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English 12. Literary Terms. Literary Terms. Allegory: An extended narrative in prose or verse in which characters, events, and settings represent abstract qualities where the writer intends a second meaning to be read beneath the surface story

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English 12

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english 12

English 12

Literary Terms

literary terms
Literary Terms
  • Allegory: An extended narrative in prose or verse in which characters, events, and settings represent abstract qualities where the writer intends a second meaning to be read beneath the surface story
  • Eg. The Faerie Queen by Edmund Spenser(written in 1590)
      • Spenser only completed half of The Faerie Queene he planned. In a letter to Sir John Walter Raleigh, he explained the purpose and structure of the poem. It is an allegory, a story whose characters and events nearly all have a specific symbolic meaning. The poem's setting is a mythical "Faerie land," ruled by the Faerie Queene. Spenser sets forth in the letter that this "Queene" represents his own monarch, Queen Elizabeth.
Allusion: A passing reference to historical of fictional character, places, or events, or to other works that the writer assumes the reader will recognize.
  • Eg. Bible:
    • From HAMLET by William Shakespeare

O, my offence is rank it smells to heaven;It hath the primal eldest curse upon't,A brother's murder. Pray can I not,Though inclination be as sharp as will:My stronger guilt defeats my strong intent;And, like a man to double business bound,I stand in pause where I shall first begin,And both neglect. What if this cursed handWere thicker than itself with brother's blood,Is there not rain enough in the sweet heavensTo wash it white as snow?(2.3)

The underlined section makes reference to the slaying of Abel by Cain in the Bible

Analogy:A comparison of similar things for the purpose of making something unfamiliar to seem familiar
  • Eg. River system compared to a tree
      • Metaphor and simile often make unexpected and creative comparisons
Aphorism: A statement of a principle or truth, usually an observation about life
  • Eg. The happiest of women, like the happiest nations, have no history
      • George Eliot Mary Ann Evans

(22 November 1819 – 22 December 1880),

better known by her pen name

George Eliot, was an

English novelist. Her most famous

work is MIDDLEMARCH (1871-72),

Apostrophe: In poetry, when an absent person, an abstract concept, or an important object is directly addressed
  • Eg. Paradise Lost by John Milton begins with an invocation to the heavenly muse:

“Sing, Heavenly Muse”

Aside: In drama, a convention by which actors speak briefly to the audience
    • Eg. Shakespeare’s Hamlet: “A little more than kin, and less than kind” (1.2. line 65)
  • Assonance: is the repetition of vowel sounds but not consonant sounds as in consonance
    • Eg. Fleet feet sweep by sleeping geeks.
Ballad: A form of narrative poetry that presents a single dramatic episode, which is often tragic or violent. Often meant to be sung.
      • Folk ballad: Composed anonymously and transmitted orally from generation to generation—sung or recited. Dealt with common people rather than nobility and the supernatural played an important role

Eg. Bonnie George Campbell

Hie upon the Highlands, and laigh upon the Tay,Bonnie George Campbell rode, out on a day.He saddled, he bridled, and gallant rode he,And hame came his guid horse, but never cam he.Out cam his mother, dear, greeting fu sair,And out cam his bonnie bryde, riving her hair."The meadow lies green the corn is unshornBut bonnie George Campbell will never return.Saddled and bridled and booted rode he,A plume in his helment, a sword at his knee.but toom cam his saddle, all bloody to seeOh, hame cam his guid horse, but never cam he

Ballads continued:
    • Literary Ballads: More polished and consciously artful than folk ballads and contain more elevated language and poetric diction
    • Eg. Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s

“Rime of the Ancient Mariner”

Ballad Stanza: The stanza form of the ballad, usually four lines rhyming abcb
  • The first and the third lines typically contain four accented syllables, the second and the fourth lines, three accented syllables
  • A refrain (repeated line found elsewhere in the same position) at the end of the stanza is common

Iambic Meter—the stress in each

line falls on every other syllable

Rhyme Scheme









1st & 3rd =

8 syllables

2nd & 4th =

6 syllables

It was in and about the Martinmas timeWhen the green leaves were a-falling, That Sir John Graeme, in the West Country, fell in love with Barbara AllanHe sent his men down through the townTo the place where she was dwelling “O haste and come to my master dear,Gin ye be Barbara Allan”O hooly, hooly rose she up,To the place where he was lyingAnd when she drew the curtain by,“Young man, I think you’re dying.”O it’s I’m sick, and very sick,And it’s a’ for Barbara Allan”;“O the better for me ye’s never be,Though your heart’s blood were a spilling.



