Subject Material

Poetry Vocabulary List

Published: 15.09.2010, Updated: 18.06.2013
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What is Poetry?

Poetry is a compressed form of literature containing words with different layers of meaning. In order to stir emotions various literary devices are used. It may be traditional (with fixed rhyme and rhythm schemes and grammar and syntax) or modern (experimenting with new devices). A poem usually consists of a stanza that is composed of at least one line (verse).

Look at this example from Seamus Heaney’s poem “Digging” from 1966:

“Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests; as snug as a gun.” (one stanza, two lines)

Sound

    Sound

  1. Assonance: a repetition of one particular vowel/sound or group of vowels/sounds.
    Here is an example from a rap song called “Hold Ya Head” by Tupac Shakur:
    “Expose foes, with my hocus pocus flows/They froze/Now suckas idealize my chosen blows”
  2. Alliteration: a repetition of one particular consonant/sound.
    Let’s look at  a line from Robert Burn’s old love poem from 1794: “O, my Luve's like a red, red rose..”
  3. Onomatopoeia: when sounds are imitated.
    Take a look at  these lines from Alfred Tennyson’s poem “Come down, O Maid”: “The moan of doves in immemorial elms,/And murmuring of innumerable bees.”
  4. Rhyme: when similar sounds are repeated in different words. There are many types of rhymes.
    Look at these examples of the most common rhyme schemes:
    From a nursery rhyme (end rhyme)

    Rain rain go away,
    Come again another day.
    Little Johnny wants to play…

    Study the three opening lines from Robert Frost’s poem The Road Not Taken from 1915 (cross rhyme)

    “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
    And sorry I could not travel both
    And be one traveler, long I stood”

  5. Rhythm: Rhythm is found in all speech. If you clap your name, you’ll discover how many syllables it contains. The name “Eminem” contains 3 claps. The American poet Ron Padgett compares rhythm in writing to the beat in music.
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Figures of Speech

Figures of Speech

  1. Similes: comparisons often containing the explicit words “like” or “as”. A further look on Robert Burn’s poem (above) reveals an extensive use of similes:

    “O, my Luve's like a red, red rose,
    That's newly sprung in June.
    O, my Luve's like a melodie
    That's sweetly play'd in tune.”

  2. Metaphors: do NOT contain explicit comparison words, but are still comparisons. In poetry pictures are painted with word art. In his poem “Democracy” from 1949 Langston Hughes compares freedom with a seed.

    “Freedom
    Is a strong seed
    Planted
    In a great need.”

  3. Symbols: Whereas metaphors and similes are used to make comparisons, symbols are used to represent qualities and values, or they are something in themselves. Objects that are loaded with meanings are crosses, rings and hearts. What do you associate with a tiger? Take a look at this stanza from “The Tyger” by William Blake (1794):

    “Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
    In the forests of the night,
    What immortal hand or eye
    Could frame thy fearful symmetry?”

  4. Allusions: a literary device that makes a reference to or represents an event, a myth, a place, a famous person or literary or religious texts or art. The artist leaves it to the reader to make the connection. In the lyrics of his song “I Can” Nasir Jones makes an allusion to a famous person/event:
    “You can host the TV like Oprah Winfrey”
  5. Repetition: is used to emphasise something essential.  You may study the “I Can” lyrics further: “I know I can, (I know I can), Be what I wanna be (be what I wanna be), if I work hard at it (if I work hard at it), I’ll be where I wanna be (I’ll be where I wanna be)”
  6. Personification – is a kind of metaphor (look above) that attributes human abilities and qualities to inanimate objects or abstractions. This is an example from Emily Dickinson’s poem “The Train”:

    "I like to see it lap the miles,
    And lick the valleys up,
    And stop to feed itself at tanks;"

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Diction

Diction

The choice of words according to the tone and mood of the poem. The poet has to consider the word’s denotation (the literal meaning of the word) and its connotation (the feeling, thoughts and ideas aroused by the word).

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Theme

Theme

What a poem basically is about or the statement the poem or the poet makes about a certain subject.

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