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Poetic Terms

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English Literature

Poetic terms and devices are the techniques that poets use to give their poems meaning. Basic poetic terms include anaphora, sibilance and the sublime. Poetic terms refer to anything that may affect the reading of the poem.

Poetic terms: meaning

Poetic terms are a category of techniques used to describe devices or stylistic elements found in poems.

Poetic terms are the names given to devices and techniques that poets use in their works. It is important to have a clear understanding of these terms before you begin to analyse poetry. These devices and techniques have a significant impact on meter, rhyme scheme, structure or language of a poem. Some examples of poetic terms include anaphora, sibilance and voltas.

Poetic terms vs poetic devices

Poetic devices - Literary devices found in poetry. These refer to elements such as structure, meter, and grammar.

Poetic terms are used to describe poetic devices and how these may be enhanced.

For example, most poems have a meter, which is a poetic device. Poetic terms such as the iambic pentameter or trochaic trimeter may constitute the meter of a particular poem.

Poetic devices refers to the elements used by poets in their poems to add a layer of meaning or convey the poet's intention. These can include metaphor, sibilance or repetition. When writing about poetic devices in essays, or other pieces of analysis, they will be referred to by their poetic terms (or their names!).

For example, to discuss the poetic device of metaphor, these may be referred to by the poetic terms associated with metaphor such as 'extended metaphor' or 'allegorical metaphor'.

Extended metaphor – This is a type of metaphor that extends throughout the poem. It is sometimes referred to as a sustained metaphor.

Allegorical metaphor – This is a type of metaphor that presents immaterial things as images

For example, in Emily Dickinson's poem 'Because I could not stop for Death -' (1890), the concept of death is presented as a carriage driver.

Basic poetic terms, meters and devices

It is important to understand some of the basic poetic terms that are used in the analysis of poems.

Verse

VerseA broad term referring to a single line of poetry, stanza or an entire poem.

The verse is an umbrella term used to refer to any piece of metrical writing. It is often used interchangeably with the word 'stanza'. There are two major types of verses:

1. Free Verse

Free verse gets its name from its lack of set structure – the poet is free to choose what they want! There is no set meter, rhyme scheme or form for poems written in free verse.

2. Blank Verse

Blank verse refers to poems that are written without a rhyme scheme. These verse a typically written in iambic pentameter, although that is not always the case.

An example of free verse is William Carols Williams, 27-word poem, 'This Is Just To Say' (1934). Here, the three verses are used to represent an apology note.

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox
and which
you were probably
saving
for breakfast
Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

Anaphora

Anaphora The repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of successive lines of a poem.

Anaphora is a form of repetition that is seen frequently in poetry. It is used to link ideas in a poem together, as well as create rhythm and structure. As the ideas or objects will be linked together, it also is useful to create memorable sections of the poem. Anaphora can be used in any type of poem, and can also be found in prose, speeches and songs. A notable example of anaphora can be found in 'London' (1794) by William Blake. Here, the word 'in' is repeated to show how the speaker hears the same cry of despair among the people.

In every cry of every Man,
In every Infants cry of fear,
In every voice: in every ban,

Refrain

RefrainThe repetition of one to three lines throughout a poem.

Refrains are a commonly used form of repetition that occurs in poetry. Refrains can be comprised of a phrase, or one to three lines, and can occur anywhere in a poem. Sometimes there will be minor changes to the phrase for effect. This poetic term is typically used to add emphasis as well as to create a rhythm in the poem. One of the most famous 19th-century examples of a refrain is in 'O Captain! My Captain!' (1865) by Walt Whitman. In this poem, the phrase 'O Captain! My Captain!' is repeated throughout.

O Captain! my Captain! our fearful trip is done,

Note how 'repetition' is a poetic device used by poets, and that both refrain and anaphora are poetic terms used to describe this device.

Sibilance

Sibilance – The repetition of the 's' sound in a poem.

Sibilance involves a repeated 's' sound throughout a poem. This can create a hissing sound in the poem. Sibilance is typically used to create musicality in the poem, as it can help form a rhythm in the poetry. It is also used to develop motion in the poem. This is because it can be used to represent how animals or objects move. A notable example of sibilance can be found in Edgar Allen Poe's poem, 'The Raven' (1845). Sibilance is used in this poem to mimic the movement of a curtain.

And the silken, sad, uncertain rustling of each purple curtain

Remember! Sibilance is the repetition of the 's' sound, not the letter 's'!

Sublime

Sublime - A moment of transcendence or awe in a poem.

