A word spelled out by rearranging the letters of another word; for example, “The teacher gapes at the mounds of exam pages lying before her.”
A popular narrative song passed down orally. In the English tradition, it usually follows a form of rhymed (abcb) quatrains alternating four-stress and three-stress lines. Folk (or traditional) ballads are anonymous and recount tragic, comic, or heroic stories with emphasis on a central dramatic event; examples include “Barbara Allen” and “John Henry.” Beginning in the Renaissance, poets have adapted the conventions of the folk ballad for their own original compositions. Examples of this “literary” ballad form include John Keats’s “La Belle Dame sans Merci,” Thomas Hardy’s “During Wind and Rain,” and Edgar Allan Poe’s “Annabel Lee.” Browse more ballads.
A long subsection of an epic or long narrative poem, such as Dante Alighieri’s Commedia (The Divine Comedy), first employed in English by Edmund Spenser in The Faerie Queene. Other examples include Lord Byron’s Don Juan and Ezra Pound’s Cantos.
A pair of successive rhyming lines, usually of the same length. A couplet is “closed” when the lines form a bounded grammatical unit like a sentence (see Dorothy Parker’s “Interview”: “The ladies men admire, I’ve heard, /Would shudder at a wicked word.”). The “heroic couplet” is written in iambic pentameter and features prominently in the work of 17th- and 18th-century didactic and satirical poets such as Alexander Pope: “Some have at first for wits, then poets pass’d, /Turn’d critics next, and proved plain fools at last.” Browse more couplet poems.
A brief hymn or song of lamentation and grief; it was typically composed to be performed at a funeral. In lyric poetry, a dirge tends to be shorter and less meditative than an elegy. See Christina Rossetti’s “A Dirge” and Sir Philip Sidney’s “Ring Out Your Bells.”
A poem in which an imagined speaker addresses a silent listener, usually not the reader. Examples include Robert Browning’s “My Last Duchess,” T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” and Ai’s “Killing Floor.” A lyric may also be addressed to someone, but it is short and songlike and may appear to address either the reader or the poet. Browse more dramatic monologue poems.
In traditional English poetry, it is often a melancholy poem that laments its subject’s death but ends in consolation. Examples include John Milton’s “Lycidas”; Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s “In Memoriam”; and Walt Whitman’s “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d.” More recently, Peter Sacks has elegized his father in “Natal Command,” and Mary Jo Bang has written “You Were You Are Elegy” and other poems for her son. In the 18th century the “elegiac stanza” emerged, though its use has not been exclusive to elegies. It is a quatrain with the rhyme scheme ABAB written in iambic pentameter. Browse more elegies.
A long narrative poem in which a heroic protagonist engages in an action of great mythic or historical significance. Notable English epics include Beowulf, Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene (which follows the virtuous exploits of 12 knights in the service of the mythical King Arthur), and John Milton’s Paradise Lost, which dramatizes Satan’s fall from Heaven and humankind’s subsequent alienation from God in the Garden of Eden. Browse more epics.
A pithy, often witty, poem. See Walter Savage Landor’s “Dirce,” [link to archived poem] Ben Jonson’s “On Gut,” [link to archived poem] or much of the work of J.V. Cunningham [link to poet page]:
This Humanist whom no beliefs constrained
Grew so broad-minded he was scatter-brained.
A letter in verse, usually addressed to a person close to the writer. Its themes may be moral and philosophical, or intimate and sentimental. Alexander Pope favored the form; see his “Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot,” in which the poet addresses a physician in his social circle. The epistle peaked in popularity in the 18th century, though Lord Byron and Robert Browning composed several in the next century; see Byron’s “Epistle to Augusta.” Less formal, more conversational versions of the epistle can be found in contemporary lyric poetry; see Hayden Carruth’s “The Afterlife: Letter to Sam Hamill” or “Dear Mr. Fanelli” by Charles Bernstein. Browse more epistles.
A short poem intended for (or imagined as) an inscription on a tombstone and often serving as a brief elegy. See Robert Herrick’s “Upon a Child That Died” and “Upon Ben Jonson”; Ben Jonson’s “Epitaph on Elizabeth, L. H.”; and “Epitaph for a Romantic Woman” by Louise Bogan.
Fixed and unfixed forms
Poems that have a set number of lines, rhymes, and/or metrical arrangements per line. Browse all terms related to forms, including alcaics, alexandrine, aubade, ballad, ballade, carol, concrete poetry, double dactyl, dramatic monologue, eclogue, elegy, epic, epistle, epithalamion, free verse, haiku, heroic couplet, limerick, madrigal, mock epic, ode, ottava rima, pastoral, quatrain, renga, rondeau, rondel, sestina, sonnet, Spenserian stanza, tanka, tercet, terza rima, and villanelle
Nonmetrical, nonrhyming lines that closely follow the natural rhythms of speech. A regular pattern of sound or rhythm may emerge in free-verse lines, but the poet does not adhere to a metrical plan in their composition. Matthew Arnold and Walt Whitman explored the possibilities of nonmetrical poetry in the 19th century. Since the early 20th century, the majority of published lyric poetry has been written in free verse. See the work of William Carlos Williams, T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, and H.D. Browse more free-verse poems.
