English Literature
Poetic Terms

Poetic Terms

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Discovering the Power of Poetic Techniques: A Guide to Understanding Poetic Terms and Devices

Poetry is a unique form of art that allows poets to express their thoughts and emotions through the use of poetic terms and devices. These techniques add depth to their poems and leave a lasting impact on readers. In this article, we will delve into the fundamentals of poetic terms, their meanings, and how they contribute to the overall structure and language of a poem.

The Foundations of Poetry: Understanding Poetic Terms

Poetic terms are a category of techniques used to identify devices or stylistic elements found in poems. They are specific names given to devices and techniques employed by poets in their works. Having a clear comprehension of these terms is crucial when analyzing poetry, as they greatly affect the meter, rhyme scheme, and structure of a poem. Anaphora, sibilance, and volta are some examples of poetic terms.

Poetic Terms vs Poetic Devices

While poetic devices refer to the elements used by poets to add layers of meaning and convey their intentions, poetic terms are the specific names given to these devices. Examples of poetic devices include metaphor, sibilance, and repetition. In essays or analyses, poetic devices are often referred to by their poetic terms. For instance, when discussing the poetic device of metaphor, we may use terms like 'extended metaphor' or 'allegorical metaphor' to describe its specific use in a poem.

Extended Metaphor

An extended metaphor, also known as a sustained metaphor, is a type of metaphor that permeates throughout the entire poem. This poetic term allows the metaphor to be explored further, providing a deeper meaning and creating a significant impact on the reader.

Allegorical Metaphor

An allegorical metaphor presents abstract concepts as tangible images, allowing readers to interpret the underlying meaning. For example, in Emily Dickinson's 'Because I could not stop for Death' (1890), the concept of death is depicted as a carriage driver, showcasing the allegorical use of metaphor.

Exploring the Fundamentals: Basic Poetic Terms and Devices

To better understand poetry, it is important to familiarize oneself with the basic poetic terms used in analyzing poems.


Verse is an umbrella term that refers to a single line, a stanza, or an entire poem. It is used to describe any piece of metrical writing. Often used interchangeably with the term 'stanza,' verse has two primary types.

  • Free Verse: As the name suggests, free verse has no set structure, meter, or rhyme scheme. Poets are free to choose the form and structure that best suits their poem.
  • Blank Verse: Blank verse refers to poems that do not follow a specific rhyme scheme. These verses are typically written in iambic pentameter, but not always. An example of free verse is William Carols Williams' 27-word poem, 'This Is Just To Say' (1934), where the three verses are used to represent an apology note.


Anaphora is the repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of successive lines of a poem. This technique is used to connect ideas, create rhythm and structure, and make certain sections of the poem more memorable. Anaphora can be found in all types of poetry, as well as in prose, speeches, and songs. An excellent example of anaphora is in William Blake's 'London' (1794), where the word 'in' is repeated to emphasize the despair felt by the people.


A refrain is the repetition of one to three lines throughout a poem. It adds emphasis and creates a rhythm in the poem. It can be a phrase or a specific set of lines, and it may be slightly altered for effect. One of the most famous examples of a refrain is in Walt Whitman's 'O Captain! My Captain!' (1865), where the phrase 'O Captain! My Captain!' is repeated throughout the poem, leaving a strong impression on the reader.

The Use of Poetic Terms in Popular Poems

In Edgar Allan Poe's 'The Raven' (1845), the repeated use of the 's' sound, known as sibilance, creates a haunting effect that mimics the movement of a curtain. This is just one example of the various poetic terms that can be found in famous works of literature.

Sublime Moments in Poetry

In poetry, a sublime moment refers to a moment of transcendence or awe. This device is often used to convey intense emotional responses, particularly in the context of nature. One notable example is found in William Wordsworth's 'Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey' (1798), where the speaker uses a lofty and serious tone to describe the landscape.

The Study of Prosody

The term 'prosody' refers to the study of meter and rhythm in a poem. There are three categories of prosody: syllabic, accentual, and accentual-syllabic. Syllabic prosody focuses on the number of syllables in a line, while accentual prosody explores the accents or stresses. Accentual-syllabic prosody combines both syllables and stresses in equal importance and is commonly used in English literature analysis.

The Function of a Volta

Also known as a 'turn', a volta is a shift or change in thought or emotion within a poem. While often associated with sonnets, a volta can be found in all types of poems. It is used to divide the poem into two parts, with the first part presenting an initial idea and the second offering a different perspective or conclusion.

Experiencing Poetic Terms in Action

Now that we have a better understanding of these devices, let's see how they are used in popular poems.

Anaphora, the repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of lines or phrases, can be found in William Shakespeare's 'Sonnet 66' (1609). In this poem, almost every line begins with the word 'and', creating a rhythm and sense of building momentum towards the climax.

Another poetic term, sibilance, is present in Robert Frost's 'Mowing' (1913). In this poem, the hissing 's' sound is used in every line, effectively mimicking the movement of a scythe cutting through grass and creating a sense of motion.

In Conclusion

Poetry is a rich and expressive art form that employs various techniques to convey its message. By understanding the poetic terms used in popular works, we can gain a deeper appreciation for the craft of poetry and its ability to evoke emotions and paint vivid images.

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