Moments of sublimity in poetry are often described as points of exaltation or joy. They are moments that cause the speaker to experience an intense emotional response. Typically, poems that use the sublime will feature nature. There is traditionally a lofty and serious tone found in such poems. It is closely linked with Romantic poetry. The sublime can be seen in the poem 'Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey' (1798) by William Wordsworth, which elaborates upon the speaker's lofty depiction of the landscape, and the effect it has on his soul.

To them I may have owed another gift,
Of aspect more sublime; that blessed mood,
In which the burthen of the mystery,
In which the heavy and the weary weight
Of all this unintelligible world,
Is lightened:—

Prosody

Prosody – The analysis of metrical patterns and rhythms in a poem.

Prosody is a poetic term that is used to refer to the study of meter and rhythm. It is also used to describe how rhythm affects a poem. There are three key categories of prosody, namely:

1. Syllabic prosody

This type of prosody focuses on how many syllables are in each line. Syllabic prosody will view syllable count as the most important factor, with elements such as tone and quantity being secondary.

2. Accentual prosody

This style of prosody will study the accents or stresses in each line of a poem.

3. Accentual-syllabic prosody

Accentual-syllabic prosody combines the previous two categories together. This is the study of syllables, as well as stresses, and both are viewed with equal importance. This is common in English literature analysis.

Volta

Volta – Also called a 'turn', a volta is a rhetorical shift or change in thought/emotion that is found in a poem.

Voltas are often associated with the sonnet; however, they are found in all poems. Voltas are used to divide the poem into two. The first part will relay an initial idea or belief, and the second half will offer a different perspective on this. The second part of the poem will provide a conclusion to the initial idea, whether it is positive or negative.

A good example of a volta can be found in 'Remains' (2008) by Simon Armitage. The second line of this extract is the volta. It marks a divide between the incident and the emotional fallout the speaker experiences afterwards.

Then he’s carted off in the back of a lorry.
End of story, except not really.
His blood-shadow stays on the street, and out on patrol
I walk right over it week after week.

Poetic terms: examples

Now that we have established some of the key poetic terms, let's look at how these terms manifest in poetry.

And needy nothing trimm'd in jollity,And purest faith unhappily forsworn,And guilded honour shamefully misplaced,And maiden virtue rudely strumpeted,And right perfection wrongfully disgraced,

In William Shakespeare's 'Sonnet 66' (1609), almost all of the lines feature anaphora, as the ten middle lines all begin with the word 'and'. This is done to bind the ideas of the poem together, as well as create a growing moment as the poem reaches its climax. Anaphora is used here to create rhythm and musicality in the poem.

There was never a sound beside the wood but one,
And that was my long scythe whispering to the ground.
What was it it whispered? I knew not well myself;
Perhaps it was something about the heat of the sun,
Something, perhaps, about the lack of sound—

Sibilance is used throughout Robert Frost's poem 'Mowing' (1913). There is at least one hissing 's' sound used in each line of the poem. Sibilance is used here to replicate the motion of scythe as it cuts the grass. This shows how sibilance can be used to create movement in a poem.

It’s with O’Leary in the grave.

The quote above is a refrain that is repeated in the last lines of the first two stanzas of W.B Yeats' 'September 1913' (1913). Yeats repeatedly mentions Irish separatist John O'Leary throughout the poem. It is thought that O'Leary is included in this refrain in order to emphasise his importance as a political figure and the influence he has on the speaker.

Poetic terms: effect

Poetic terms are important because they allow readers to understand how poetry is created. Each poetic term will have different effects on the poem. However, poetic terms are generally important as they will effects the meter, rhyme scheme, language and structure of a poem. Poetic terms are integral to conveying meaning in a piece of work.

Poetic Terms - Key takeaways

  • Poetic terms describe the techniques used in poetry.
  • Poetic devices are literary devices found in poetry. These refer to elements such as structure, meter, and grammar.
  • Examples of poetic devices include sibilance, prosody and voltas.
  • Poetic terms effect the meter, rhyme scheme, language and structure of poems.
  • Poetic terms are integral to understand how poetry is formed.

Poetic Terms

Poetic terms describe the techniques used in poetry. 

Common types of poetic terms include verse, anaphora and sibilance. 

Poetic terms are used to give meaning to elements of the poem. This can include using a refrain to give emphasis to a phrase or line of the poem. 

Examples of poetic terms include prosody, volta and the sublime. 

Characteristics of poetic terms include how the term will affect the meter, rhyme scheme, structure or language of a poem. 

Final Poetic Terms Quiz

Question

True or false: The word 'sibilance' derives from the word 'sibilant'. Sibilant is a type of abrasive sound with a higher pitch.

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Answer

True. The word 'sibilance' derives from the word 'sibilant'. Sibilant is a type of abrasive sound with a higher pitch.

