Poetry Glossary of Terms

Poetry – Glossary of Terms

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Why doesn’t onomatopoeia sound like what it means? What’s so pathetic about pathetic fallacy? Is this a rhetorical question?

Poetry can be difficult to get your head around, and sometimes it can feel like you need to learn a whole new language just to discuss it. That’s why we’ve put together this glossary of useful terms that you can use in both the studied and unseen poetry sections of your Leaving Cert.


Stanza: A verse in a poem.

Theme: The general idea or message behind a poem or other text. A poem or text can have several themes.

Tone: The mood or feeling behind a poem or other text. The tone can change several times throughout.

Metre: The pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables in a poem.

Rhyming scheme: The order in which the end words of a poem rhyme.


Imagery: Words or phrases used to appeal to one or more of the reader’s five senses: sight, sound, smell, taste and touch.

Simile: A comparison using the words ‘like’, ‘as’ or ‘than’. Examples might be ‘his father was like a raging bull’ or ‘The house was silent as a graveyard’.

Metaphor: A comparison without using the words ‘like’, ‘as’ or ‘than. Examples might be ‘The kitchen was an ocean of dirty dishes’ or ‘His words stabbed her through the heart’.

The Irish flag

A flag is a symbol of its country

Contrast: Two things set in opposition in order to emphasise the differences between them. Examples: Shakespeare contrasts his lover with a summer’s day in ‘Sonnet 18′, Kerry Hardie contrasts the dead duck with the live duck in ‘Daniel’s Duck’Symbol: Something (often a material object) used to represent another concept or object. Examples include the deer in ‘Traveling Through the Dark’ as a symbol of nature, the duck in ‘Daniel’s Duck’ as a symbol of death.


Alliteration: The same initial sounds repeated for poetic effect. Example: ‘Karl Kenny drives a crimson car’.

Assonance: The same vowel sounds repeated for poetic effect. Assonance is similar to consonance, but it refers only to vowel sounds, while consonance refers only to consonant sounds. Example: ‘New shoes for you, Julia’.

Consonance: The same consonant sounds repeated for poetic effect. Consonance is similar to alliteration, however, alliteration refers only to the sound at the beginning of the word, while consonance can also be within a word. Example: ‘Bob Balaban likes blueberries’.

Sibilance: – An ‘s’ sound repeated for poetic effect. Example: ‘Six serpents in a circle’.


Onomatopoeia: A word or phrase that sounds like the object or action it is describing. Examples: ‘splash’, ‘mumble’, ‘whoosh’, ‘crunch’.

Pun: A play on words to suggest several meanings.Example: ‘Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer by this son (sun) of York’.


Allusion: A reference to a person, place, event or work of literature or art that exists separately to the text. Examples: Brendan Kennelly’s allusion to the biblical plague of frogs in ‘Night Drive’, Penelope Shuttle’s allusions to Venus, Eve and Salome in ‘Jungian Cows’.

Epiphany: A sudden realisation, often about a profound truth. Examples: Daniel realises the duck is dead in ‘Daniel’s Duck’.

Pathetic fallacy

Pathetic fallacy: A literary technique through which the weather or the natural world is used to reflect the mood or events of the text. Examples: the stormy weather in Brendan Kennelly’s ‘Night Drive’ reflecting the troubled thoughts of the speaker.

Personification: An inanimate object given human qualities for poetic effect. Examples: ‘The flowers danced in the breeze’, ‘Time ran away from him’.

Rhetorical question: A question to which the asker does not expect or require an answer. Example: ‘How many roads must a man walk down before you can call him a man?’

Satire: A critical commentary on an individual, institution or society portrayed in a humourous or ridiculous way. Examples: ‘Problems’ by Julie O’Callaghan.

Hyperbole: Overstatement or exaggeration for dramatic effect. Examples: ‘This song is the worst song ever written’, ‘My English homework is impossible’.

Paradox: A statement or phrase that seems to contradict itself. Examples: ‘This statement is false’, ‘I must be cruel to be kind’.

Irony: A situation in which there is an inconsistency between what is expected and what actually occurs. Example: a man who spends his life improving road safety is run over by a car.


Sestina: A highly structured poem consisting of six stanzas with six lines, followed by a final envoi of three lines. The six end words of each line are repeated in a specific order at the ends of the lines in the following stanza. The final envoi repeats these six words in the middle and end of each line.  Examples: ‘Sestina’ by Elizabeth Bishop, ‘Chronicle’ by David Wheatley.

Sonnet: A poem of 14 lines, usually with a strict rhyming scheme and metre. Examples: Shakespeare’s Sonnets, Milton’s ‘When I Consider How My Light Is Spent’.

Villanelle: A highly structured poem consisting of five stanzas with three lines, followed by a final stanza of four lines. The first and third lines of the first stanza are repeated alternately at the end of the following stanzas, until the final stanza, in which both lines are repeated. The rhyming scheme is ‘aba’ for the first five stanzas, and ‘abaa’ for the final stanza. Examples: ‘Antarctica’ by Derek Mahon, ‘Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night’ by Dylan Thomas.

Couplet: A stanza of two lines.

Tercet: A stanza of three lines.

Quatrain: A stanza of four lines.

Quintain: A stanza of five lines.

Sextet: A stanza of six lines.

– See more at: https://www.clevernotes.ie/english/hlol/senior/poetry-glossary-of-terms/#sthash.1HV5Bkqq.dpuf


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