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  • Accent

    (Latin, ‘song added to speech’)

    A stressed syllable or ictus. These alternate with unstressed syllables or slacks to produce a theoretical metrical pattern termed the rhythm that often, but not always, matches how the line would be sounded in conversation. Prominence can be achieved by pitch (tone), loudness or impact (stress), or length. An increase in pitch usually creates stress. George Puttenham in 1589 says: "To that which was highest lift vp and most eleuate or shrillest in the eare, they gaue the name of the sharpe accent, to the lowest and most base because it seemed to fall downe rather than to rise vp, they gaue the name of the heauy accent, and that other which seemed in part to lift vp and in part to fall downe, they called the circumflex, or compast accent: and if new termes were not odious, we might very properly call him the (windabout) for so is the Greek word."

  • Accentual verse

    Lines whose rhythm arises from its stressed syllables rather than from the number of its syllables, or from the length of time devoted to their sounding. Old English poems such as Beowulf and Caedmon's Hymn are accentual. They fall clearly into two halves, each with two stresses.

  • Acephalous

    (Greek, ‘headless’)

    A line of verse without its expected initial syllable.

  • Acrostic

    (Greek, ‘at the tip of the verse’)

    A word, phrase, or passage spelled out vertically by the first letters of a group of lines in sequence. Sir John Davies' Hymnes of Astraea dedicates 26 acrostic poems to Elizabeth I. Edgar Allan Poe's "Enigma" provides another example. Samuel Johnson's great dictionary (1755) quotes John Dryden:

    Leave writing plays, and choose for thy command
    Some peaceful province in acrostick land:
    There thou may'st wings display, and altars raise,
    And torture one poor word ten thousand ways.

    See also Telestich.

  • Action poetry

    Verse written for performance by several voices.

  • Adonic

    A Classical Greek and Latin metre, a dimeter with a dactyl and a spondee / ~ ' ' / ' ' / such as are found at the close of sapphics.

  • Aesthetic Movement

    A literary belief that art is its own justification and purpose, advocated in England by Walter Pater and practised by Edgar Allan Poe, Algernon Charles Swinburne, Oscar Wilde, and others.

  • Alcaics

    A four-line Classical stanza named after Alcaeus, a Greek poet, with a predominantly dactylic metre, imitated by Alfred Lord Tennyson's poem, "Milton."

  • Alexandrine

    A metrical line of six feet or twelve syllables (in English), originally from French heroic verse. Randle Cotgrave in his 1611 French-English dictionary explains: "Alexandrin. A verse of 12, or 13 sillables." In his "Essay on Criticism," Alexander Pope says, "A needless Alexandrine ends the song / That like a wounded snake, drags its slow length along" (359). Examples include Michael Drayton's "Polyolbion," Robert Bridges "Testament of Beauty," and the last line of each stanza in Thomas Hardy's "The Convergence of the Twain."

  • Allegory

    (Greek, ‘speaking otherwise’)

    Henry Cockeram, in his English dictionary (1623), explains this as "A sentence that must be understood otherwise than the literal interpretation shewes" but does not distinguish among allegory, irony, metaphor, and symbol. Medieval scholars developed Biblical exegesis to allow for at least three types of allegory. Moral allegory interpreted a story as a conflict between good and evil. The other two were types of historical allegory: anagogy foreshadowed the life of Christ (as Abraham's planned sacrifice of Isaac prefigured Christ the Son's self-sacrifice on the cross), and eschatology foreshadowed the end of the world (as Noah's flood looks forward to the Last Judgment and the four last things, heaven, hell, death, and judgment). John Dryden allegorizes secular history in "Absalom and Achitophel." Allegory reveals itself in poems such as Edmund Spenser's Faerie Queene when personifications interact on a landscape populated by objectifications.

  • Alliteration

    Using the same consonant to start two or more stressed words or syllables in a phrase or verse line, or using a series of vowels to begin such words or syllables in sequence. Alliteration need not re-use all initial consonants: words like "train" and "terrific" alliterate.

  • Anacreontic verse

    Imitations of the 6th-century B.C. Greek poet Anacreon, who wrote about love and wine. Thomas Moore translated Anacreon's odes in 1800. Abraham Cowley adapted them in his Anacreontics.

  • Allusion

    A reference to a historical, mythic, or literary person, place, event, movement, etc.

  • Ambiguity

    A statement with two or more meanings that may seem to exclude one another in the context. Grammatical ambiguity (amphibologia) occurs where a word has two or more possible word classes. For example, in "BILL POSTERS WILL BE PROSECUTED," the words "BILL POSTERS" could be either adjective and common noun or a proper name. Lexical ambiguity arises where one word has multiple senses (polysemous terms) or when two different words have the same sound (homonyms). Thus "present" is polysemous because it means both ‘current time’ and ‘gift,’ and "which" and "witch" are homonyms.

  • Amphimacer

    (Greek, ‘long at each end’)

    A Greek and Latin metrical foot consisting of long, short, and long syllables / ' ~ ' / (cf. the English word "forty-five"). An example is Alfred Lord Tennyson's "The Oak." See Foot below.

  • Amplification

    Rhetorical figures of speech that repeat and vary the expression of a thought.

  • Anachronism

    Someone or something belonging to another time period than the one in which it is described as being.

  • Anacoluthon

    (Greek, ‘not consistent’)

    An interruption in a sentence, sometimes indicated by a pause, that is afterwards restarted in a syntactically different way. See also Aposiopesis

  • Anacrucis

    One or two unstressed syllables at the beginning of a line that are unnecessary to the metre.

  • Anadiplosis

    (Greek, ‘double-back’)

    A repetition of the last word in a line or segment at the start of the next line or segment.

  • Anagram

    A word spelled out by rearranging the letters of another word. When both lexical forms appear in the same poem, especially in proximity, a reader may reasonably suspect that the anagram is a figure of speech. If only one form occurs, the encoding of an association is harder to prove. For example, "the teacher gapes at the mounds of exam pages lying before her."

  • Analepsis

    A flashback.

  • Analogue

    Usually a semantic or narrative feature in one work said to resemble something in another work, without necessarily implying that a cause-and-effect relationship exists (as would be the case with source and influence). For example, Beowulf's battle with the Dragon is analogous with the fight between the Red Cross Knight and the Dragon in Book I of Edmund Spenser's The Faerie Queene.

  • Anapest

    (Greek, ‘struck back’)

    A metrical foot consisting of two unaccented syllables followed by an accented one. Examples include the words "undermine" and "overcome." See Lord Byron's "The Destruction of Sennacherib."