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  • Cadence

    The ametrical rhythm of natural speech.

  • Caesura

    (Latin, ‘cut’)

    A stop or pause in a metrical line, often marked by punctuation or by a grammatical boundary, such as a phrase or clause. When a caesura splits the line in equal parts, it is termed medial. When the pause occurs towards the beginning or end of the line, it is termed, respectively, initial and terminal.

  • Canon

    Someone's list of authors or works considered to be "classic," that is, central to the identity of a given literary tradition or culture.

  • Canto

    Subdivision of an Italian epic or long narrative poem, such as Dante's Divina Commedia, first employed in English by Edmund Spenser in The Faerie Queene, popularized by Byron in "Don Juan," and restored to epic dignity by Ezra Pound in his Pisan Cantos.

  • Canzone

    Hendecasyllabic lines in stanza form. William Drummond of Hawthornden adapted the canzone to English.

  • Carol

    A hymn or poem often sung, as at Christmas, by a group, with an individual taking the changing stanzas and the group taking the burden or refrain. Wynkyn de Worde, Caxton's assistant, printed the first collection of carols in 1521. An example is "I Saw Three Ships."

  • Caroline

    Literature of the reign of Charles I (1625-42), especially the by the Calvalier poets, who numbered Robert Herrick, Richard Lovelace, and John Suckling, among others.

  • Carpe diem

    (Horace, ode I, xi)

    "seize the day, live while you can, savour the moment," a subject typical of begging love poems such as Andrew Marvell's "To his Coy Mistress."

  • Catachresis

    (Greek, ‘misuse’)

    An eccentric metaphor.

  • Catalectic

    A type of verse termed by George Puttenham in 1589 "maimed" because it is missing a syllable in the last foot. An acatalectic verse is complete. A hypercatalectic line has an extra syllable. The three types can be seen below in the last foot of this tercet:

    Hamlet cries his mother's tainted.
    Gertrude nearly falls down, faint.
    Hamlet's father swears, unsaintly, he.


  • Catalogue verse

    Poems with lists that perform an encyclopedic purpose, lending high seriousness to a topic. Lewis Carroll's "The Walrus and the Carpenter" gently parodies this convention.

  • Celtic revival

    Irish poets such as George Russell (AE), James Joyce, John M. Synge, and W. B. Yeats who drew on Celtic myth to recreate a national literature.

  • Chanson

    (French, "song")

    A medieval lyric.

  • Chant royale

    A complex French form of the ballade, having various forms.

  • Chiasmus

    (Greek, ‘placing crosswise’)

    Repetition of any group of verse elements in reverse order.

  • Choka

    Japanese form with alternating lines of five and seven syllables, ending with a couplet of seven-syllable lines.

  • Choriamb

    Greek and Latin metrical foot consisting of long, short, short, and long syllables / ' ~ ~ ' /; also an iambic alexandrine line with a spondee or trochee instead of an iambus in the sixth foot. For example, Swinburne's "Choriambics."

  • Choree

    A trochee.

  • Cinquain

    A verse form of five lines with lines of 2, 4, 6, 8, and 2 syllables.

  • Circumlocution

    Speaking around a point rather than getting to it, such as S. T. Coleridge's "twice five miles of fertile ground" in "Kubla Khan." Also known as periphrasis.

  • Clerihew

    A form of light verse invented by Edmund Clerihew Bentley, consisting of two couplets and having the name of a person in the first line. E.g.,

    Celine Dion
    Sang a paeon
    To love and pain
    And ladies layin'.


  • Cockney School of Poetry

    A mocking name for London romantic poets such as John Keats and Leigh Hunt (from a scathing review in Blackwood's Magazine in October 1817).

  • Common measure

    A quatrain that rhymes abab and alternates four-stress and three-stress iambic lines (each pair equivalent to a single line of 14 syllables), the metre of the hymn and the ballad. An example is "Sir Patrick Spence." Short or half measure consists of a six-stress, 12-syllable line split into two three-stress, trimeter lines. Long measure has eight-stress lines of 16 syllables that are divided into two four-stress lines. An example is T. S. Eliot's "Whispers of Immortality."