Below is a list some of the more common literary and poetic terms. They can be helpful in writing analyses for English class.
Alliteration is the repetition of the first letter of a word. Repeating a K might sound harsh and quick, whereas an L can be soft and lulling.
Ex. “I have stood still and stopped the sound of feet” (Robert Frost “Acquainted with the Night”)
Allusion is a brief reference to a historical or literary figure, event, or object that the reader would know to create an association between ideas in the reader’s mind.
Ex. “And this will be the day—this will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with new meaning: ‘My country ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing . . .’” (Martin Luther King)
Assonance is the repetition of a vowel sound.
Ex. “Those images that yet/fresh images beget,/that dolphin-torn, that gong-tormented sea.” (W.B. Yeats, “Byzantium”)
[The “eh” sound (as in “yet” and “beget” switches to an “or” sound as in “torn” and “tormented.”]
Consonance is the repetition of a consonant sound.
Ex. “Whose woods these are I think I know./His house is in the village though;/He will not see me stopping here/To watch his woods fill up with snow” (Robert Frost, “Walking Through the Woods on a Snowy Evening”)
[The breathy “w” and “h” sounds suggest wind.]
Eye rhyme consists of words that should rhyme because of their placement (such as at the end of a line) and spelling, but don’t.
Hyperbole is the use of exaggeration for effect.
Ex. “Today is very boring, I can hardly help but yawn/There’s a flying saucer landing in the middle of my lawn,/A volcano just erupted less than half a mile away . . .” (Jack Prelutsky, “Today is Very Boring”)
Imagery is the use of language to evoke sense experience. It can be visual, auditor, olfactory (something you smell), gustatory (taste), tactile (touch), or organic (internal sensation like thirst or hunger or fear).
Ex. “The apparition of these faces in the crowd;/Petals on a wet, black bough.” (Ezra Pound, “In a Station at the Metro”)
Internal rhyme is rhyme in the middle of a line rather than at the end.
Ex. “Presently my soul grew stronger; hesitating then no longer” (Edgar Allan Poe, “The Raven”)
Metaphor is when an author likens a thing to something else without using the words “like” or “as.”
Ex. “Skin remembers how long the years grow/When skin is not touched… feather lost from the tail/Of a bird, swirling onto a step/ Swept away by someone who never saw it was a feather.” (Naomi Shihab Nye “Two Countries”)
Meter is the number of feet in a line of poetry; poetry lines are divided into groups of syllables called feet (or “foot” in the singular). Count the feet by finding the number of stressed syllables. Usually there is one stressed syllabus per foot, although a spondee has two.
Ex. Sometimes/ too hot/ the eye/ of heaven/ shines (William Shakespeare, “Sonnet 18”)
[This line has five stressed syllables and five feet.]
The basic English meters are:
- trochees: stressed/unstressed (“I shall”)
- spondees: stressed/stressed (“Clang! Clang!”)
- anapests: unstressed/unstressed/stressed (“In the morn/”)
- dactyls: stressed/unstressed/unstressed (“This is the/”)
Meter is usually expressed by the number of feet in the line and the stress pattern: one foot is monometer, two is dimeter, three is trimeter, etc. Iambic pentameter is the most common meter in English poetry. It has five feet and each foot has one unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable:
Ex. Shakespeare’s line form “Sonnet 18,” “Shall I /comPARE /thee TO/ a SUM/mers DAY?”
Mood (or tone) is the overall feeling or emotional tone of a poem created by the specific combinations of words, sounds, rhythm, and imagery.
Oxymoron is created by contradictory terms placed together for effect.
Ex. “And faith unfaithful kept him falsely true” (Lord Tennyson, “Idylls of the King”)
Personification is giving human attributes to things that aren’t human.
Ex. “The wind stood up and gave a shout/He whistled on his fingers and/Kicked the withered leaves about . . .” (James Stephens, “The Wind”)
Repetition is when writers repeat a word, phrase, sound, idea or other element for effect, emphasis, or creating a mood.
Ex. “If I am going to be drowned, if I am going to be drowned, if I am going to be drowned, then why, by the seven mad gods of the sea, was I brought thus far to contemplate sand and trees. . . .” (Stephen Crane, The Open Boat)
Rhythm is the pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables in a line of a poetry or prose that creates a beat, just like rhythm in music.
Ex. Then I had religion. Then I had a vision./I could not turn from their revel in derision./Then I saw the congo, creeping through the black/Cutting through the jungle with a golden track (Vachel Lindey, “The Congo”)
Rhyme scheme is the pattern of rhyme in a poem, typically indicated with letters. For example, an “abab” rhyme scheme would mean that the first line rhymes with the third and the second line rhymes with the fourth.
Sometimes too hot the eye of heaven shines
and often is his gold complexion dimmed
and every fair from fair sometimes declines
by chance or nature’s unchanging course untrimmed (William Shakespeare, “Sonnet 18”)
There’s a new kid on the block
Stanza is a group of lines that form a unit. For example, a Shakespearian sonnet is made up of three quatrains and one couplet. Stanzas are sometimes, but not always, divided by an extra line space. The following are common forms of stanzas but poets often use others.
and, boy, that kid is tough.
That new kid punches hard
That new kid plays real rough. (Jack Prelutsky, “The New Kid on the Block”)
- Couplet: two-line stanza
- Quatrain: four-line stanza
- Octave: eight-line stanza
Simile is when one thing is likened to another using the words “like” or “as.”
Ex. My love is like a red red rose that’s newly sprung in June (Robert Burns, “Red Rose”)
Symbolism is the use of an object to represent an idea.
Ex. Dr. Seus (The Lorax) uses The Onceler—a character driven by greed who cuts down all the truffula trees to make thneeds—to symbolize industrialized America.