Language is

Simple and



The young man

is love sick

Blank Verse: A verse consisting of unrhymed lines of iambic pentameter.

(ten syllables per line)

Eg. Was this the face that launched a thousand ships

And burned the topless towers of Illium?

Sweet Helen, make me immortal with a kiss

Christopher Marlowe’s Dr. Faustus

Caesura: A pause within a line of poetry often resulting from the natural rhythm of language and not necessarily indicated by punctuation
Caricature: Descriptive writing that exaggerates specific features of appearance or personality, usually for comic effect
Comedy: Any literary work that aims to amuse by dealing with humorous, familiar situations involving ordinary people speaking everyday language
Conceit: An elaborate figure of speech comparing two very dissimilar things.

Eg. My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun (Sonnet 130)   by William Shakespeare

My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun;

Coral is far more red than her lips' red;

If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;

If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.

I have seen roses damasked, red and white,

  • Consonance: The close repetition of identical consonant sounds before and after differing vowel sounds. It is NOT necessarily (but can be) alliteration
    • Eg. forever, over
Couplet: Two consectuive lines of poetry that rhyme and that are written in the same meter or pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables

Eg. Three be the things I shall have till I die:

Laughter and hope and a sock in the eye

by Dorothy Parker from “Inventory”

Denotation: The dictionary definition of a work. Opposite of CONNOTATION.
  • Dialect: The version of a language spoken by people of a particular region or social group
Diary: A journal or personal reflection and record of the daily life of a person.
  • Diction: Word choice. Two basic standards:
      • Clear diction is both precise and concrete with strong verbs.
      • Appropriate diction is diction at a level—formal, informal, colloquial, slang—suitable to the occasion
Dissonance: Words that are put together in such a way as to be awkward for effect.
  • Dramatic Monologue: A poem in which a single character, overheard speaking to a silent listener, reveals a dramatic situation.
    • Eg. Robert Browning “My Last Duchess”
Elegy: A poem of sorrow or mourning for the dead.
    • Eg. Thomas Gray’s “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard”
English or Shakepearean Sonnet:A fixed form consisting of fourteen lines of 5-foot iambic verse. It’s arranged into three quatrains rhyming abab, cdcd, efef, followed by a rhyimg couplet gg, which sums up the poem.
  • Epic: A long narrative poem in loftyl style set in a remote time and place, and dealing with heroic character and deeds important in the legends and history of a nation or race.
Epigram: Any witty, pointed saying.
    • Eg. She knows the cost of everything and the value of nothing.
  • Figurative Language: Language the contains the figures of speech such as metaphor, simile, personification and hyperbole.
  • Foil: A character who, by contrast, points up the qualities or characteristics of another character.
  • Form: The organizing principle that shapes a work of literature.
Free Verse: Poetry that doesn’t follow a set form or rhyme scheme.
  • Genre: A type of literary work.
  • Heroic Couplet: A pair of rhyming iambic pentameter lines.
  • Hyperbole: Exaggeration for dramatic effect. Used to create humour OR emphasis.

Eg. A section from Andrew Marvell’s “To His Coy Mistress”

My vegetable love should growVaster than empires, and more slow;An hundred years should go to praiseThine eyes and on thy forehead gaze;Two hundred to adore each breast,But thirty thousand to the rest;An age at least to every part,And the last age should show your heart.For, Lady, you deserve this state,Nor would I love at lower rate.

Iambic Pentameter: A poetic line of five iambic feet.

What is Iambic Pentameter?

Ten syllables in each line

Five pairs of alternating unstressed and stressed syllables

The rhythm in each line sounds like: ba-BUM / ba-BUM / ba-BUM / ba-BUM / ba-BUM

If mu- / -sic be / the food / of love, / play on Is this / a dag- / -ger I / see be- / fore me?

