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Flashcards in Literary Terms Deck (67)
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Another name for iambic hexameter. ETS is going to ask you to identify the final line of a Spenserian stanza as an alexandrine.


Alliterative verse

Verse tradition stemming from the Germanic lands and evidenced in Anglo-Saxon epics and Icelandic sagas. The alliterative line was normally written in two halves – with each half containing two strongly stressed syllables. Of the four stressed syllables two, three or even four would begin with the same sound. During the 14th century in England there was an alliterative revival which produced works such as Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and The Vision of Piers Plowman by William Langland.



is an exclamatory rhetorical figure of speech, when a speaker or writer breaks off and directs speech to an imaginary person or abstract quality or idea. In dramatic works and poetry, it is often introduced by the word “O” (not the exclamation “oh”).

~ To what green altar, O mysterious priest, / Lead’st thou that heifer lowing at the skies, / And all her silken flanks with garlands drest?” John Keats, “Ode on a Grecian Urn”.

~ “Roll on thou dark and deep blue ocean.” Lord Byron, “Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage”.



An aubade is a poem or song of or about lovers separating at dawn. Donne’s “The Sunne Rising” is a famous example.



the repetition of vowel sounds within a short passage of verse or prose.



The ballad stanza is a quatrain where the second and fourth lines rhyme. La Belle Dame Sans Merci by John Keats is in ballad form. It usually features alternating four-stress and three-stress lines. The lines alternate between 8 and 6 syllables. Coleridge’s “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” is a ballad.


Blank verse

a type of poetry, distinguished by having a regular meter, but no rhyme. In English, the meter most commonly used with blank verse has been iambic pentameter. It is widely associated with Shakespeare and Milton’s Paradise Lost. It was first used by the Earl of Surrey around 1540.


bob and the wheel

this is the mechanism used to end stanzas in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. It consists of a short line (bob), followed by a trimeter quatrain (wheel).


Breton Lay

is a form of medieval French and English romance literature. Lais are short (typically 600-1000 lines), rhymed tales of love and chivalry, often involving supernatural and fairy-world Celtic motifs. “The Franklin’s Tale” from the Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer is an example.



an audible pause that breaks up a line of verse. This may come in the form of any sort of punctuation which causes a pause in speech; such as a comma; semicolon; full stop etc. It is especially common and apparent in Old English verse.
Ex. Hwæt! we Gar-Dena || on geardagum
(“Lo! we Spear-Danes, in days of yore. . .”)



a rhetorical construction in which the order of the words in the second of two paired phrases is the reverse of the order in the first. (“Pleasure’s a sin, and sometimes sin’s a pleasure” –Byron)



an extended metaphor with a complex logic that governs an entire poem or poetic passage. It is especially associated with the metaphysical poets.



a poem of mourning. Thomas Gray’s “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard” is a good example. A subset of this classification is a pastoral elegy, in which the mourner is a shepherd. Milton’s Lycidas and Shelley’s Adonais are both examples of pastoral elegies.


End-stopped line

A line of verse which ends with a grammatical break such as a coma, colon, semi-colon or full stop etc. It is the opposite of enjambment.



the breaking of a syntactic unit (a phrase, clause, or sentence) by the end of a line or between two verses. Its opposite is end-stopping, where each linguistic unit corresponds with a single line.

The following lines from Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale (c. 1611) are heavily enjambed:

I am not prone to weeping, as our sex
Commonly are; the want of which vain dew
Perchance shall dry your pities; but I have
That honourable grief lodged here which burns
Worse than tears drown.



refers to a form of poem that is written for the bride or to celebrate a wedding generally. See Spenser’s Epithalamium.



An eclogue is a poem in a classical style on a pastoral subject. Poems in the genre are sometimes also called bucolics. See Virgil’s Ecologues and Spenser’s Shepherd’s Calendar.


euphuistic prose

Tending to or resembling euphuism; of the nature of euphuism; characterized by euphuism. Chiefly in inaccurate sense: Abounding in ‘highflown’ or affectedly refined expression. Highly associated with John Lyly whose popular prose romance, Euphues, or The Anatomy of Wit, set the fashion for the decade before Shakespeare started writing and is a moral romance distinguished by its elaborate style. Also, self-consciously laden with elaborate figures of speech—a popular form in the late 16th century.



comic works that typical concern cuckolded husbands, rapacious clergy and foolish peasants. The form was popular in medieval times. Several appear in Chaucer’s Cantebury Tales.


feminine rhyme

a rhyme that matches two or more syllables at the end of the respective lines. Usually the final syllable is unaccented. Shakespeare’s Sonnet number 20, uniquely among the sonnets, makes use exclusively of feminine rhymes:
A woman’s face with nature’s own hand painted,
Hast thou, the master mistress of my passion;
A woman’s gentle heart, but not acquainted
With shifting change, as is false women’s fashion…


flat and round characters

used to describe characters who do and do not develop over the course of a work respectively. The distinction was first made by E.M. Forster in Aspects of the Novel.


Free verse

a term describing various styles of poetry that are not written using strict meter or rhyme, but that still are recognizable as ‘poetry’ by virtue of complex patterns of one sort or another that readers can perceive to be part of a coherent whole. Walt Whitman was a practitioner of free verse.



a poem dealing with agriculture. Derived from Virgil’s Georgics.



tragic mistake or tragic flaw. It is derived from Aristotle’s Poetics.


Heroic couplets

rhyming pairs of iambic pentameter lines. You should associate heroic couplets almost exclusively with Restoration verse. Example: Pope’s Rape of the Lock.


Homeric epithet

A characteristic of Homer‘s style is the use of recurring epithets, such as the rosy-fingered dawn or swift-footed Achilles. These epithets were metric stop-gaps as well as mnemonic devices.



Hudibrastic is a type of English verse named for Samuel Butler‘s Hudibras of 1672. For the poem, Butler invented a mock-heroic verse structure. Instead of pentameter, the lines were written in iambic tetrameter. The rhyme scheme is the same as in heroic verse (aa, bb, cc, dd, etc.).



a kind of Bildungsroman, a novel about an artist’s growth to maturity. Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and D.H. Lawrence’s Sons and Lovers are both examples.



a figure of speech in which the speaker emphasizes the magnitude of a statement by denying its opposite. Example: “That [sword] was not useless / to the warrior now.” (Beowulf)


Masculine rhyme

a rhyme that ends on a final, stressed syllable (as opposed to two final rhyming syllables in feminine rhyme).