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  • Paeon

    Greek and Latin metrical foot consisting of three short and one long syllables: the first paeon / ' ~ ~ ~ /, the second paeon / ~ ' ~ ~ /, the third paeon / ~ ~ ' ~ /, and the fourth paeon / ~ ~ ~ ' /.

  • Palindromes

    Thomas Blount's English dictionary (1656) explains that "Palindromes (Gr.) are those sentences or verses, where the syllables are the same backward as forward. As a noble Lady in Queen Elizabeths time, being for a time forbidden the Court, for too much familiarity with a great Lord in favour, gave this Devise, the Moon covered with a cloud, and underneath this Palindrome for Motto. Ablata, at alba. A great Lawyer this, Si nummi, immunis. Which may be Englished thus, Give me my fee I'le warrant you free. roma tibi subito motibus ibit amor. And this in English, which is more hard, comes near a true Palindrome, Lewd did I live, and evil did I dwel."

  • Palinode

    An ode or song that retracts what the poet wrote in a previous poem; a recantation.

  • Panegyric

    A poem in great praise of someone or something.

  • Pantoum

    A French verse form of four quatrains that repeats entire lines in a strict pattern, 1234, 2546, 5768, 7183. E.g.,

    1 My iambs walk the line
    2 Trochees cannot salute,
    3 As anapests decline
    4 And dactyls follow suit.

    2 Trochees cannot salute,
    5 Delaying this pantoum,
    4 And dactyls follow suit,
    6 Eschew a pyrrhic tune

    5 Delaying this pantoum.
    7 Never mind sestinas,
    6 Eschew a pyrrhic tune,
    8 Amazing terza rimas!

    7 Never mind sestinas!
    1 My iambs walk the line,
    8 Amazing terza rimas
    3 As anapests decline.


  • Pantun

    Mayan antecedent of the pantoum, with a single quatrain, rhyming aabb, couplets that at first reading seem to have nothing to do with one another. For example,

    Professors talk and talk and talk, a lot;
    Their students mumble, stare, and doze, somewhat.
    Leno and Letterman go head-to-head
    On TV just before we go to bed.


  • Paradox

    A self-contradictory phrase or sentence, such as "the ascending rain" or Alexander Pope's description of man, "Great lord of all things, yet a prey to all." Don Marquis's "quote buns by great men quote" (archys life of mehitabel [London: Faber and Faber, 1934]: 103-04), describes a drunk trying to go up a down-escalator as "falling upwards / through the night" (the poem also parodies Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's "St. Augustine").

  • Parallelism

    Two or more expressions that share traits, whether metrical, lexical, figurative, or grammatical, and can take the form of a list.

  • Paralipsis

    (Greek ‘false omission’)

    A figure of thought where less information is supplied than appears to be called for by the circumstances.

  • Parataxis

    Linking clauses just by sequencing them, often without conjunction(s) and only by means of associations that are implied, not stated.

  • Parody

    A not-uncomplimentary send-up of another work, such as Geoffrey Chaucer's "Sir Thopas" in The Canterbury Tales. Wendy Cope adds many expert modern parodies in her Making Cocoa for Kingsley Amis (1986).

  • Paronomasia

    (Greek ‘naming’)

    Punning, a play of meaning by yoking similar-sounding words. See Pun.

  • Pastiche

    Work patched together from excerpts of other writers, or from passages clearly recognizable as imitating others.

  • Pastoral

    Following Theocritus (3rd cent. B.C.), verse about those shepherds and their beloveds who lived the simple vice-free life in Arcadia, a mountainous region in the Peloponnese of Greece. Also termed bucolic, eclogues, and idylls.

  • Pathetic fallacy

    An expression that endows inanimate things with human feelings.

  • Pattern poetry

    Verse that creates the shape of its subject typographically on the page (and thus also called "shape poetry"). George Herbert's "Easter Wings" and Lewis Carroll's story of a cat and a mouse in Alice in Wonderland, chapter III, are examples.

  • PEN

    Acronym for the association, Poets, Playwrights, Editors, Essayists and Novelists (1921-).

  • Pentameter

    Five feet; sometimes termed pentapody, a five-part foot, one measure made up of five feet. Iambic pentameter or cinquepace is the rhythm of so-called English ‘heroic’ verse of ten syllables.

  • Periphrasis

    Using a wordy phrase to describe something for which one term exists.

  • Persona

    The speaker of a poem, a dramatic character distinguished from the poet, such as Robert Browning's "Fra Lippo Lippi."

  • Personification

    An anthropomorphic figure of speech where the poet describes an abstraction, a thing, or a non-human form as if it were a person. William Blake's "O Rose, thou art sick!" is an example, but not "Oh Rose, you smashed up the Chevy again!"

  • Phonemic alphabet

    The twelve vowel sounds and twenty-two consonant sounds that make up spoken English, normally encoded between virgules / /.

  • Pherecratean

    A Classical Greek and Latin metrical pattern consisting of an iamb or a trochee, a dactyl, and a trochee or a spondee.

  • Phonolexis

    A term coined by Philip Davies Roberts to describe "meaning conveyed through phonemic connotation limited to speakers of a particular language" (How Poetry Works: The Elements of English Poetry [Penguin, 1986]: 53-54). For example, the nonce-word "oombaloo" has connotations of "a billowing, clumpy" drawing rather than a pointy, spiked one.