Poetic Forms and Terms

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Below are poems that contain or serve as examples of certain poetic forms and terms. For more detailed information about these and other terms, visit the Poetry Foundation’s Learning Lab.

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Alliteration

The repetition of initial stressed, consonant sounds in a series of words within a phrase or verse line. Alliteration need not reuse all initial consonants; “pizza” and “place” alliterate.

Aphorism

A pithy, instructive statement or truism, like a maxim or adage.

Ars Poetica

A term meaning “the art of poetry,” an ars poetica poem expresses that poet's aims for poetry and/or that poet's theories about poetry.

Assonance

The repetition of vowel sounds without repeating consonants; sometimes called vowel rhyme.

Aubade

A love poem or song welcoming or lamenting the arrival of the dawn.

Ballad

A popular narrative song passed down orally. In the English tradition, it usually follows a form of rhymed (ABCB) quatrains alternating four-stress and three-stress lines. Folk (or traditional) ballads are anonymous and recount tragic, comic, or heroic stories.

Concrete or Pattern Poetry

Verse that emphasizes nonlinguistic elements in its meaning, such as a typeface that creates a visual image of the topic.

Consonance

A resemblance in sound between two words, or an initial rhyme.

Ekphrasis

“Description” in Greek. An ekphrastic poem is a vivid description of a scene or, more commonly, a work of art.

Epigram

A pithy, often witty, poem.

Epistle

A letter in verse, usually addressed to a person close to the writer.

Free Verse

Nonmetrical, nonrhyming lines that closely follow the natural rhythms of speech. A regular pattern of sound or rhythm may emerge in free-verse lines, but the poet does not adhere to a metrical plan in their composition.

Ghazal

(Pronounciation: “guzzle”) Originally an Arabic verse form dealing with loss and romantic love. Consisting of syntactically and grammatically complete couplets, the form also has an intricate rhyme scheme.

Imagist

An early 20th-century poetic movement that relied on the resonance of concrete images drawn in precise, colloquial language rather than traditional poetic diction and meter.

Ode

A formal, often ceremonious lyric poem that addresses and often celebrates a person, place, thing, or idea. Its stanza forms vary.

Pastoral

Poets writing in English drew on the pastoral tradition by retreating from the trappings of modernity to the imagined virtues and romance of rural life. Its themes persist in poems that romanticize rural life or reappraise the natural world.

Prose Poem

A prose composition that, while not broken into verse lines, demonstrates other traits such as symbols, metaphors, and other figures of speech common to poetry.

Rhymed Stanza

The repetition of syllables, typically at the end of a verse line.

Series/Sequence

Sestina

Sonnet

A 14-line poem with a variable rhyme scheme. Literally a “little song,” the sonnet traditionally reflects upon a single sentiment, with a clarification or “turn” of thought in its concluding lines.

Syllabic

Poetry whose meter is determined by the total number of syllables per line, rather than the number of stresses.

Terza Rima

Villanelle

A French verse form consisting of five three-line stanzas and a final quatrain, with the first and third lines of the first stanza repeating alternately in the following stanzas.