Poetic Terms





A. Alliteration – the close-order repetition of initial consonants in a series of words:

“While I nodded nearly napping . . .”

Those thoughts that wander through eternity . . .”

fair is foul and foul is fair …”

sylvan streams softly flow…”

B. Assonance – repetition of internal vowel sounds, usually appearing in the middle or at the ends of words:

“How now brown cow?”

“Silver minnows were devising water ballet so surprising.”

“So, we’ll go no more a-roving”

C. Consonance – a sound effect arising from the repetition or close occurrence of consonants within words. The vowels, however, usually differ:

“an edger of fudge”

“fashion is passion



D. Refrain – the repetition of a phrase, line, or group of verses at definite intervals in the poem, usually at the end of stanzas:

“And momma’s in the bedroom with the door closed.”

“Hark the Raven, nevermore” (and its variations)

“She’s so high above me; she’s so lovely.
She’s so high above me, like Joan of Arc, Cleopatra, and Aphrodite.”

“Daylight Katie come on, Daylight Katie come on.
If you can’t follow me home, Daylight Katie go home.”

E. Onomatopoeia – a sound effect where the word sounds like what it represents:

“sizzle”  “pow”  “crack” “buzz” “hiss” “rustle”

II. Symbolism – the use of a concrete object, person, or place that stands for something other than itself.

night (could symbolize death, the occult, ignorance, romance)

flag (symbolizing a nation)

river (symbolizing the flux of time)

the color purple (symbolizing royalty)

the color red (symbolizing blood, life, anger)

III.  Imagery – the use of specific language to create a sense impression (visual, auditory, tactile, etc.).  Imagery is especially prevalent in poetry.  through it the poet’s purpose is not to give factual information, but to:

alert the senses

arouse emotions

stir imaginations

communicate both simple and complex human experiences that are meaningful

“April” by Margery Masters

“roller-skating, scissor grinding day” (auditory image)

“chocolate-flavored lazy” (taste image)

“Out, Out” by Robert Frost

“The buzz saw snarled and rattled in the yard” (auditory images)

“And made dust and dropped stove-length sticks of wood” (visual image)

“Sweet-scented stuff when the breeze drew across it”

(olfactory)                                           (tactile)

IV. Figurative Language – communicates emotions, thoughts, and sensuous imaginative experiences through writing in which words are used beyond their literal meaning.

A. Simile – the comparison of two or more different things which are alike in at least one respect.  the resemblance is always made clear by the use of a comparing word:  “as” “like” “so.”

“My love is like a red, red rose.”

“She’s pure as New York snow”

“Fly like an eagle”

“As the seasons cycle and change, yet return again, so goes my love.”

B. Metaphor – a condensed comparison, omitting “as”, “like” or “so.”

“The wind is a whetted knife”

“All the things that man devises to help him do his thing/

amazing moon shot rockets and little wheels that sing”

“There is a garden in her face”

“The nuclear winter of another love affair”

C. Oxymoron – a combination of terms which in normal language is contradictory but when juxtaposed creates a logical and deeper meaning.

“harmonious madness”

“sweet pain”

“quiet violence”

“it’s hip to be square”

D.Zeugma – yoking of concepts or objects that are not normally associated with one another.

“Romeo in black jeans”

“a wooden smile, a wooden heart”

“Stained her soul and her brocade”

“delicious melancholy”

E. Personification – attributes life to inanimate objects or abstractions:

“The tires complained loudly as he took the curve at high speed.”

“Time’s cruel hand”

“Because I would not stop for death, he kindly stopped for me.”

F. Allusion – reference to another text, idea, or person that creates a deeper resonance of feeling or meaning in the audience:

“What if I was [sic] Romeo in black jeans/What if I was[sic] Heathcliff, it’s no myth?”

“night’s Plutonian shore” as the home of the Raven carrying tales about the lost love Lenore

G. Apostrophe – the use of direct address by the poet to the absent as present, to the dead as living, to an inanimate as animate, to the abstract as human:

“Death, be not proud … for Death, thou shalt die.”

“Goodbye to this house and all it’s memories”

H. Hyperbole – exaggeration or a conscious overstatement to create a desired effect:

“Does any one know where the love of God goes when the waves turn the minutes to hours?”

“scared to death”

“And their sun does never shine …it is eternal winter there.”

I. Metonymy – the name of one thing is used to stand for another which it suggests or to which it is related:

White House/ president

Capitol Hill/ the legislature

“Polar bear rug me, don’t bug me”/ sex

J. Synecdoche – a kind of metonymy, or name changing, in which a part stands for the whole:

“all hands on deck”  “hands” refers to humans

“forty head of cattle”  “head stands for the whole cow

“The rifles under his command”  the “rifles” stand for the soldiers who use them.

K. Simile – “as crazy as a couple of waltzing mice”

“time is like a clock in the heart”

L. Metaphor – “great with child to speak”

M. Zeugma –  “I have been eating poetry”

“their [the frogs] green throats in a green chorus”

N. Personification – “Invention, Nature’s child, fled stepdame Study’s blows”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s