KOLEC Lesson 21: Important Poetic Terminologies - Part 1

KOLEC Lesson 21: Important Poetic Terminologies - Part 1




The study of poetry involves the use of a variety of technical terms. Understanding these special terms is important for the appreciation of poetry.

In this section, the following poetic terms will be discussed: 

  1. Poem
  2. Verse 
  3. Stanza
  4. Refrain
  5. Persona
  6. Speaker
  7. Poetic license 
  8. Inversion 
  9. Meter
  10. Foot 


The following are some of the poetic terms used in literature in general and in poetry in particular: 

(1) Poem 

A poem is an arrangement of words containing meaning and musicality. Most poems take the form of a series of lines grouped into groups called stanzas.

(2) Verse 

This is a line in a stanza. A verse is formally a single metrical line in poetry or poem.  

(3) Stanza 

A stanza is a sum of verses that combine to form a block-like paragraph or group of lines called a stanza. A poem has at least one stanza or more. Stanzas in poetry are the equivalent of paragraphs in prose. 

(4) Refrain 

A refrain is a word, phrase, line, or group of lines that are repeated at the end of each stanza. Refrain adds music and it emphasizes a point. 

(5) Persona 

A persona is a person who speaks in or narrates in a poem. In other words, a persona refers to the character of the poem. Sometimes a poet may use 'I' but he/she does not refer to himself or herself. The poet puts himself in the shoes of another person. For example, a poet may be living in a settled country, but he can decide to write a poem about one troubled refugee. 

(6) Speaker 

This is the voice that is talking to us in a poem. Sometimes the speaker is the same as the poet, but the poet may also create a different voice, speaking as a child, or even as an object. 

(7) Poetic license 

This is the privilege that poets are given to break the grammatical rules of language. These grammatical rules are violated in order to meet the metrical rules or needs of a poem. For example, the poet may write "out they go" instead of "they go out" without sounding ungrammatical. However, if the poet does not have grammatical competence of a language he/she cannot be said to be using poetic license.  

(8) Inversion 

This is the reversal of normal word order in a sentence, especially in a prose sentence or in a line of poetry. The normal word order in English language is SVC or SVO. For example; the line 'they kill animals' has normal order of Subject+Verb+Object (SVO). But when writers use inversion, the sentence elements are put in a different order. For example; 'Animals they kill' (SSV/OSV). Poets use inversion to give emphasis and variety to the poetry.  

(9) Meter 

Meter is a rhythm of stressed and unstressed syllables arranged into feet in a poem. The most common is an iamb in which one foot is soft and another is hard. The most common metrical pattern is iambic pentameter: 

A dog| is not| allowed| to run| away|

Meter in poetry is what brings the poem to life and is the internal beat or rhythm with which it is read.  

(10) Foot 

A foot is a unit consisting of at least one stressed syllable and usually one or more unstressed syllables.  


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Emmanuel Kachele

Emmanuel Kachele is a founder and Blogger of KACHELE ONLINE Blog, an educational blog where 'O' Level English - 'OLE', 'A' Level English (ALE) and other related teaching and life skills are shared extensively. This is an online center for all Tanzanian Secondary School English Language students and teachers (Forms I-VI) and all interested English Language learners and teachers worldwide.

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