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Blank verse

Unrhymed but otherwise regular verse, usually iambic pentameter. Commonly used for long narrative or dramatic poems



A brief subjective poem strongly marked by imagination, melody, and emotion, and creating a single, unified impression. Individual and personal emotion is highlighted in lyric


Iambic pentameter:

One of the most common poetic meters in English poetry. An iamb is a unit of unstressed followed by a stressed syllable, as in the word return. Pentameter signifies five iambs per line



A form of verse to be sung or recited and characterized by its presentation of a dramatic or exciting episode in simple narrative form


Ballad stanza

Usually it consists of four lines, rhyming abcb with the first and third lines carrying four accented syllables and the second and fourth carrying three (i.e. an alternation of tetrameter and trimeter). There is quite often variation in the number of unstressed syllables in a line. See “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” for an example



A single, unified strain of exalted lyrical verse, directed to a single purpose, and dealing with one theme. Elaborate, dignified, and elevated in tone.



The continuation of the sense and grammatical construction of a line onto the next line in poetry. Enjambment occurs in run-on lines and offers a contrast to end-stopped lines.


Heroic couplet

Iambic pentameter lines rhymed in pairs.



A work or manner that blends a critical attitude with humor and wit for the purpose of improving human institutions or humanity. It is a response to a perceived imbalance or disharmony and has the moral function of correcting.


Trochaic tetrameter

A trochee consists of a stressed followed by an unstressed syllable, as in the word tyger. Tetrameter signifies four trochees per line.



A poem almost invariably of fourteen lines and following one of several set rhyme schemes. The two basic sonnet types are Italian or Petrarchan and the English or Shakespearean. Italian form is distinguished by its division into the octave and sestet; in the English, there are three quatrains and a rhymed concluding couplet.


Dramatic monologue

A poem that reveals “a soul in action” through the speech of one character in a dramatic situation. The character is speaking to an identifiable but silent listener at a dramatic moment in the speaker’s life. The speaker’s words convey insight into his or her character that is not readily apparent to him or her.


Historical novel

A novel that reconstructs a past age.



A composition, usually verse, in which the first letter, syllable or word of each line, paragraph or other recurring feature in the text spells out a word or a message



A form of extended metaphor in which objects, persons, and actions in a narrative are equated with meanings that lie outside the narrative itself. Thus, it represents one thing in the guise of another—an abstraction in that of a concrete image.



A concise statement of a principle or precept given in pointed words.



An arrangement of sentences, clauses, phrases or words in coordinate rather than subordinate constructions, with or without connectives such as “and.” Example: I came, I saw, I conquered.



A pattern in which the second part is balanced against the first but with the parts reversed, as in Coleridge’s line, “Flowers are lovely, love is flowerlike.”


Dramatic irony

The words or acts of a character may carry a meaning unperceived by the character but understood by the audience. Usually, the character’s own interests are involved in a way that he or she cannot understand. The irony resides in the contrast between the meaning intended by the speaker and the different significance seen by others.



A figure of speech in which someone (usually but not always absent), some abstract quality, or a nonexistent personage is directly addressed as though it is present.



A figure of speech in which a part signifies the whole or the whole signifies the part. An effective synecdoche is based on an important part of the whole. We would say “threads” for “clothes” or “wheels” for “car,” for example.



Consists of three syllables, with two unaccented syllables followed by an accented one. The following lines from Keats’s “La Belle Dame Sans Mercy” are anapestic: And the harvest’s done : the underlined part is the anapest
On the cold hill side : the underlined part is the anapest


Gothic novel

A novel in which magic, mystery, and chivalry are the chief characteristics. Horrors abound: ghosts; clanking chains; charnel houses; medieval castles with long underground passages, trap doors, dark stairways, and mysterious rooms; brooding heroes; unknown terrors; damsels in distress; entrapment and confinement; uncontrolled passion.



Characterized by nobility and grandeur, impressive, exalted, raised above ordinary human qualities. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, sublime often follows from Edmund Burke’s 1756 description: a painful idea creates a sublime passion and thus concentrates the mind on that single facet of experience and produces a momentary suspension of rational activity, uncertainty, and self-consciousness. If the pain producing this effect is imaginary rather than real, a great aesthetic object is achieved. Thus, mountains, storms, ruins, and castles are appropriate subjects to produce the sublime.



A pause or break in a line of verse.



A device of repetition, in which the same expression (word or words) is repeated at the beginning of two or more lines, clauses, or sentences.