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Poetry. Poetry Terms and Poetic Forms. Basic Poetry Terms. Foot : A metrical unit composed of stressed and unstressed syllables. Example: Whose woods these are I think I know. (Frost)– contains four iambic feet Meter : The rhythmic pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables in a poem.

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Poetry Terms and Poetic Forms

basic poetry terms
Basic Poetry Terms
  • Foot: A metrical unit composed of stressed and unstressed syllables.
    • Example: Whose woods these are I think I know. (Frost)– contains four iambic feet
  • Meter: The rhythmic pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables in a poem.
  • Rhyme: The matching of final vowel or consonant sounds in two or more lines.
  • Rhythm: The recurrence of accent or stress in lines of verse.
  • Caesura: A strong pause in lines of verse.
    • Example: He thought he'd 'list, perhaps, Off-hand-like--just as I-- Was out of work-had sold his traps-- No other reason why. (Hardy)
  • Enjambment: A phrase, clause, or sentence which runs from one line to the next.
    • Example: That's my last Duchess painted on the wall, Looking as if she were alive. I call That piece a wonder, now.... (Browning)
  • End stopped lines: A phrase, clause, or sentence which is completed on one line.
    • Example: Whose woods these are I think I know. His house is in the village though. (Frost)
stanza forms
Stanza Forms
  • Stanza: A division or unit within a poem.
  • Sestet: A six-line stanza in a poem; the last six lines of an Italian sonnet.
  • Tercet: A three-line stanza in a poem; joined together, tercets can constitute the sestets in Italian or Petrarchan sonnets.
  • Couplet: A pair of lined rhymes that may or may not constitute a separate stanza in a poem. Shakespearean sonnets end in couplets.
  • Octave: An eight-line stanza in a poem; often found in sonnets.
  • Quatrain: A four-line stanza; the first two stanzas in a Petrarchan sonnet, and the first three stanzas of a Shakespearean sonnet.
feet types
Feet Types
  • Anapest: Two unaccented syllables followed by an accented syllable. ( x x / )
    • Example: “And the sheen of their spears was like stars on the sea.” (Byron)
  • Dactyl: A stressed syllable followed by two unstressed syllables. ( / x x )
    • Example: “Just for a handful of silver he left us.” (Browning)
  • Spondee: Two stressed syllables. ( / / )
    • Example: Knick-knack
  • Trochee: A stressed syllable followed by an unstressed syllable. ( / x )
    • Example: Football
  • Iamb: An unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable. ( x / )
    • Example: Today
  • Pyrrhic: Two unstressed syllables. ( x x )
    • Example: Of the
two important verse styles
Two Important Verse Styles

Blank Verse

Free Verse

  • Defined as unrhymed iambic pentameter.
  • Example:

When I see birches bend to left and right

Across the lines of straighter darker trees,

I like to think some boy's been swinging them.

But swinging doesn't bend them down to stay.

Ice-storms do that. Often you must have seen them

Loaded with ice a sunny winter morning

After a rain. They click upon themselves

As the breeze rises, and turn many-colored

As the stir cracks and crazes their enamel.


  • Poetry without regular rhyme or meter.
  • Example:

I have eaten

the plums

that were in

the icebox

and which

you were probably


for breakfast

Forgive me

they were delicious

so sweet

and so cold (Williams)



An old pond!

A frog jumps in–

the sound of water. (Basho)

Japanese form of poetry

Three lines of poetry

17 syllables, in a 5/7/5 pattern

The haiku emphasizes simplicity, intensity, and directness of expression; it focuses on one moment of time.

Often focuses on images in nature

italian petrarchan sonnet
Italian (Petrarchan) Sonnet

Example: "London, 1802“ (Wordsworth)

Milton! thou shouldst be living at this hour:

England hath need of thee: she is a fen

Of stagnant waters: altar, sword, and pen,

Fireside, the heroic wealth of hall and bower,

Have forfeited their ancient English dower

Of inward happiness. We are selfish men;

Oh! raise us up, return to us again;

And give us manners, virtue, freedom, power.

