable, horrible,
glycerin, parable, scorpion, Indianapolis, Jefferson
Anapest (anapestic): = u u /
understand, interrupt, comprehend, anapest, New Rochelle,
contradict, "get a life," Coeur d'Alene, "In the blink of an eye"
There are five most commonly used sets of feet are iambic (iamb), trochaic (trochee), anapestic (anapest),
dactylic (dactyl), and spondaic (spondee).
Free Verse - Poetry that is based on the irregular
rhythmic CADENCE or the recurrence, with variations, of
phrases, images, and syntactical patterns rather than the
conventional use of METER. RHYME may or may not be present
in free verse, but when it is, it is used with great freedom.
 “All truths wait in all things
They neither hasten their own delivery
nor resist it,
They do not need the obstetric forceps of
the surgeon.”
--Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass
- A form of Japanese poetry which states in three
lines of five, seven, and five syllables a clear picture designed to
arouse a distinct emotion and suggest a specific spiritual
 “Green frog,
Is your body also
freshly painted?”
-- Ryunosuke Akutagawa
Homonym - One of two or more words that have the same
sound and often the same spelling but differ in meaning.
 such as n. wind (moving air) and v. wind
(to wrap or entwine)
Hyperbole - A figure of speech in which exaggeration is
used for emphasis or effect
 "I'm so hungry, I could eat a horse.“
 mile-high ice-cream cones
Iambic - A metrical foot consisting of an unaccented
syllable (noted by "x") and an accented or stressed one.
 the most common metrical measure in
English verse. A line from Christopher
Marlow serves to illustrate:
x /
x /
Come live | with me | and be | my love.
– Elements in literature used to evoke mental
images of the visual sense, and sometimes of sensation and
emotion as well.
 I took a walk around the world to
Ease my troubled mind
I left my body laying somewhere
In the sands of time
I watched the world float to the dark
Side of the moon
I feel there is nothing I can do
 --"Kryptonite" by Three Doors Down
Internal Rhyme – a rhyme occurring in mid-line
– the first stanza of Edgar Allan Poe’s "The Raven":
 “Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore,
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of someone gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
" 'Tis some visitor," I muttered, "tapping at my chamber door;
Only this, and nothing more."
Note that in lines 1 and 3 you get an internal rhyme with "dreary"
and "weary," and "napping" and "tapping."
Line - A formal structural division of a poem, consisting of
one or more feet arranged as a separate rhythmical entity.
The line is a "unit of attention," but it is not necessarily a unit of sense: in
fact, poems are rather rare in which individual lines constitute complete
sense units. For this reason, line divisions, unless they happen to
coincide with sense pauses (whether indicated by punctuation or not), are
often as unrelated to the rhetoric of poetic assertions as foot divisions.
Lines are commonly classified according to their length in feet:
a line of 1 foot
2 feet
3 feet
4 feet
5 feet
6 feet
7 feet
8 feet
Meter –
A measure of rhythmic quantity organized into
groups of syllables at regular intervals in a line of poetry
 English poetry employs five basic rhythms of varying stressed (/)
and unstressed (x) syllables. The meters are iambs, trochees,
spondees, anapests and dactyls. In this document the stressed
syllables are marked in boldface type rather than the tradition al "/"
and "x." Each unit of rhythm is called a "foot" of poetry.
 The meters with two-syllable feet are
 IAMBIC (x /) : That time of year thou mayst in me behold
 TROCHAIC (/ x): Tell me not in mournful numbers
 SPONDAIC (/ /): Break, break, break/ On thy cold gray stones,
O Sea!
 Meters with three-syllable feet are
 ANAPESTIC (x x /): And the sound of a voice that is still
 DACTYLIC (/ x x): This is the forest primeval, the murmuring
pines and the hemlock (a trochee replaces the final dactyl)
- Used to suggest a relationship between an
object or idea
 “No man is an island” —John Donne
- An elaborately composed verse that is enthusiastic in
tone. It often has varying iambic line lengths with no fixed
system of rhyme schemes. It often addresses a praised person
or object.
 crop from George Keats's manuscript copy of 'Ode on
a Grecian Urn'
 Thou still unravish'd bride of quietness,
Thou foster-child of silence and slow time,
Sylvan historian, who canst thou express
A flowery tale more sweetly than our rhyme:
What leaf-fring'd legend haunt about thy shape
Of deities or mortals, or of both,
In Tempe or the dales of Arcady?
What men or gods are these? What maidens loth?
What mad pursuit? What struggle to escape?
What pipes and timbrels? What wild ecstasy?
- Words used in place of where a
reader should hear sounds.
 Words such as pop, crackle, snap, whiz,
buzz, zing, etc.
Oxymoron - The joining of two words that seem to be
contradictory (opposites), but offer a unique effect.
 such as living deaths, freezing fires,
deafening silence, and pretty ugly
Paradox – An apparent contradiction that is actually true
 Act I, scene 2 – Macbeth when the
witches say “Fair is foul, and foul is fair”.
 Act I, scene 3 – Macbeth when the
witches compare Baquo to Macbeth
“lesser than Macbeth, and greater” and
“not so happy, yet much happier”.
Pattern Poetry – Poetry written with words, letters,
and lines to produce a visual image to help convey the idea or
topic of the poem
by George Herbert
 Lord, who createdst man in wealth and store, Though foolishly he
lost the same,
Decaying more and more,
Till he
Most poore:
With thee
Oh let me rise
As larks, harmoniously, And sing this day thy victories:Then shall
the fall further the flight in
me.My tender age in sorrow did beginne: And still with
sicknesses and
Thou didst so punish sinne,
That I became
Most thinne.