Any poem expressing deep grief, usually at the death of a loved one or some other loss. Related to elegy and the dirge. See “A Lament” by Percy Bysshe Shelley; Thom Gunn’s “Lament”; and Edna St. Vincent Millay’s “Lament.”
Whimsical poems taking forms such as limericks, nonsense poems, and double dactyls. See Edward Lear’s “The Owl and the Pussy-Cat” and Lewis Carroll’s “The Walrus and the Carpenter.” Other masters of light verse include Dorothy Parker, G.K. Chesterton, John Hollander, and Wendy Cope.
A fixed light-verse form of five generally anapestic lines rhyming AABBA. Edward Lear, who popularized the form, fused the third and fourth lines into a single line with internal rhyme. Limericks are traditionally bawdy or just irreverent; see “A Young Lady of Lynn” or Lear’s “There was an Old Man with a Beard.” Browse more limericks.
Originally a composition meant for musical accompaniment. The term refers to a short poem in which the poet, the poet’s persona, or another speaker expresses personal feelings. See Robert Herrick’s “To Anthea, who May Command Him Anything,” John Clare’s “I Hid My Love,” Louise Bogan’s “Song for the Last Act,” or Louise Glück’s “Vita Nova.”
A poem that plays with the conventions of the epic to comment on a topic satirically. In “Mac Flecknoe,” John Dryden wittily flaunts his mastery of the epic genre to cut down a literary rival. Alexander Pope’s “The Rape of the Lock” recasts a petty high-society scandal as a mythological battle for the virtue of an innocent.
A poem written to describe or comment on a particular event and often written for a public reading. Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s “The Charge of the Light Brigade” commemorates a disastrous battle in the Crimean War. George Starbuck wrote “Of Late” after reading a newspaper account of a Vietnam War protester’s suicide. Elizabeth Alexander’s “Praise Song for the Day” was written for the inauguration of President Barack Obama. See also elegy, epithalamion, and ode.
A formal, often ceremonious lyric poem that addresses and often celebrates a person, place, thing, or idea. Its stanza forms vary. The Greek or Pindaric (Pindar, ca. 552–442 B.C.E.) ode was a public poem, usually set to music, that celebrated athletic victories. (See Stephen Burt’s article “And the Winner Is . . . Pindar!”) English odes written in the Pindaric tradition include Thomas Gray’s “The Progress of Poesy: A Pindaric Ode” and William Wordsworth’s “Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Reflections of Early Childhood.” Horatian odes, after the Latin poet Horace (65–8 B.C.E.), were written in quatrains in a more philosophical, contemplative manner; see Andrew Marvell’s “Horatian Ode upon Cromwell’s Return from Ireland.” The Sapphic ode consists of quatrains, three 11-syllable lines, and a final five-syllable line, unrhyming but with a strict meter. See Algernon Charles Swinburne’s “Sapphics.”
The odes of the English Romantic poets vary in stanza form. They often address an intense emotion at the onset of a personal crisis (see Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “Dejection: An Ode,”) or celebrate an object or image that leads to revelation (see John Keats’s “Ode on a Grecian Urn,” “Ode to a Nightingale,” and “To Autumn”). Browse more odes.
A poem of effusive praise. Its origins are Greek, and it is closely related to the eulogy and the ode. See Ben Jonson’s “To the Memory of My Beloved the Author, Mr. William Shakespeare” or Anne Bradstreet’s “In Honor of That High and Mighty Princess, Queen Elizabeth.”
Verse in the tradition of Theocritus (3 BCE), who wrote idealized accounts of shepherds and their loves living simple, virtuous lives in Arcadia, a mountainous region of Greece. 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, as in Edmund Spenser’s The Shepheardes Calendar, Christopher Marlowe’s “The Passionate Shepherd to His Love,” and Sir Walter Ralegh’s response, “The Nymph’s Reply to the Shepherd.” The pastoral poem faded after the European Industrial Revolution of the 18th century, but its themes persist in poems that romanticize rural life or reappraise the natural world; see Leonie Adams’s “Country Summer,” Dylan Thomas’s “Fern Hill,” or Allen Ginsberg’s “Wales Visitation.” Browse more pastoral poems.
A prose composition that, while not broken into verse lines, demonstrates other traits such as symbols, metaphors, and other figures of speech common to poetry. See Amy Lowell’s “Bath,” “Metals Metals” by Russell Edson, “Information” by David Ignatow, and Harryette Mullen’s “[Kills bugs dead.]” Browse more prose poems.
A four-line stanza, rhyming
-ABAC or ABCB (known as unbounded or ballad quatrain), as in Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.”
-AABB (a double couplet); see A.E. Housman’s “To an Athlete Dying Young.”
-ABAB (known as interlaced, alternate, or heroic), as in Thomas Gray’s “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard” or “Sadie and Maud” by Gwendolyn Brooks.