Thy soul was like a Star, and dwelt apart;

Thou hadst a voice whose sound was like the sea:

Pure as the naked heavens, majestic, free,

So didst thou travel on life's common way,

In cheerful godliness; and yet thy heart

The lowliest duties on herself did lay.

Like the Shakespearean sonnets, Italian sonnets are fourteen lines written in iambic pentameter (five iambs per line).

The first octave rhymes in this pattern:


The final sestet rhymes in this pattern, although it was much more flexible than the rhyme pattern of the octave:

c d c d c dc d d c d cc d e c d ec d e c e dc d c e d c

-The sestet cannot contain a final couplet, as couplets were expressly forbidden in Italian poetry.

-The octave and sestet are set apart by a “volta,” or turn, in that the mood or content changes.

shakespearean sonnet
Shakespearean Sonnet

Example: Sonnet 138 (Shakespeare)

When my love swears that she is made of truth,

I do believe her (though I know she lies)

That she might think me some untutored youth,

Unskillful in the world’s false forgeries.

Thus, vainly thinking that she thinks me young,

Although I know my years be past the best,

I, smiling, credit her false-speaking tongue,

Outfacing faults in love, with love’s ill rest.

But wherefore says my love that she is young?

And wherefore say not I, that I am old?

O, love’s best habit's in a soothing tongue,

And age in love loves not to have years told.

   Therefore I'll lie with love, and love, with me,

   Since that our faults in love thus smothered be.

Fourteen line poem written in iambic pentameter.

Consisted of three quatrains and a final couplet with the following rhyme scheme:





The volta often occurs after the second quatrain or even at the couplet.

spenserian sonnet
Spenserian Sonnet

Example: Sonnet 75 (Spenser)

One day I wrote her name upon the strand,

But came the waves and washed it away:

Again I wrote it with a second hand,

But came the tide, and made my pains his prey.

Vain man, said she, that dost in vain assay

A mortal thing so to immortalize!

For I myself shall like to this decay,

And eek my name be wiped out likewise.

Not so (quoth I), let baser things devise

To die in dust, but you shall live by fame:

My verse your virtues rare shall eternize,

And in the heavens write your glorious name;

Where, when as death shall all the world subdue,

Our love shall live, and later life renew.

Invented by Edmund Spenser, originating in his major work The Faerie Queen.

Consisted of three quatrains and a final couplet with the following rhyme scheme:





Unlike most other sonnets, where the volta occurs at Line 9 (after the second quatrain), Spenserian sonnets’ voltas occur at the couplet; the first three quatrains develop similar ideas, while the couplet delivers the necessary shift or epiphany.

terza rima

Example: “Ode to the West Wind” (Shelley)*

O wild West Wind, thou breath of Autumn's being,

Thou, from whose unseen presence the leaves dead

Are driven, like ghosts from an enchanter fleeing,

Yellow, and black, and pale, and hectic red,

Pestilence-stricken multitudes: O thou,

Who chariotest to their dark wintry bed

The wingèd seeds, where they lie cold and low,

Each like a corpse within its grave, until

Thine azure sister of the Spring shall blow

Her clarion o'er the dreaming earth, and fill

(Driving sweet buds like flocks to feed in air)

With living hues and odours plain and hill:

Wild Spirit, which art moving everywhere;

Destroyer and Preserver; hear, O hear!

* Shelley’s ode “Ode to the West Wind” is written in five terzarima sonnets.

- Invented by Italian poet Dante Alighieri in his three-part epic The Divine Comedy

- A poetic form in which tercets are woven together by rhyme. The end word of the second line in the first tercet will provide the first line and third line rhyme in the second tercet (and so on).

- Typically written in iambic line, and in English, in iambic pentameter.

There is no limit to the number of terzarima stanzas, though some poets have created a terzarima sonnet.

Twentieth century poets who employ terzarima often use slant or near rhyme.


