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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).



an ode sung by one voice (Arnold’s Thyrsis and parts of Milton’s Lycidas)


Neo-classical unities

principles of dramatic unity popular in antiquity and until after the renaissance. The three unities are place, time, and action.


Ottava Rima

The ottava rima stanza in English consists of eight iambic lines, usually iambic pentameters. Each stanza consists of three rhymes following the rhyme scheme a-b-a-b-a-b-c-c.. Byron’s Don Juan and Yeats’ “Sailing to Byzantium” are examples.


Pathetic fallacy

the description of inanimate natural objects in a manner that endows them with human emotions, thoughts, sensations, and feelings. The term was coined by John Ruskin. Ruskin’s famous examples is “The cruel crawling foam.”


Picaresque novel

a popular subgenre of prose fiction which is usually satirical and depicts in realistic and often humorous detail the adventures of a roguish hero of low social class who lives by his or her wits in a corrupt society. Daniel DeFoe’s Moll Flanders is a good example.


Poetic inversions

An inversion of the normal grammatical word order; it may range from a single word moved from its usual place to a pair of words inverted or to even more extremes (e.g. “chains adamantine” – Paradise Lost)



a rhetorical device in which a speaker or writer communicates to the audience by speaking as another person or object.


Rhyme Royal

The rhyme royal stanza consists of seven lines, usually in iambic pentameter. The rhyme scheme is a-b-a-b-b-c-c. Chaucer’s “Troilus and Criseyde” is a good example.


roman à clef

a novel describing real-life events behind a façade of fiction. Hawthorne’s Blithedale Romance, Hemmingway’s The Sun Also Rises, Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night, and Sylvia Plath’s Bell Jar are all examples.



consists of thirty-nine lines; six six-line stanzas, usually ending with a triplet. It is an uncommon verse form. “Ye Goatherd Gods” from Sidney’s Arcadia is the only example that comes to mind.



a fixed verse form invented by Edmund Spenser for his epic poem The Faerie Queene. Each verse contains nine lines in total: eight lines of iambic pentameter, with five feet, followed by a single line of iambic hexameter, an “alexandrine,” with six. The rhyme scheme of these lines is “ababbcbcc.” Shelley’s elegy “Adonais” and Byron’s “Childe Harold’s Progress” both employ the Spensarian stanza.


Sprung rhythm

poetic rhythm designed to imitate the rhythm of natural speech. It is constructed from feet in which the first syllable is stressed and may be followed by a variable number of unstressed syllables. The British poet Gerard Manley Hopkins claimed to have discovered this previously-unnamed poetic rhythm in the natural patterns of English in folk songs, spoken poetry, Shakespeare, Milton, et al.


Sturm und Drang

a German literary movement which emphasized the volatile emotional life of the individual. This genre is especially associated with Goethe.



The description of a sense impression (smell, touch, sound etc) but in terms of another seemingly inappropriate sense e.g. ‘a deafening yellow’. Synesthesia is particularly associated with the French symbolist poets. Keats also uses synesthesia in Ode to a Nightingale with the term ‘sunburnt mirth’.



a figure of speech that presents a kind of metaphor in which:
* A part of something is used for the whole,
* The whole is used for a part,
* The species is used for the genus,
* The genus is used for the species, or
* The stuff of which something is made is used for the thing.
Synecdoche, as well as some forms of metonymy, is one of the most common ways to characterize a fictional character. Frequently, someone will be consistently described by a single body part or feature, such as the eyes, which comes to represent their person.


terza rima

a three-line stanza using chain rhyme in the pattern a-b-a, b-c-b, c-d-c, d-e-d, etc. Terza rima is especially associated with Dante’s Divine Comedy. See also “Ode to the West Wind” by Shelley.


“ubi sunt”

a phrase taken from the Latin Ubi sunt qui ante nos fuerent?, meaning “Where are those who were before us?” Ubi Sunt is a phrase that begins several Latin medieval poems. It refers to the tone of the poem, and can even be used to indicate the tone of another work, such as Beowulf.