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Question

True or false: Leisure and pleasure are examples of sibilant words.

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Answer

True. Leisure and pleasure are examples of sibilant words because the 's' sound sounds like 'sh'.

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Question

How does Mew use sibilance in her poem 'A Quoi Bon Dire?' and how does it reflect the meaning of the text?


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Answer

The repeated 's' sound mimics a hissing sound that could represent the lingering whisper of her former lover, that only she can hear. As a subtle technique, almost like a secret code representing her former lover, the sibilance emulates the fact that only she can feel her lover's presence. 

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How can you spot sibilance? 


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Answer

Sibilance can be spotted when the soft sound 's' is used frequently in a short space of time.

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 What effect does sibilance have on literature?


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Answer

Sibilance has multiple effects. It can help reinforce the meaning of a text, hint at hidden meaning in a poem, establish rhythm, and draw attention to specific parts of a poem. 

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Question

How does Sexton use sibilance and what effect does it have on her poem lullaby? 


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Answer

As Sexton's poem 'Lullaby' depicts a nurse returning to a mentality ill patient with sleeping pills, the drowsyness associated with sleeping is emulated in the silabence. The repetition of 's' sounds litter the poem with soft sounds, mimicing a lullaby, a sleepy song sending readers to sleep - much like the subject of the poem. 



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Question

Which of the following are examples of sibilant words? 


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Answer

All of them

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Question

How is sibilance associated with a semantic field?


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Answer

 A semantic field is a term describing a section of text that contains similarities, this could be anything from plosive sounds, water imagery, to alliteration. Sibilance is similar to a semantic field as it is an area of text containing a plethora of 's' sounds, thus it is a semantic field of 's' sounds.

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Question

How is onomatopoeia associated with sibilance?


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Answer

Onomatopoeia is when a word sounds like what it means. For instance, 'ding-dong' describes the sound a doorbell makes, and the word sounds like the sound itself. Sibilance is similar to onomatopoeia as the repetition of the 's' sound can emulate what it describes. 

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Question

How does MacNeice use sibilance in 'Meeting Point'? 


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Answer

In 'Meeting Point' the sibilance hints at an underlying message in the poem. The succession of 's' sounds could be liked to sand slipping through an hourglass timer, reminding readers that time is continuing and nothing can stop it, even love. The subtle use of sibilance representing time slipping away, reflects the way time moving on has been marginalized in the lover's lives, as it is in the poem.



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Question

How does sibilance add musicality to poetry?


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Answer

Much like other literary techniques like assonance, alliteration, and consonance, sibilance adds musicality to poetry. When we speak, we wouldn't normally choose to use multiple words that contain 's' sounds. It is a technique authors deliberately use to enrich their writing and make it sound more poetic.  

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Question

How does sibilance draw attention to specific parts of a poem?


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Answer

 the same sounds grouped together in a couple of lines in a poem highlights a particular part of the poem as it differs from non sibilant sentences. Poets can use this effect to subtly draw attention to key parts of their texts.



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Question

True or false: All words containing the sound 's' make them sound similar and smooths transitions between words


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Answer

True. All words containing the sound 's' make them sound similar and smooths transitions between words

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Question

How does sibilance hint at underlying messages in poetry?


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Answer

As a subtle technique, it is possible sibilance could be used to reveal an underlying message in a poem 

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Question

How does Keats use sibilance in 'An Ode to Autumn'?


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Answer

The opening lines of the poem contain sibilance helping the poem flow smoothly and have a somewhat musical effect. The soft 's' sound reiterates the soft autumnal connotations of 'sun' and 'mist' - as Keats affectionately describes this season. 



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Question

How do you use refrain?  

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Answer

You use refrain to place emphasis on a chosen idea.  

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Question

What is an example of refrain? 

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Answer

  • Dylan Thomas’ ‘Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night’ (1951): 'Rage, rage against the dying of the light' and 'Do not go gentle into that good night'
  • Edgar Allan Poe's 'The Raven' (1845): 'nothing more' and 'nevermore'
  • Edgar Allan Poe's 'Annabel Lee' (1849): 'In a kingdom by the sea'

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Question

What is refrain? 

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Answer

Refrain is a poetic device used in literature. Refrain is a repeated word, line or phrase you can find in a poem.   

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What is the function of refrain? 

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Answer

The effect of refrain is that the repetition of a word, line or phrase places emphasis on a chosen idea. The use of refrain can also contribute to the rhythm of a poem and this helps keep the rhythmic structure of the poem. This emphasis on an idea highlights its importance and that it is a key point for the reader to remember. 

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Question

How do you write your own refrain?

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Answer

  • Consider what ideas you want to express in your poem.