Image: Language referring to something that can be perceived through one or more of the senses.
  • Imagery: The making of pictures in words, the pictorial quality of a literary work achieved through a collection of images.
In medias res: Literally “in the middle of.” When a piece of literature begins in the middle of the action/story then using flashbacks in order to fill in the beginning of the story.
  • Internal rhyme: The rhyming of two or more words in the same line of poetry.
  • Inversion: Reversing the normal order of sentence parts—usually to ask a question.
Invocation: At the beginning of an epic, an appeal to a god or godess for inspiration.
  • Irony: In the broadest sense, the recognition of the incongruity or difference between reality (what is) and appearance (what seems to be).
      • Situational: The difference between what is expected to happen and what actually occurs.
      • Verbal Irony: Contrast between what is said and what is actually meant. (Sarcasm is a harsh form of this)
Italian or Petrarchan Sonnet: A sonnet that is organized into two parts:
    • Octave: consists of the first eight lines of the poem rhyming abba, abba;
    • Sestet: the final six lines of the poem, rhyming cde, cde. The octave is the question and the sestet is the answer/resolve.
Kenning: A metaporic compound owrd or phrase used as a synony for a common noun.
    • Eg. Beowulf: “ring bestower”
  • Lyric Poem: A poem that expresses the emotions and thoughts of the author
Metaphysical (poetry): A term applied to the poetry of John Donne and several other seventeenth-century poets such as Andrew Marvell. This poetry rebells against the conventional love poetry of the Elizabethans.
  • Meter: The fixed (or nearly fixed) pattern of accented and unaccented syllables in the lines of a poem that produces its pervasive rhythm. Basic unit of rhythm is the FOOT, consisting of at least one accented syllable and one or more unaccented syllables.
Metonymy: A figure of speech that substitutes the name of a related object, person, or idea for the subject at hand.
      • Eg. Crown=monarchy
      • White House=President of United States
      • Shakespeare=works of Shakespeare
  • Mock Epic: A literary work that comically or satirically imitates the form and style of the epic, treating a trivial subject in a lofty manner.
      • Eg. The Rape of the Lock by Alexander Pope
Motif: A recurring image, word, phrase, action, idea, object, or situation throughout a literary work
  • A recounting of a series of actual or fictional events in which some connection between the events is established or implied.
  • Octave: See Italian/Petrarchan Sonnet
Ode: A long and elaborate lyric poem, usually dignified in tone and often written to praise someone or something or to mark an important occasion.
    • Eg. Ode to the West Wind by Percy Bysshe Shelley
  • Oxymoron: A figure of speech in which two contradictory words or phrases are combined in a single expression, giving the effect of a condensed paradox.
    • Eg. Wise Fool, Living death, cruel kindness
Paradox: A statement, while apparently self-contradictory, is nonetheless essentially true.
  • Parallelism: The technique of showing that words, phrases, clauses, or larger structures are comparable in content and importance by placing them side by side and making them similar in form.
    • Eg. Halcyon Days by Walt Whitman

Not from successful love alone,

Nor wealth, nor honor’d middle age, nor victories of politics

or war;

But as life wanes, and all the turbulent passions calm

As gorgeous vapory, silent hues cover the evening sky,

As softness, fulness, rest ,suffuse the frame, like fresher,

balmier air,

As the days take on a mellower light, and the apple at last

Hangs really finish’d and indolent-ripe on the tree,

Then for the teeming quietest, happiest days of all!

The brooding and blissful halcyon days!

