89% of People Can't Identify These Basic Poetry Terms. Can You?

Torrance Grey

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About This Quiz

Poetry: It's gotten a bad reputation in recent decades as the province of those who hang out in coffeehouses, writing in morose, uncapitalized sentence fragments. (Seriously, are there any more chilling words to hear than "I've written a poem about our relationship. Can I read it to you?") But this art form deserves far more respect than that.

For example, rhyming poetry is often dismissed as being for children -- but did you know that rhyme and meter were originally mnemonic devices that allowed bards to keep hundreds of lines of poetry in their heads, back in the days when written communication was easily destroyed by fire, flood, or war? Or that we wouldn't have national sagas and heroic poems without the rhyme schemes that made it possible?

Poetic techniques, from haiku to sonnets, are less like cages than trellises, on which creativity can grow. Every civilization on earth has created its own particular forms of poetry, each with their own rules. Don't worry, we're not going to test you on rare forms like dyfalu or villanelle (though, if you're curious, the first is a form of nearly verbless Welsh poetry; the second is a complex French form that Dylan Thomas used to write "Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night"). But do you know what separates blank verse from free verse? Or an ode from an elegy?

Dust off your memories of English class and try our quiz on poetry terms. You might just find yourself inspired to read a little more of this venerable art form, whether it's John Donne or John Berryman!

Finishing lines with words that have the same sound is called ______.

Rhyme gets a bad rap (no pun intended). First used as a mnemonic device in the days when bards kept long poems entirely in their heads, rhyme is intrinsically pleasing to the ear. It's the reason that the hip-hop world regularly creates millionaires.

The natural bounce and flow, stress and "unstress" of a poem is its _____.

Rhythm is a loose term compared to others in poetry, but it's also key to a satisfying poem. "Meter" is a stricter term, meaning the scheme that gives a poem its rhythm.

Poetry without rhyme or meter is called ______.

Students often consider free verse to be the highest form of poetry, unconstrained by rules, letting true feelings shine through. Unfortunately, its popularity with the young and unschooled also makes free verse the Official Form of Bad Breakup Poetry.

Two lines that rhyme are called a ______.

Couplets sometimes round out an otherwise unrhymed poem. Shakespeare did this a lot, like in "Hamlet," where Hamlet concludes his plans with "The play's the thing/Wherein I'll catch the conscience of the king."

Alliteration is ...

Don't overdo this unless you're writing for children. There's a reason "Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers" is in a nursery rhyme.

Which of these is comparable to a paragraph in prose writing?

Though lines and iambs are ways in which poetry is measured, the stanza is most like a paragraph. It's the longest unit, with a space between it and the next stanza.

More direct than a simile, a ______ says that one thing *is* another.

Metaphor is found throughout writing, not just in poetry. Example: "The mountains were gods looking down on us."

A poem about heroism or a quest is called a/an _____.

Incidentally, don't be fooled by "alexandrine;" the name doesn't refer to Alexander the Great. That's a metrical form with 12-syllable iambic lines. If you've read Shelley's "To a Skylark," you've read one.

If an epic is meant to be comic, it's called a ______ epic.

Probably the most famous mock epic in English is Alexander Pope's "Rape of the Lock." Don't worry, it's not about an actual rape, but about the cutting off of a lock of a girl's hair, which caused a society scandal in Pope's day.

Which of these forms was "imported" to England from Italy?

The sonnet was brought back from England by Sir Thomas Wyatt, a nobleman and poet. The other forms are Welsh, Japanese and French, respectively.

Which of these is NOT a type of sonnet?

Ezra Pound was tremendously influential in the world of modern poetry. He does not, however, have a sonnet form named for him.

A foot consisting of one stressed and one unstressed syllable is called a/an ______.

In poetry, a "foot" is a short unit of measure. The iamb, consisting of one unstressed and one stressed syllable, makes for a pleasing rhythm to the ear.

What was the classic meter that Shakespeare usually wrote in called?

Many people who know little about poetry otherwise are familiar with this term. It's a line of 10 syllables, or five iambs.

Iambic pentameter that does not rhyme is called ______.

You might have been taught in school that blank verse is any poem with meter but no rhyme. English departments define it more strictly. Many great English poems are in blank verse, including John Milton's "Paradise Lost."

A line with six metrical feet is called a ________.

"Hexameter" has the same root as "hexagon." This makes it easy to remember.

If a poem's name ends with "-iad," what is it?