With thee
Let me combine
And feel
this day thy victorie: For, if I imp my wing on thine Affliction
shall advance the flight in me.
- A form of metaphor where an
inanimate object, animal, or idea is given human-like
 such as "Night swallowed the sun's last
ray of light"
Pun - A play on words that sound similar for a humorous
 “I do it for the pun of it; his constant punning
irritated her" .
 Act III, scene 4 Macbeth – “ To feed were
best at home; from thence, the sauce to
meat is ceremony; meeting were bare
without it”.
Repitition - Repetition of a sound, syllable, word, phrase,
line, stanza, or metrical pattern is a basic unifying device in all
poetry. It may reinforce, supplement, or even substitute for
meter, the other chief controlling factor in the arrangement of
words into poetry.
 “Because I do not hope to turn again
Because I do not hope
Because I do not hope to turn”
--T.S. Eliot
Rhetorical Question – A question asked for effect,
but not demanding an answer
When someone responds to a tragic event by
saying, "Why me, God?!" it is more likely to
be an accusation or an expression of feeling
than a realistic request for information.
Rhyme - A recurrence of similar ending sounds at the ends
of a poetic line/verse
 such as 'run' and 'sun', or 'night' and
Rhythm - The rise and fall of stress (stressed and
unstressed syllables); a metrical pattern or flow of sound in
Sonnet - A lyric poem of fourteen lines, following one or
another of several set rhyme-schemes.
The two characteristic sonnet types are the Italian (Petrarchan) and the English (Shakespearean).
Sonnet -Sonnet 1
From fairest creatures we desire increase,
That thereby beauty's rose might never die,
But as the riper should by time decease,
His tender heir might bear his memory:
But thou, contracted to thine own bright eyes,
Feed'st thy light'st flame with self-substantial fuel,
Making a famine where abundance lies,
Thyself thy foe, to thy sweet self too cruel.
Thou that art now the world's fresh ornament
And only herald to the gaudy spring,
Within thine own bud buriest thy content
And, tender churl, makest waste in niggarding.
Pity the world, or else this glutton be,
To eat the world's due, by the grave and thee.
Sight Rhyme - A rhyme consisting of words with similar
spellings but different sounds. Also called eye rhyme.
 such as “the blowing wind does wind
down the hall.”
- A comparison between two unlike things using like
or as, etc.
 such as "Your eyes are like sparkling
- One of the divisions of a poem, composed of two
or more lines of verse usually characterized by a common
pattern of meter, rhyme, or number of lines.
Style - The poet's individual creative
process, through figurative language,
sounds, and rhythmic patterns.
Symbol - An image or icon that represents something else
by association.
"The Sick Rose"
O rose, thou art sick!
The invisible worm
That flies in the night,
In the howling storm,
Has found out thy bed
Of crimson joy,
And his dark secret love
Does thy life destroy.
-- William Blake
Blake uses the rose as a symbol for all that is beautiful, natural and
desirable. He uses the worm to symbolize the evil that destroys natural
beauty and love. The poem is more than a description of an infested
flower bed.
Theme – The central idea, topic, or subject of artistic
Tone - the pitch of a word often used to
express differences of meaning; a particular
pitch or change of pitch constituting an
element in the intonation of a phrase or
sentence {high ~} {low ~} {mid ~} {low-rising)
{falling ~}, style or manner of expression in
speaking or writing
How to Read a Poem
Read on –until there’s a punctuation mark.
A poem’s line breaks indicate thought groupings, but don’t
break at the end of each line.
If you’re baffled, find the subject and verb.
Sometimes, when passages are difficult to understand, you
can clarify the meaning by finding the subject, verb, and
complement of each sentence. Try to paraphrase.
Look for figures of speech—and think about
Figurative language is part of what makes poetry, poetry.
Still Reading that Poem…
Listen to the sounds.
Always read a poem aloud to yourself. Poets choose
evocative words for their sound as well as their meaning.
One reading isn’t enough.
Respond to a poem on first meeting it, and then talk
about the poem with other readers before you read it
carefully again. On your second reading, you’ll notice
new details and develop new insights; and when you read
it for the third time, the poem will feel comfortably “yours.”
Perform the poem.
When you give a poem a dramatic reading for an
audience, you can emphasize the mood and feelings the
words and images evoke. Then the poem really comes
Helpful Websites
Click on these terms for an excellent definition of these poetic terms,
some from the Oxford English Dictionary. Includes types of poetry as
well as terms.
This A-Z "poetry handbook" is really an extensive, online glossary of the
terminology used to describe and discuss the structure and content of
An exhaustive list of literary terms and techniques with explanations that
often include examples. The terms are presented in the order in which
the author's students would be exposed to them in a semester of
English literature, so you would need to scroll or do a "Find" for a
specific term.
The terms and definitions might seem different, as this is a British site, but
they are all easily understood, and it's a fairly extensive list. Scroll
down to view the long list of terms to choose from.
More Helpful Websites
Discover the definitions for the buzz words in poetry through this site.
Calling itself "unique," Bob's is easy to use, with cross-links throughout,
phonetic pronunciation guides when necessary, and many examples
and quotations. Click on the letter and scroll for the word.
This site, designed to help students who are writing about poetry, defines
many significant terms related to poetry, including figurative language,
poetic genres, and the mechanics of rhythm and meter. Examples are
also provided in addition to the definitions.
This glossary defines many common literary terms.
An extensive glossary of literary terms provided in alphabetical format with
hyperlink cross references from a major library publisher.

Basics of Poetry