  • Focus on choosing one word or a phrase or a collection of phrases that you feel would best emphasise these ideas or themes. 

  • You only need to pick one repetend, burden, or chorus, as refrain is most effective when it is distinct from the rest of the poem. This makes it easy to spot the use of refrain from even just a glance! 

  • Think about how your chosen repetend, burden or chorus will contribute to the rhyme scheme or the rhythm of your poem or parts of your poem. 

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Question

What is a repeated word in the use of refrain called?

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Answer

The repeated in the use of refrain is called the 'repetend'.

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What is a repeated phrase in the use of refrain called?

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Answer

The repeated phrase in the use of refrain is called the 'burden'.

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What is a repeated phrase in the use of refrain called?

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The repeated phrase in the use of refrain is called the 'burden'.

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Question

In which three ways can refrain be used?

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Answer

  • The repetition of a single word. This is known as the repetend.
  • The repetition of a phrase. This is known as the burden. 
  • The repetition of a phrase or multiple phrases in a poem or a song, usually sung by more than one person. This is known as the chorus.

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Question

Where in a poem is a refrain most commonly found?

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Answer

A refrain is typically found at the end of a line in a stanza of a poem.

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Question

What is anaphora?

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Anaphora is a form of repetition when words are repeated at the beginning of clauses, phrases and sentences.

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How do you make anaphora?

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Answer

Anaphora is created by repeating a series of words or a word at the start of several clauses, phrases or sentences repeatedly.

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What is anaphoric?


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Anaphoric is a word that means something is related to anaphora.

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Why might you use anaphora?


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Anaphora helps you reinforce and reestablish a point you are trying to make, by repeating words like a chorus.

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What is an example of anaphora?


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The chorus to Rick Astley’s song Never Gonna Give you Up is a perfect example of anaphora.

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What is the relationship between anaphora and repetition?


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Anaphora is a type of repetition that is intentional, and only occurs when things are repeated at the beginning of sentences, phrases and clauses.

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What is the relationship between epistrophe and anaphora?


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Answer

Epistrophe and anaphora are opposites. Anaphora is the repetition at the beginning of clauses, phrases and sentences and epistrophe is the repetition at the end.

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In order for something to be anaphoric, when must words be repeated?


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Words, in order to be anaphora, must be repeated at the beginning of phrases, clauses and sentences.

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Can you think of an example of a speech with anaphora?


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Both Martin Luther King and Winston Churchill used anaphora in their speeches to try and convince the people to a perspective and inspire them to help them achieve their goals.

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What is the effect of anaphora?


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Anaphora reinforces a point in a text as well as adding a potential tone to the narrative, depending on how it is used.

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Why does anaphora reinforce a point?


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Anaphora reinforces a point because it returns to a phrase like a chorus, forcing it to stick with a reader.

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How many words need to be repeated for it to be anaphora?

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Anaphora can be made by repeating a series of words or a singular word!

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What is the repetition of a phrase of multiple phrases in a poem or a song called?

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This is called the chorus. It is usually sung or said by more than one person.

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What are the two main types of verse?

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Free verse

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What are the characteristics of free verse?

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Free verse has no rhyme scheme and no set meter.

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What are the characteristics of blank verse?

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Blank verse has no rhyme scheme but is usually iambic pentameter.

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Who is a famous free verse poet?

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Answer

Walt Whitman

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Question

Who wrote the blank verse poem Paradise Lost?

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Answer

John Milton

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Question

What could be said to be the first language to use free verse in poetry?

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Answer

Generally it can be said that the French Symbolism poets used this more modern version of the free verse first.

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Question

What is iambic pentameter?

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Answer

Iambic pentameter is meter used in poetry. Each line in an imabic pentameter poem will have 5 iambs and 10 syllables. It sounds like this: duh-DUH, duh-DUH, duh- DUH, duh- DUH, duh-DUH.

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Question

What is the difference between prose and verse?

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Generally verse differs from prose in that is composed in lines that make up a stanza, that then make up a poem. 


Prose is made up of sentences that make a paragraph which makes up a novel, for example. 


Authors write prose, while poets create verses.

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How are prose and verse similar?

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There are some similarities between free verse and prose. Neither free verse nor prose is metrical and both try to replicate natural speech patterns

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Question

What type of verse does Elizabeth Barret Browning use?

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Answer

Blank verse

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Question

Define the sublime

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Answer

The sublime is a complex emotional experience of awe, which is both terrifying and pleasurable. The sublime also refers to how poets communicate this experience in poetry.

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How did Longinus use the term 'sublime'?

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Answer

As an adjective to describe the genius of a poet and the greatness of a poem.

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