Poetic Terms

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.

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Table of contents

    Poetic terms meaning

    What is the meaning of poetic terms?

    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, when metaphor is used in an essay there may be additional poetic terms to be used that are associated with a 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 and devices

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

    Poetic termDefinition of a poetic term
    VerseA broad term referring to a single line of poetry, stanza or an entire poem.
    AnaphoraThe repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of successive lines of a poem.
    RefrainThe repetition of one to three lines throughout a poem.
    SibilanceThe repetition of the 's' sound in a poem.
    SublimeA moment of transcendence or awe in a poem.
    ProsodyThe analysis of metrical patterns and rhythms in a poem.
    VoltaAlso called a 'turn', a volta is a rhetorical shift or change in thought/emotion that is found in a 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 verses are 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 eatenthe plumsthat were inthe iceboxand whichyou were probablysavingfor breakfastForgive methey were deliciousso sweetand so cold


    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,


    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 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'!


    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 weightOf all this unintelligible world,Is lightened:—


    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.


    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 some examples of how poetic terms manifest in poetry.

    Example of anaphora

    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'.

    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,

    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.

    Example of sibilance

    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.

    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 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.

    Example of refrain

    Refrain is repeated in the last lines of the first two stanzas of W.B Yeats' 'September 1913' (1913).

    It’s with O’Leary in the grave.

    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 affect 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 affect the meter, rhyme scheme, language and structure of poems.
    • Poetic terms are integral to understanding how poetry is formed.
    Frequently Asked Questions about Poetic Terms

    What is the meaning of poetic terms?

    Poetic terms describe the techniques used in poetry. 

    What are the common types of poetic terms?

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

    How do we use poetic terms?

    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. 

    What is an example of poetic terms?

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

    What are the characteristics of poetic terms?

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

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    True or False: Voltas are only found in sonnets.  

    Where is anaphora placed in a line of poetry?

    What literary movement is the sublime associated with?


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