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Poetry Appendix:

Teachable Terms


A FIGURE OF SPEECH is a verbal “trope” or expression in which words or sounds
are arranged in a particular way to achieve a memorable, unusual or otherwise
“crafted” effect. AKA ‘figurative language’. Some favorite tricks of the poet’s trade

Alliteration -- The repetition of the same or similar sounds at the beginning

of words in a line. Tongue twisters such as Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled
peppers are extreme examples of alliteration.

Allusion – A reference to another well-known work or character. Allusions

can be classical (to Greek and Roman mythology or literature), topical (to current
events), or popular (to something from the popular culture, like a tv show) among
other possibilities.

Antithesis -- A line in which words and phrases with opposite meanings are
balanced against each other. To err is human, to forgive, divine. (Alexander Pope)

Apostrophe – Words addressed to an absent person or to an object or

abstract idea. The poem “God’s World” by Edna St. Vincent Millay begins with an
apostrophe: “O World, I cannot hold thee close enough!/ Thy winds, thy wide grey
skys! Thy mists that roll and rise!”

Assonance – The repetition of a pattern of similar sounds, especially vowel

sounds, as in “Old King Cole was a merry old soul.”

Cacophony -- The use of deliberately harsh, unpleasant or awkward sounds.

Conceit – A metaphor, or fanciful poetic comparison, that is sustained over a

considerable period, sometimes even for the entire length of the poem.
Shakespeare’s sonnet, “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day” and Emily
Dickinson’s poem, “There is no frigate like a book” are examples of conceits.

Consonance -- The repetition of consonant sounds, especially in the middle

or at the end of words. “A flock of sick, black-checkered ducks.”

Euphony -- A beautiful, or at least pleasant, sounding line. “Euphonious” =


Hyperbole – Deliberate exaggeration. Tons of money, waiting for ages, a

flood of tears. Hyperbole is the opposite of litotes. AKA “ understatement.”
Poetry Appendix:
Teachable Terms

Imagery – A concrete representation of a sense impression, a feeling or an

idea. Images often come in complementary clusters in which case they form “image

Inversion -- The reversal of the usual word order of a sentence or a phrase.

For example, Go, I must instead of the more conventional I must go.

Irony – When used as a figure of speech, this term means a use of language
involving some kind of incongruity or discrepancy.
Verbal irony: when what is meant differs from what is said. For
example, when an act of kindness makes things worse. “Well, that’s a lot
better, isn’t it?”
Situational irony: a discrepancy between what is anticipated or
expected and what actually is happening. (The fire station burned down.)
Dramatic irony: when the audience knows more about the situation
than the characters on stage (Oedipus single-mindedly pursues the killer of
Laius – himself.)

Litotes – Understatement, saying less than one really means. For example,
after winning the lottery you might say, That wasn’t half bad. Or, from Charlotte’s
Web, That’s some pig.

Metaphor and Simile – A metaphor makes a direct comparison. In the

morning, the lake is covered in liquid gold. The metaphor equates liquid gold and
sunlight. A simile softens the comparison a bit by using ‘like’ or ‘as’. His eyes were
like burning coals.

Metonymy – The use of something closely related to stand for the thing
itself. For example, Robert Frost in “Out, Out --” describes an injured boy holding up
his cut hand “as if to keep/ The life from spilling,” Literally, of course he means
“blood” which is closely related to its metonym in the line, “life.” (See also,

Onomatopoeia – The use of words that sound like their meaning. Buzz,
hiss, zing, clippety-clop, tick-tock. In Alfred Lord Tennyson’s “Come Down, O Maid”:
“The moan of doves in immemorial elms,/ And murmuring of innumerable bees” a
combination of alliteration, assonance and onomatopoeia imitates the hum of
insects on a warm summer’s day.

Oxymoron – A phrase composed of opposites. The oxymoron sounds like a

contradiction but, confoundingly, also makes sense. (Think of it as a condensed
paradox). Darkness visible (in Milton’s Paradise Lost), jumbo shrimp, harmonious
discord, “Parting is such sweet sorrow.”

Parallelism – (AKA Parallel construction) The repetition of a structural

pattern. For example, Caesar’s famously immodest summary of his leadership of the
Poetry Appendix:
Teachable Terms

Gallic Wars…Veni, Vidi, Vici… which rendered in English is I came, I saw, I conquered.
The foregoing is a very simple example; but parallelism is often used to arrange and
present in an orderly way long syntactic units. It bespeaks a writer thoroughly in
control of the subject.
Personification – Giving an inanimate object human qualities or form.
While my guitar gently weeps (George Harrison); “love is blind”

Pun -- The (usually humorous) use of a word and its accompanying homonym
(identical sounding words like sun/son) in such a way as to suggest two or more
interpretations. Not so, my Lord, I am too much in the sun” Hamlet’s loaded reply
to Claudius in I, ii, Hamlet.

Symbol – A figure of speech in which something (an object, person, situation,

or action) stands for more than what it physically is. A symbol is to be read both
literally and figuratively. It is crucial to distinguish a symbol from a metaphor.
Metaphors are comparisons between two usually dissimilar things; symbols, on the
other hand, are simultaneously the thing itself and what the thing represents. For
example, the white whale in Moby Dick is both a large, albino sea-going mammal as
well as an open-ended symbol of, perhaps, nature’s overmastering power.

Synecdoche – When a part is used to designate or stand for the whole of

something. For example, the phrase All hands on deck means that all the sailors on
board the ship are supposed to report for duty, not just their hands. (See