Obscure Poetic Terms

alex atkins bookshelf wordsEvery trade, every craft, every industry has a language of its own. Although the specialized language (known as jargon) of any particular craft may sound like gibberish to an outsider or a beginner, to a seasoned practitioner, those terms are like a second language; moreover, it is what binds the artist to his creative work. For the poet who labors with words and all their nuances, there are hundreds of beautiful but obscure poetic terms. Here is a sampling:

The insertion of one or more unstressed syllables at the beginning of a line where the poetical meter would normally require a stressed syllable. Here is an example from William Blake’s The Tiger:
When the stars threw down their spears,
And watered heaven with their tears,
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?

A term that describes the repetition of a word for emphasis; for example: “Never, never, never!”

A poem or song that celebrates a marriage.

Eye rhyme
Two words that look similar but sound different; for example: “come and home,” “daughter and laughter.”

Headless line
Note that the unit of measure in a line of verse is a foot; many poems use the same number and type of feet in each line. A headless line is when a line is one syllable short of the usual pattern and that syllable is missing from the beginning of the first foot of the line.

Words that are not arranged in their normal order, used for emphasis or style. Here is an example from Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure: “Some rise by sin, and some by virtue fall…”

Gerard Manley Hopkins developed the idea of “sprung poetry,” which consists of metrical feet counted only by their stressed syllables (as opposed to counting feet by identifying both stressed and unstressed syllables. A rove-over is when a foot begins at the end of one line and ends on the next line.

A type of poetry that intermingles languages for humorous effect.

The rhetorical repetition of the same word or root word. Here is an example from Alfred Lord Tennyson’s Maud A Monodrama:
Seal’d her mine from her first sweet breath.
Mine, mine by a right, from birth till death.
Mine, mine–our fathers have sworn.

Read related posts: Names of Things You Didn’t Know Had Names
Top Ten Insults Using Archaic Words
Words Invented by Book Lovers
How Many Words in the English Language?
Words with Letters in Alphabetical Order
What is the Longest Word in English?
There’s a Word for That: Epeolatry

For further reading: The Poet’s Dictionary by William Packard


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