Example: “Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night” (Thomas)

Do not go gentle into that good night, 

Old age should burn and rage at close of day; 

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right, 

Because their words had forked no lightning they 

Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright 

Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay, 

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight, 

And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way, 

Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight 

Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay, 

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height, 

Curse, bless me now with your fierce tears, I pray. 

Do not go gentle into that good night. 

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

A nineteen line poem composed of five tercets and a closing quatrain following this rhyme scheme:


-Usually written in iambic timeter, pentameter, or tetrameter.

Often covered themes of love, loss, or personal challenge.

The villanelle, considered a modern classic, uses repeating lines and refrains; the first and third lines of the poem compose the final couplet of the poem.

The third line of the first tercet rhymes with the first line of the next tercet, creating a repetitive rhyme between the first and third lines of every stanza.

  • An extremely complex thirty-nine line poem.
  • Originated with troubadours of the twelfth century who praised courtly love.
  • In modern use, the sestina has no strict syllabic pattern, though it did start with syllabic consistency.
  • Follows a strict pattern of repetition of the first six end words of the poem. A sestet ends in a three line envoi.
  • The end word stanza pattern is as follows, with each letter representing a whole word:
  • 1. ABCDEF2. FAEBDC3. CFDABE4. ECBFAD5. DEACFB6. BDFECA7. (envoi) ECA or ACE * The envoi must also include the remaining three words, BDF, so that all six words are used in the last three lines.

Sestina (Elizabeth Bishop)

September rain falls on the house.

In the failing light, the old grandmother

sits in the kitchen with the child

beside the Little Marvel Stove,

reading the jokes from the almanac,

laughing and talking to hide her tears.

She thinks that her equinoctial tears

and the rain that beats on the roof of the house 

were both foretold by the almanac,

but only known to a grandmother.

The iron kettle sings on the stove.

She cuts some bread and says to the child,

It's time for tea now; but the child

is watching the teakettle's small hard tears

dance like mad on the hot black stove,

the way the rain must dance on the house.

Tidying up, the old grandmother

hangs up the clever almanac

on its string. Birdlike, the almanac

hovers half open above the child,

hovers above the old grandmother

and her teacup full of dark brown tears.

She shivers and says she thinks the house

feels chilly, and puts more wood in the stove.

It was to be, says the Marvel Stove.

I know what I know, says the almanac.

With crayons the child draws a rigid house

and a winding pathway. Then the child

puts in a man with buttons like tears

and shows it proudly to the grandmother.

But secretly, while the grandmother

busies herself about the stove,

the little moons fall down like tears

from between the pages of the almanac

into the flower bed the child

has carefully placed in the front of the house.

Time to plant tears, says the almanac.

The grandmother sings to the marvelous stove

and the child draws another inscrutable house. 

  • Though similar in function to the ode, epitaph, and eulogy, the elegy has a different role in poetry. The ode solely praises, the epitaph is very short, and a eulogy is in formal prose.
  • The elegy responds to the death of a person and goes through three stages of loss: Lament; Praise; and Consolation, or solace.
  • Originated with a formal Greek metrical pattern, but is more flexible in its modern usage.

“O Captain! My Captain” (Walt Whitman)

O Captain! my Captain! our fearful trip is done, The ship has weather'd every rack,

the prize we sought is won, The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,

While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring; But O heart! heart! heart!

O the bleeding drops of red, Where on the deck my Captain lies, Fallen cold and dead.

O Captain! my Captain! rise up and hear the bells; Rise up- for you the flag is flung- for

you the bugle trills,

For you bouquets and ribbon'd wreaths- for you the shores


For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning;

Here Captain! dear father!

This arm beneath your head! It is some dream that on the deck,

You've fallen cold and dead.

My Captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still,

My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse nor will,

The ship is anchor'd safe and sound, its voyage closed and done,

From fearful trip the victor ship comes in with object won;

Exult O shores, and ring O bells!

But I with mournful tread,

Walk the deck my Captain lies,

Fallen cold and dead.

that s not all
That’s not all!

There are tons more! For more information go to these sites: