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Poetic Genres


- Epic: long narrative poem on a great or serious subject

- Dramatic: monologue or dialogue written in the voice of a character assumed by the poet

- Lyric: poem written in the voice of a single speaker (originally a song performed in ancient Greece to the music of a lyre)






unstressed stressed

"the best | of times, | the worst | of times";

New York

For most of the last 400 years, iambic meter was the dominant rhythm. Considered closest to ordinary speeech. Also found in prose. Carries a certain seriousness. Frequestnly used for more serious subjects. Rising meter



stressed unstressed

"London | bridge is | falling | down";


Trochaic foot has a lighter, quicker tone. Used in nursery rhymes and poems dedicated to less solemn subject matter. Falling meter



unstressed unstressed


"There are man-| y who say |";
"comprehend" (Thomas_

Triple foot moves line along quickly and with energy. Rising meter






"This is the | forest pri - |meval. The | murmuring | pines and the | hemlocks..." (Longfellow);


Triple foot. Falling meter





"Rocks, caves, | lakes, ferns, | bogs, dens..." (MIlton);

"Listen | you hear | the grat |ing roar / Of peb | bles which | the waves |draw back, | and fling..." (Arnold, "Dover Beach")

Places explicit emphasis on specific words. Frequently introduced in the middle of a line as irregular meter for emphasis. 


Line length


 one foot

Thus I  

Pass by 

And die,

As one,

Unknown.... (Herrick)


two feet

"Volleyed and thundered... Rode the six hundred"


three feet

"The whis- | key on | your breath

Could make | a small | boy diz | (zy)

But I | hung on |  like death" (Roethky, "My Papa's Waltz"


four feet

"Had we | but world | e nough | and time,

This coy- | ness la- | dy were | no crime.

We would | sit down, | and think | which way..." (Marvell, "To HIs Coy Mistress"

Pentameter *

five feet

"We hold | these truths | to be | self-ev | ident"


six feet

"Day by | day thy | shadow | shines in | heaven be | holden (Swinburne)


Other terms related to meter


- Caesura: short pause often (but not always) signalled by punctuation, such as a comma, that may interrupt a line

- End-stopped Line: when a the pause falls at the end of the line (even if a period is not present)

- Enjambment: run-on lines; when the 'sentence' carries over the end of the verse line, increasing the pace of the poem




- end rhyme: rhymes appearing at the end of the line

- internal rhyme: similar sounding words within the space of a line



repetition of identical or similar vowel sounds



combination of words whose sound resembles the sound it denotes

ooze of oil; drip of raindrops

masculine rhyme

single stressed syllable


feminine rhyme

stressed syllable followed by unstressed 

chiming / rhyming

perfect rhyme

exact correspondence of sound


eye rhyme words that are spelled alike, and may have once been pronounced alike, but no longer are

prove / love;

daughter / laughter

imperfect rhyme frequently used to epxress doubt, frustration, grief  




Blank Verse

unrhymed iambic pentameter

Closest verse form to natural spoken English. Introduced in mid-16th century. 


Milton, Paradise Lost; Wordsworth, The Prelude; Tennyson, "Ulysses"


two lines of verse, usually coupled by a rhyme

  Principle unit of English poetry since rhyme started being used. 


heroic couplet

self-contained units often used in epics and plays

Ex: Pope, The Rape of the Lock


stanza of three lines traditionally linked with a single rhyme (though not always). Or three-line section of a larger poetic structure (sestet of sonnet)


Ex: Hardy's "The Convergence of the Twain"


terza rima 

second line of each stanza rhymes with the first and third of the next. 

Ex: Shelley's "Ode to the West Wind"


stanza of four lines, rhymed or unrhymed

Most common English stanza



ballad stanza

iambic tetrameter alternate with iambic trimeter, rhyming abcb, or abab

Ex: "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner"


heroic quatrains

iambic pentameter rhyming abab

Ex: Gray's "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard"

rhyme royal

7 line iambic-pentameter stanza rhyming ababbcc


Ex: Chaucer's Troilus and Criseide

Ottava Rima

8 line stanza, rhyming abababcc

opens with a quatrain and closes with a couplet

Ex: Byron, Don Juan, Yeats, "Sailing to Byzantium," "Among School Children"

Spenserian Stanza 9 lines, first 8 iambic pentamter and the last iambic hexameter (alexandrine), rhyming ababbcbcc opens with a quatrain and closes with a couplet Ex: Spenser, The Faerie Queene; Keats, "The Eve of St. Agnes"; Shelley, "Adonais", Tennyson, "The Lotos-Eaters"
Sonnet 14 lines of iambic pentameter, intricate rhyme scheme Best example of how rhyme and meter can provide be an occasion for the imagination to thrive; use contrained form to expand thought  
  Italian or Petrachan Sonnet

octave abbaabba (8) and sestet cdecde (6)

- statement then counterstatement

- observation and then conclusion

Ex: Shelley, "Ozymandias"; Keats, "On First Looking at Chapmans' Homer"
  English or Shakespearan Sonnet three quatrains ababcdcdefef and couplet gg  
  Spenserian Sonnet three quatrians ababbcbccdcd and couplet ee (linking couplets between quatrains)  

five tercets rhyming aba followed by a quatrain rhyming abaa

2 refrains: first line of the initial tercet is repeated as the last line of the second and fourth tercet; third line of the initial tercet is repated as the last line of the third and five tercet - each is then repeated as the last line of the poem

Follows the circular pattern of a dance


Ex: Roethke, "The Waking"; Bishop, "One Art"; Thomas, "Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night"
sestina six stanzas of six lines each, followed by concluding stanza that includes lines or words previously used most complicated verse form. ininitated by 12th c. troubadours. Brought back into fashion by Swinburne and Pound Ex: Bishop, "Sestina"; Ashbery, "The Painter"
irregular form uses rhyme and meter but don't follow a fixed pattern    
  elegy formal lament for the dead  


- long lyric poems of elevated style and elaborate structure

- written to celebrate someone or something

Pindaric Ode usually irregular (in section length, line length, and rhyme scheme)  
Horatian Ode repeated stanza form; meditative and restrained
open form or free verse poetry making little to no use of traditional rhyme and meter    
other forms prose poetry may look like prose, but intended to retain musical cadences similar to that found in free verse typically French
  found poetry converts passage(s) of someone else's prose into a poem 20th c. response to prose poetry
  shaped poetry brings eye and ear together metaphysical poets and 20th-21st c. poets
  concrete poetry loose category of exploration by avant-garde artists globally. typographic structures that cannot be spoken Brazilian (50s)
  sound poetry extends concrete poetry into a kind of music (sounds like nonsense)  



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