Parody: A piece that ridicules another composition by imitating and exaggerating aspects of its content, structure and style.
  • Pastoral: A poem having to do with shepherds and rural life
  • Pentameter: See iambic pentameter
Persona: The voice or mask created by the author through which a story is told.
  • Petrarchan or Italian Sonnet: The basic meter of all sonnets in English is iambic pentameter. Divided into two sections by two different groups of rhyming sounds. The first 8 lines is called the octave and rhymes: a b b a a b b a The remaining 6 lines is called the sestet and can have either two or three rhyming sounds, arranged in a variety of ways:
  • 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 cThe point here is that the poem is divided into two sections by the two differing rhyme groups. This change occurs at the beginning of L9 in the Italian sonnet and is called the volta, or "turn"; the turn is an essential element of the sonnet form, perhaps the essential element. It is at the volta that the second idea is introduced.
Point of view: The view from which as story is told.
  • 1st Person: Uses “I”
  • Omniscient: “God-like” narrator. Knows thoughts and feelings of all characters
  • Limited omniscient/third person: “God-like” narrator that only follows one character
  • Dramatic or objective: A play
  • Second Person: Uses “you”
Protagonist: The main character of a story. Can be an anti-hero (bad guy)
  • Pun: A play on words
  • Quatrain: Four line stanza
  • Refrain: A group of words repeated at intervals during a poem—usually at the end of a stanza
  • Rhyme: similar sound between two words.
  • Rhyme Scheme: patterns of rhymes in a stanza or poem. Usually indicated by letters of the alphabet (abba)
Rhythm: The patterned flow of sound in poetry and prose
  • Romanticism: Movement in art and literature in 18th & 19th centuries in revolt against neoclassicism. “Literature depicting emotional matter in an imaginative form.”
  • Satire: Literature that uses ironic humour and wit with criticism for the purpose of ridiculing folly, vice for the purpose of making positive change.
Sestet: See Italian/petrarchan sonnet
  • Setting: The time and place of a story
  • Shakespearean/English sonnet: See English sonnet
  • Simile: Comparison using like or as
  • Soliloquy: A dramatic convention in which a character in a play, alone of stage, speaks his or her thoughts aloud.
    • Eg. “To be or Not to be” speech in Hamlet
  • Sonnet: 14 line lyric poem
Speaker: The voice of a poem. The poet may be speaking as him/herself or take on a “mask.”
  • Spenserian Stanza: A stanza pattern, creatied by Edmund Spenser that consists of nine lines in iambic meter rhyming ababbcbcc.
  • Stanza: A “paragraph” or section of poetry
  • Style:A writer’s characteristic way of saying things. It may be the arrangement of ideas, word choice, use of lit decvices, sentence structure, rhythm etc.
Repetition: The repeating of a word or phrase for dramatic effect.
  • Synecdoche: A figure of speech in which a part of something stands for the whole thing.
    • Eg. I’ve got wheels (wheels=car), The sails were seen on the horizon (sails=boats).
  • Syntax: The arrangement and grammatical relation of words, phrases and clauses in sentences.
Tercet: A three line stanza.
  • Terza rima: A form of verse composed of tercets linked by rhyme: abc, bcb, cdc, ded and so on.
  • Tetrameter: A line of poetry compsed of four metrical feet (eight syllables).
  • Tone: The reflection in a work of the author’s attitude toward his or her subject, characters, and readers.
    • Eg. Brusque, friendly, teasing etc.
Theme: The central or dominating ideas, the “message” implicit in a work. (Remember that when you are writing about theme, you must create a theme statement!)
  • Tragedy: In simplest terms—the protagonist dies due to a fatal flaw/error in judgment/twist of fate.
  • Trimeter: A line of poetry consisting of three metrical feet (six syllables/line)
Villanelle: A lyric poem made up of five stanzas of three lines plus a final stanza of four lines. Aba, abaa.
    • Eg. Do not go gentle into that good night” by Dylan Thomas
  • Voice: A term to identify the sense a written work conveys to a reader of its writer’s attitude, personality, and character.
  • Volta: Also called a turn, a volta is a sudden change in thought, direction, or emotion near the conclusion of a sonnet.
Wit: The ability to make brilliant, imaginative, or clever connections between ideas.
  • Proverb: A short saying that expresses some commonplace truth or bit of folk wisdom concerning some aspect of practical life.
    • Eg. “A friend in need is a friend indeed”
    • “A rolling stone gathers no moss”
  • Thesis: The topic sentence that states the central argument of a piece of writing
Jargon: Language specific to a particular profession.
    • Eg. Medical jargon
  • Colloquial Language: A word or phrase in everyday use in conversation and informal writing, but sometimes inappropriate in formal writing.
    • Eg. Carol won’t let on, but I know she’s down in the dumps.
Euphemism: A kinder, gentler way of saying something that’s negative.
    • Eg. He passed on (instead of he died)
  • Direct presentation: When the author states what a character is like.
  • Indirect presentation: When the author asks the reader to deduce from his/her actions what a character is like.