The essence of the form is its distinctive pattern of rhyme and repetition, with only two rhyme-sounds (“a” and “b”) and two alternating refrains that resolve into a concluding couplet. Dylan Thomas’ “Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night” is a good example. Stephen Dedalus also writes one in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.



Fourteen-line lyric poem that is usually written in iambic pentameter and that has one of several rhyme schemes.



Sonnet A 14-line sonnet consisting of an octave rhyming abbaabba and of a sestet (or two tercets) rhyming cdecde. eg: Milton's "When I Consider How My Light is Spent"


Shakespearean/English Sonnet

A sonnet form composed of three quatrains and a final couplet written in iambic pentameter, with the rhyme scheme abab cdcd efef gg.


Spenserian Sonnet

a sonnet consisting of three quatrains and a concluding couplet in iambic pentameter with the rhyme pattern abab bcbc cdcd ee. eg: "One Day I Wrote Her Name Upon the Strand" by Spenser



A 39-line poem of six stanzas of six lines each and a final stanza (called an envoi) of three lines. Rhyme plays no part in the sestina. Instead, one of six words is used as the end word of each of the poem's lines according to a fixed pattern. eg: Kipling's "Sestina of Tramp-Royal"



Supernatural beings who interfere in human affairs; resolution enabled by a great battle, contest, or deed


Epic simile

A stylized comparison that is extended across unusual length (see PL for English examples)


epic catalogue

epic catalogue Background information, lists of equipment and participants in battles


In medias res

"In the midst of things", or in the middle of the narrative action, where most epics begin


Epic Invocation

The address to the Muse with which epics begin


Objective correlative

A phrase invented by TS Eliot to describe the way that Hamlet's subjective/psychological response to his father's death does not correspond with the reality or scope of the event itself--this is why he claims the play is a failure


Imagism Poetic

movement promoted by Pound and HD with three principles:
1. Direct treatment of the "thing", whether subjective or objective.
2. To use absolutely no word that does not contribute to the presentation.
3. As regarding rhythm: to compose in sequence of the musical phrase, not in sequence of the metronome



A succinct story, in prose or verse, which illustrates one or more instructive principles, or lessons, or (sometimes) a normative principle



A brief, interesting, memorable, and sometimes surprising or satirical statement



A commentary that follows a reading of scripture


Pindaric Ode

A poem in praise of a remarkable individual; in Pindar, usually a sporting victor, but the form is adapted by English poets to celebrate all kinds of people/events

Pindaric odes were performed with a chorus and dancers, and often composed to celebrate athletic victories. They contain a formal opening, or strophe, of complex metrical structure, followed by an antistrophe, which mirrors the opening, and an epode, the final closing section of a different length and composed with a different metrical structure.

e.g. Gray's "The Bard" and "The Progress of Poesy"


Horatian Ode

The Horatian ode, named for the Roman poet Horace, is generally more tranquil and contemplative than the Pindaric ode. Less formal, less ceremonious, and better suited to quiet reading than theatrical production, the Horatian ode typically uses a regular, recurrent stanza pattern.

e.g. Marvell's Ode on Cromwell's Return from Ireland


magical realism

an aesthetic style or genre of fiction in which magical elements blend with the real world. The story explains these magical elements as real occurrences, presented in a straightforward manner that places the "real" and the "fantastic" in the same stream of thought. Although it is most commonly used as a literary genre, Magic Realism also applies to film and the visual arts.
Authors: Kafka, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, British Indian writer Salman Rushdie, African American novelist Toni Morrison, English author Louis de Bernières and English feminist writer Angela Carter



A roundel (not to be confused with the rondel) is a form of verse used in English language poetry devised by Algernon Charles Swinburne (1837-1909). It is a variation of the French rondeau form. It makes use of refrains, repeated according to a certain stylized pattern. A roundel consists of nine lines each having the same number of syllables, plus a refrain after the third line and after the last line. The refrain must be identical with the beginning of the first line: it may be a half-line, and rhymes with the second line. It has three stanzas and its rhyme scheme is as follows: A B A R ; B A B ; A B A R ; where R is the refrain. Also taken up by S' friend Christina Rossetti.
The little eyes that never knew
Light other than of dawning skies,
What new life now lights up anew
The little eyes?