Review of Literary Terms

alliteration: the commencing of two or more words in close connexion, with the same letter, or rather the same sound. 

example: “The Soul selects her own Society”

allusion: An indirect reference to a text, myth, event, or person outside the poem itself. In the example below, Eliot is referencing Marvell’s “To His Coy Mistresss.”

example: “But at my back in a cold blast I hear / The rattle of the bones, and chuckle spread from ear to ear.”

anaphora: the repetition of the same word or group of words at the beginning of successive clauses, sentences, or lines.


Others will enter the gates of the ferry, and cross from shore to shore;
Others will watch the run of the flood-tide;
Others will see the shipping of Manhattan north and west, and the heights of Brooklyn to the south and east;
Others will see the islands large and small;

apostrophe: a direct and explicit address either to an absent or dead person or to an abstract or nonhuman entity.

example: “O Rose, thou art sick.”

end rhyme: a rhyme that occurs at the end of two or more lines.


I long for scenes, where man hath never trod,
A place where woman never smiled or wept–
There to abide with my Creator, God,

end-stopped line: a line in which the verse length matches the length of the units of sense (clauses, phrases, sentences); end-stopped lines have a pause at the end and are often marked by punctuation (period, semi-colon, etc).

example: “My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun;”

enjambment: when the unit of sense doesn’t coincide with the end of the verse line and the sense runs over to the next line.

example: “It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil / Crushed.”

assonance: the repetition of vowel sounds in a line or series of lines.

example: “Sleep the meek members of the Resurrection”

chiasmus: a grammatical figure by which the order of words in one of two parallel clauses is inverted in the other.

example: “I strove with none, for none was worth my strife.”

conceit: an extended metaphor or an elaborate and detailed paralleling between two dissimilar things or situations.

example: Herrick’s “The Vine” (p. 225-6)

consonance: the repetition of consonants in words stressed in the same place (but whose vowels differ).

example: “The world is charged with the grandeur of God.”

image: according to the Norton website, an image is a “mental representation of a particular thing able to be visualized (and often able to be apprehended by senses other than sight).”  Ezra Pound defines an image as “that which presents an intellectual and emotional complex in an instant of time.”


The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.

internal rhyme: rhyme between a word within a line and another either at the end of the same line or within another line.


Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore,
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.

litotes: a deliberate understatement used for rhetorical effect — especially in a thought that denies its opposite.

example: “The sun is not hot. / It’s not a good position I am in.”

metaphor: a figure of speech in which a name or descriptive word or phrase is transferred to an object or action different from, but analogous to, that to which it is literally applicable.

example: “Fame is a bee.”

metonymy: the action of substituting for a word or phrase denoting an object, action, institution, etc., a word or phrase denoting a property or something associated with it.

example: “Diadems – drop – / And Doges – surrender -”


I watched the Twelfth-month sea-gulls—I saw them high in the air, floating with motionless wings, oscillating their bodies,
I saw how the glistening yellow lit up parts of their bodies, and left the rest in strong shadow,

motif: a particular subject for imaginative treatment, esp. an incident, situation, ethical problem, etc., which occurs frequently in works of literature. So far in our reading, we’ve seen examples of three distinctive motifs:

   aubade: a morning song or song at dawn usually concerning two lovers who have spent the night together; see Donne’s “The Sun Rising.”
   carpe diem: a poem of seduction (carpe diem means in Latin “pluck the day”); see Marvell’s “To His Coy Mistress.”
   ubi sunt: a poem that laments a vanished past (ubi sunt means in Latin “where are”); see Kenneth Koch’s “To My Twenties.”

According to M.H. Abrams, “[t]he term ‘motif,’ or else the German leitmotif (a guiding motif), is also applied to the frequent repetition within a single work of a significant verbal or musical phrase, or set description, or complex of images…” (Think of the water motif in Eliot’s “The Waste Land.”)

neologism: a word or phrase which is new to the language; one which is newly coined.

example: “Behold that circummortal purity”

personification / prosopopoeia: the treatment of an abstraction or inanimate object as if it possessed human qualities or abilities.


FLOOD-TIDE below me! I watch you face to face;
Clouds of the west! sun there half an hour high! I see you also face to face.


      BUSY old fool, unruly Sun,
      Why dost thou thus,
Through windows, and through curtains, call on us ?

simile: a direct, explicit comparison of one thing to another that usually draws the connection with the words “like” or “as.”

example: “my words are the garment of what I shall never be / Like the tucked sleeve of a one-armed boy”

slant rhyme: rhyme that does not perfectly match in vowel or consonant sound.

example: One / Stone

symbol: a word or image that stands for something else in a vivid but indeterminate way: it suggests more than what it actually says. Metaphors are comparisons between two seemingly dissimilar thing, symbols associate two things, but their meaning is both literal and figurative.


But now they [the wild swans] drift on the still water
Mysterious, beautiful;
Among what rushes will they build,
By what lake’s edge or pool
Delight men’s eyes, when I awake some day
To find they have flown away?

synechdoche: a figure by which a more comprehensive term is used for a less comprehensive or vice versâ; as whole for part or part for whole, genus for species or species for genus, etc.

example: “I should have been a pair of ragged claws / Scuttling across the floors of silent seas.”

tone: according to I.A. Richards, tone is the expression of a literary speaker’s “attitude to his listener.” Think about the speaker of “Witchgrass” addressing the gardener or the speaker of “The Sun Rising” addressing the sun.

verse: a succession of words following a scheme or design (relating to a pattern of rhythm and rhyme).

example: “When you see someone with a cane / That person’s probably in pain” (John Hollander); compare this with his definition of “poetry” in Rhyme’s Reason, p. xi.

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2 Responses to Review of Literary Terms

  1. Pingback: Quiz Tomorrow | Principles of Literary Study: Poetry

  2. Pingback: The Ballad | Principles of Literary Study: Poetry

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