-ABBA (known as envelope or enclosed), as in Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s “In Memoriam” or John Ciardi’s “Most Like an Arch This Marriage.”
-AABA, the stanza of Robert Frost’s “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.”
A phrase or line repeated at intervals within a poem, especially at the end of a stanza. See the refrain “jump back, honey, jump back” in Paul Lawrence Dunbar’s “A Negro Love Song” or “return and return again” in James Laughlin’s “O Best of All Nights, Return and Return Again.” Browse poems with a refrain.
French in origin, a genre of long narrative poetry about medieval courtly culture and secret love. It triumphed in English with tales of chivalry such as Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and Geoffrey Chaucer’s “The Knight’s Tale” and Troilus and Criseyde.
A 14-line poem with a variable rhyme scheme originating in Italy and brought to England by Sir Thomas Wyatt and Henry Howard, earl of Surrey in the 16th century. Literally a “little song,” the sonnet traditionally reflects upon a single sentiment, with a clarification or “turn” of thought in its concluding lines.
The Petrarchan sonnet, perfected by the Italian poet Petrarch, divides the 14 lines into two sections: an eight-line stanza (octave) rhyming ABBAABBA, and a six-line stanza (sestet) rhyming CDCDCD or CDEEDE. John Milton’s “When I Consider How my Light Is Spent” and Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s “How Do I Love Thee” employ this form.
The Italian sonnet is an English variation on the traditional Petrarchan version. The octave’s rhyme scheme is preserved, but the sestet rhymes CDDCEE. See Thomas Wyatt’s “Whoso List to Hunt, I Know Where Is an Hind” and John Donne’s “If Poisonous Minerals, and If That Tree.”
Wyatt and Surrey developed the English (or Shakespearean) sonnet, which condenses the 14 lines into one stanza of three quatrains and a concluding couplet, with a rhyme scheme of ABABCDCDEFEFGG (though poets have frequently varied this scheme; see Wilfred Owen’s “Anthem for Doomed Youth”). George Herbert’s “Love (II),” Claude McKay’s “America,” and Molly Peacock’s “Altruism” are English sonnets.
These three types have given rise to many variations, including:
-The caudate sonnet, which adds codas or tails to the 14-line poem. See Gerard Manley Hopkins’s “That Nature Is a Heraclitean Fire.”
-The curtal sonnet, a shortened version devised by Gerard Manley Hopkins that maintains the proportions of the Italian form, substituting two six-stress tercets for two quatrains in the octave (rhyming ABC ABC), and four and a half lines for the sestet (rhyming DEBDE), also six-stress except for the final three-stress line. See his poem “Pied Beauty.”
-The sonnet redoublé, also known as a crown of sonnets, is composed of 15 sonnets that are linked by the repetition of the final line of one sonnet as the initial line of the next, and the final line of that sonnet as the initial line of the previous; the last sonnet consists of all the repeated lines of the previous 14 sonnets, in the same order in which they appeared. Marilyn Nelson’s A Wreath for Emmett Till is a contemporary example.
-A sonnet sequence is a group of sonnets sharing the same subject matter and sometimes a dramatic situation and persona. See George Meredith’s Modern Love sequence, Sir Philip Sidney’s Astrophel and Stella, Rupert Brooke’s 1914 sequence, and Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Sonnets from the Portuguese.
-The Spenserian sonnet is a 14-line poem developed by Edmund Spenser in his Amoretti, that varies the English form by interlocking the three quatrains (ABAB BCBC CDCD EE).
-The stretched sonnet is extended to 16 or more lines, such as those in George Meredith’s sequence Modern Love.
-A submerged sonnet is tucked into a longer poetic work; see lines 235-48 of T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land.”
Poetry whose meter is determined by the total number of syllables per line, rather than the number of stresses. Marianne Moore’s poetry is mostly syllabic. Other examples include Thomas Nashe’s “Adieu, farewell earth’s bliss” and Dylan Thomas’s “Poem in October.” Browse more poems in syllabic verse.
A poetic unit of three lines, rhymed or unrhymed. Thomas Hardy’s “The Convergence of the Twain” rhymes AAA BBB; Ben Jonson’s “On Spies” is a three-line poem rhyming AAA; and Percy Bysshe Shelley’s “Ode to the West Wind” is written in terza rima form. Examples of poems in unrhymed tercets include Wallace Stevens’s “The Snow Man” and David Wagoner’s “For a Student Sleeping in a Poetry Workshop.”
As a mass noun, poetry in general; as a regular noun, a line of poetry. Typically used to refer to poetry that possesses more formal qualities.
A group of verse lines that make up a single rhetorical unit. In longer poems, the first line is often indented, like a paragraph in prose. The long narrative passages of John Milton’s Paradise Lost are verse paragraphs. The titled sections of Robert Pinsky’s “Essay on Psychiatrists” demarcate shifts in focus and argument much as prose paragraphs would. A shorter lyric poem, even when broken into stanzas, could be considered a single verse paragraph, insofar as it expresses a unified mood or thought; see Gail Mazur’s “Evening.”