Poetic Elements & Terminology

Alliteration: Repetition of the same consonant sound at the start of several words in a line of poetry or sentence.  E.g.,

  • “Hot-hearted Beowulf was bent upon battle.”
  • Betty Botter bought some butter, but, she said, the butter’s bitter; if I put it in my batter it will make my batter bitter, but a bit of better butter will make my batter better. Betty Botter by Mother Goose

Free Verse: Poetry written with no rhyming scheme, meter, or form.

Idiom: Common phrases composed of words that cannot be understood through their literal or ordinary meanings.  E.g., A Chip On Your Shoulder, A Piece of Cake, An Arm And A Leg, etc…

Imagery & Descriptive Writing: Language that appeals to the five senses: touch, taste, smell, hearing and sight. It does not use generic adjectives. For example, “nice” might become “angelic”, and bad might become “fiendish”. Your armpits don’t “smell”, they “wreak like the fluid at the bottom of a garbage can”.

Metaphor: A direct comparison between two unlike things without the use of the words “like” or “as”. E.g., “All the world’s a stage,” compares life to a movie. “All our words are crumbs that fall from the feast of the mind,” compares words to crumbs, and thinking to feasting.

Simile: A comparison between two unlike things, using “like” or “as”. “Her eyes shone like stars,” “As black as night”, “As quiet as a mouse,” “Her voice is thin, As the ghosts of bees”. Avoid clichés!

Onomatopoeia: The use of words that sound like the noise they describe. E.g., crunch, meow, bang, psst, splash.

Hyperbole: An exaggeration used for creating humour or for emphasizing a point when describing. Kids are great at this! Example: am so hungry I could eat a horse. I had a ton of chores to do. If I can’t get a Smartphone, I will die.

Personification: A form of figurative language in which poets attribute human-like characteristics to an animal, object, or idea (i.e. the ability to think, speak, feel, hear, etc.) The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window-panes.  The leaves whispered their secrets to the night sky.

I looked upon the rotting sea,
And drew my eyes away;
I looked upon the rotting deck,
And there the dead men lay.

Repetition: The deliberate use of a sound, word, or phrase more than once.

Rhyme: The repetition of somewhat like sounds. These could come at the end of a line in poetry creating end rhyme or they could be within a line for internal rhyme, when two similar sounds appear together.

Rhyming scheme: The pattern of rhymes (e.g., aa/bb or ab/cb, etc..)

The limerick packs laughs anatomical
Into space that is quite economical.
But the good ones I’ve seen
So seldom are clean
And the clean ones so seldom are comical

Stanza: A group of lines in a poem set off by empty spaces, much like paragraphs.

Symbolism: The use of an idea to represent or stand in for something else.  For example colours represent various things: Black is used to represent death or evil. White stands for life and purity. Trophy for victory…

Mood: The feeling captured in a poem through the poet’s use of words, phrases, repetition, rhyme, and sometimes exaggeration. Usually this is a product of several elements working together “The river, reflecting the clear blue of the sky, glistened and sparkled as it flowed noiselessly on.” What mood does this sentence create and why?

Tone: The suggested attitude that the writer takes toward the reader or audience or topic.

Voice: This is usually the speaker and establishes the point of view taken on by the writer or poet.

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