AP Literature Poetry Forms & Terms

Ballad
Popular narrative song passed down orally. Follows a form of rhymed (ABCB) quatrains alternating four-stress and three-stress lines. Folk ballads are anonymous and recount tragic, comic, or heroic stories.

Blank Verse
Unrhyming iambic pentameter, also called heroic verse

Elegy
Often a melancholy poem (deals with death) that laments its subject’s death but ends in consolation

Epic
Long poem, typically derived from oral tradition, narrating the deeds and adventures of heroic or legendary figures

Free Verse
Nonmetrical, nonrhyming lines that closely follow the natural rhythms of speech. A regular pattern of sound of rhythm may emerge in free verse lines, but the poet does not adhere t a metrical plan in their composition

Lyric
a short poem of songlike quality that is also very personal

Narrative
Poetry that has a plot. The poems that make up this genre may be short or long

Ode
Formal often ceremonious lyric poem tat addresses and often celebrates a person, place, thing or idea. Stanza forms vary

Pastoral
Poets writing in English drew on the pastoral tradition by retreating from the trappings of modernity to the imagined virtues and romance of rural life. Its themes persist in poems that romanticize rural life or reappraise the natural world.

Sonnet
A 14-line poem with a variable rhyme scheme. Literally a “little song,” the sonnet traditionally reflects upon a single sentiment, with a clarification or “turn” of thought in its concluding lines.

Verse
single metrical line in a poetic composition

Alliteration
The repetition of initial stressed, consonant sounds in a series of words within a phrase or verse line. Alliteration need not reuse all initial consonants

Allusion
A figure of speech that refers to something likely to be familiar to readers because of their knowledge of history, literature, or popular culture. Allusions are efficient communication because good readers can turn a single reference into an extended idea. Allusions are made to the Bible, nursery rhymes, myths, famous fictional or historical characters or events, and Shakespeare. They can be used in prose and poetry. Here is an example: “Christy didn’t like to spend money. She was no Scrooge, but she seldom purchased anything except the bare necessities.

Anapest
A metrical foot consisting of two short or unstressed syllables followed by one long or stressed syllable.

Antithesis
Juxtaposition of two words, phrases, clauses, or sentences contrasted or opposed in meaning in such a way as to give emphasis to contrasting ideas. An example of antithesis is the following line by the English poet Alexander Pope: “To err is human, to forgive divine.”

Apostrophe
rhetorical term for breaking off discourse to address some absent person or thing. “Oh, Death, be not proud.”

Archetype
Images, patterns, or symbols that are part of our collective unconscious as human beings. Archetypal images are stronger and more durable than stereotypes

Assonance
The repetition of vowel sounds without repeating consonants; sometimes called vowel rhyme.

Caesura
pause near the middle of a line

Conceit
An elaborate, usually intellectually ingenious poetic comparison or image, such as an analogy or metaphor, in which one’s lover, say, is compared to a ship, a planet, etc. The comparison may be brief or extended

Connotation
idea or feeling that a word invokes for a person in addition to its literal or primary meaning

Couplet
A pair of successive rhyming lines, usually of the same length

Denotation
literal or primary meaning of a word

Diction
An author’s choice of words. Since words have specific meanings, and since one’s choice of words can affect feelings, a writer’s choice of words can have great impact in a literary work

Enjambment
continuation of a sentence or clause over a line-break

Envoy
short closing stanza in certain verse forms summarizing its main ideas

Female Rhyme
similarity in sound between the last two syllables of a word or verse; occurs in a final unstressed syllable: pleasure/leisure, longing/yearning

Figurative Language
Intentional use of language in such a way that additional meanings are given to what would be expected in standard usage. Metaphor, simile, hyperbole, symbol, pun, personification, analogy, allegory, allusion and other figures of speech are based on multiple meanings.

Foot
Unit of metrical pattern in poetry; The five most common types of foot in English poetry are iamb (v -), trochee (- v), dactyl (- vv), spondee ( — ), and anapest (vv -); the symbol v stands for an unstressed syllable and – for a stressed one.

Hyperbole
figure of speech in which exaggeration is used for emphasis or effect, as in “I could sleep for a year”

Iamb
metrical foot consisting of one short (or unstressed) syllable followed by one long (or stressed) syllable.

Iambic Pentameter
rhythmical pattern of syllables. The iambic part means that the rhythm goes from an unstressed syllable to a stressed one, as happens in words like divine, caress, bizarre, and delight. It sounds sort of like a heartbeat: daDUM, daDUM, daDUM. Each iambic unit is called a foot (the term foot is also applied to other rhythmical units, such as trochaic [DUMda], dactyllic [DUMdada], and anapestic [dadaDUM]). The pentameter part means that this iambic rhythm is repeated five times, or has five feet: daDUM daDUM daDUM daDUM daDUM[da]

Idiom
A group of words established by usage as having a meaning not deducible from those of the individual words (e.g., raining cats and dogs); form of expression natural to a language, person, or group of people

Imagery
A word or group of words in a literary work which appeal to one or more of the senses: sight, taste, touch, hearing, and smell. The use of images serves to intensify the impact of the work
Irony: mode of expression, through words (verbal irony) or events (irony of situation), conveying a reality different from and usually opposite to appearance or expectation. A writer may say the opposite of what he means, create a reversal between expectation and its fulfillment, or in drama, give the audience knowledge that a character lacks, making the character’s words have meaning to the audience not perceived by the character.

Metaphor
A comparison that is made without pointing out a similarity by using words such as “like,” “as,” or “than.”

Meter
exact arrangements of syllables into repeated patterns called feet within a line

Dimeter
two feet

Trimeter
three feet

tetrameter
four feet

pentameter
five feet

hexameter
six feet

hepatmeter
seven feet

octameter
eight feet

Mood
The atmosphere or feeling created by a literary work, partly by a description of the objects or by the style of the descriptions. A work may contain a mood of horror, mystery, holiness, or childlike simplicity, to name a few, depending on the author’s treatment of the work. Not to be confused with tone, which is one quality of a speaker or narrator’s voice.

Paradox
Statement or sentiment that appears contradictory to common sense yet is true in fact. Example of paradox would be the phrase “a well-known secret agent.” An oxymoron is a more specific term for a rhetorical contradictory pairing such as “deafening silence” or “benevolent dictator.

Personification
The giving of human characteristics to something that is not human

Refrain
A phrase or line repeated at intervals within a poem, especially at the end of a stanza.

Rhyme Scheme
The pattern of rhyme used in a poem, generally indicated by matching lowercase letters to show which lines rhyme.

Simile
A comparison made with “as,” “like,” or “than”

Sound Device
A method of utilizing sound in poetry to underscore or create meaning: end rhyme, internal rhyme, slant rhyme, alliteration, repetition, refrain, onomatopoeia, assonance, consonance… each is based on some phonological aspects such as alliteration (the repetition of initial consonants), assonance (the repetition of vowels), rhyme (the repeating of suffix sounds), and rhythm and cadence (the patterning of sounds).

Stanza
two or more lines of poetry that together form one of the divisions of a poem. The stanzas of a poem are usually of the same length and follow the same pattern of meter and rhyme and are used like paragraphs in a story

Stress
emphasis that falls on certain syllables and not others; the arrangement of stresses within a poem is the foundation of poetic rhythm

Tone
The author or narrator’s attitude toward the subject and/or the readers, expressed primarily through his or her tone of voice

Quatrain
Stanzas of four lines which can be written in any rhyme scheme

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