The most famous example of this is "The Iliad." Nowadays, the name is usually used ironically. We feel certain that somewhere out there, a witty poet is composing a "Trumpiad."

Didactic poetry is written to ____.

"Didactic" has to do with teaching. You might recognize it from art museums, where the "didactic panel" is the text that accompanies a painting or sculpture and tells visitors about what they are viewing.

The opposite of an iamb is a _______.

Given how many people recognize the "iamb," an unstressed syllable followed by a stress, it's surprising how many people don't know the word "trochee." It just means the opposite: a stressed syllable followed by an unstressed.

What is the term for a poet who represents a city, state or nation?

In the past, poets laureates were expected to write commemorative poems for coronations, or to mourn national disasters. Nowadays, it's just a ceremonial position, to show that the government respects and patronizes the arts.

An "abecedarian" poem whose lines proceed in order through the _______.

You'll often find abecedarian poems in children's books, as a teaching tool. Outside the world of poetry, the late mystery novelist Sue Grafton wrote what could be called an "abecedarian" series of books, starting with "A is for Alibi."

What is an epigram?

Prose fiction uses epigrams too, and they can be tricky sometimes. For "The Great Gatsby," Fitzgerald quoted a poem by "Thomas Park D'Invilliers" -- who wasn't real, but a character in Fitzgerald's earlier work, "This Side of Paradise." So essentially, Fitzgerald wrote his own epigram.

What is a "refrain"?

Thomas Nashe's "A Litany in Time of Plague" uses this to good effect. Its tightly rhymed stanzas about the inevitability of death each end with "Lord, have mercy on us."

Bad poetry is often called ______.

"Doggerel" often refers to light-hearted bad poetry, the kind that rhymes. The term is not often applied to heavy-handed free verse, like the many imitators of Sylvia Plath.

Enjambment is ...

"Here rode the 500/High-hearted in strife," is an example of enjambment. This is extremely common in free verse, but you'll also find it in poems with metrical and rhyme schemes.

When the word for a sound resembles the sound itself, what is this called?

This gives us a chance to share an old joke: "What's round and brown and goes 'spud spud spud'? Onomatopotatoes." (This one kills in English department faculty lounges).

What is the term for a poem's "turning point"?

"Volta" comes from the Italian word for "turn." It represents the change in tone or feeling in a poem, or its conclusion. In an Elizabethan sonnet, it comes at the final couplet.

Lines honoring a mentor or patron is called an ________.

In early poetry, bards would thank their patrons, usually kings or noblemen, who financially supported their work in exchange for poems of praise. Invocations survive today in the world of rap and hip-hop, as the "shoutout" -- like when a young rapper namedrops his producer/mentor.

A pause in midline, for dramatic effect, is called what?

This will be familiar to readers of Old English poetry. It commonly has a pause at midline.

What is a "spondee"?

Finishing out our explanation of different kinds of metrical feet (see previously "iamb" and "trochee") is the "spondee." Two stressed syllables in a row is rare, but you might see it in a poem using onomatopeia: "Bang bang, boom boom ..."

Which of these is a term for a lousy poet?

How'd this one come about? According to Merriam-Webster, in Latin the suffix "-aster" means "partial" or "partway." So a "poetaster" is not quite a poet.

If you are writing an "elegy," your subject is probably ______.

Elegies are for the dead. Of course, the deceased could be a child, a lover, or a hero. In the days before modern medicine and vaccines, far too many were written about children, like Ben Jonson's "Epitaph on S.B., a Child of Queen Elizabeth's Chapel."

A pastoral poem celebrates what?

We owe the pastoral to early Greek poetry, which sometimes imagined the lives of shepherds in an idyllic fictitious land called Arcadia. Pastorals are less popular nowadays, when farming is recognized as hard work that uses a lot of gas-burning machinery.

Which form of poetry commemorates, and sometimes directly addresses, a person or thing?

In Keats's "Ode on a Grecian Urn," he seems to speak to the urn, or at least the figures painted on it: "Ever wilt thou love and she be fair."

What is the poetic technique that addresses the dead as if living, or absent as if present?

This term is rarely heard nowadays, but the technique survives. Poems about the dead often address the dead directly, as though they could hear the words.

Poetry in which words almost, but don't quite, rhyme is called what?

This can be a way to take the "nursery rhyme" edge off a poem. In Thomas Harris's novel "The Silence of the Lambs," Clarice Starling's brainy roommate, Ardelia Mapp, "(compares) slant rhymes in Stevie Wonder and Emily Dickinson."

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