List of Literary Terminology


alliteration: the repetition of initial sounds in neighboring words. Example: In cliches: sweet smell of success, a dime a dozen, bigger and better, jump for joy. In Wordsworth: And sings a solitary song/That whistles in the wind.


apostrophe: Words that are spoken to a person who is absent, or to an object or abstract idea.


Assonance is the repetition of vowel sounds but not consonant sounds as in consonance. Example: fleet feet sweep by sleeping geeks.


caesura: a pause somewhere in the middle of a verse. Some lines have strong (easily recognizable) caesurae, which usually coincide with punctuation in the line, while others have weak ones.


Consonance: the repetition of consonant sounds, but not vowels, as in assonance. Example: lady lounges lazily, dark deep dread crept in


enjambment: running over from one line of poetry to the next without stop, as in the following lines by Wordsworth: "My heart leaps up when I behold / A rainbow in the sky."


foreshadowing: Suggesting, hinting, indicating, or showing what will occur later in a narrative. Foreshadowing often provides hints about what will happen next.


iamb: a metrical foot consisting of an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed one.


iambic pentameter: a metrical form in which the basic foot is an iamb and most lines consist of five iambs; iambic pentameter is the most common poetic meter in English: "One com | mon note | on ei | ther lyre | did strike" (Dryden, "To the Memory of Mr. Oldham")


in medias res: "in the midst of things"; refers to opening a story in the middle of the action, necessitating filling in past details by exposition or flashback.


Limited Omniscient Narrator: the material is presented from the point of view of a character, in third person.

meter: the more or less regular pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables in a line of poetry.


metaphor: language that directly compares two seemingly unrelated subjects without the use of like or as. Example: all the world’s a stage. --Shakespeare


motif: a recurrent thematic element in an artistic or literary work. A dominant theme or central idea.


octave: the first eight lines of the Italian,or Petrarchan, sonnet.


omniscient narrator: knows everything, may reveal the motivations, thoughts and feelings of the characters, and gives the reader information.


pathetic Fallacy: The poetic practice of attributing human emotion or responses to nature, inanimate objects, or animals. The practice is a form of personification that is as old as poetry, in which it has always been common to find smiling or dancing flowers, angry or cruel winds, brooding mountains, or happy larks.


psychomachia: a struggle within the self between the forces of good and evil.


sestet: the last six lines of the Italian, or Petrarchan, sonnet.


simile: the comparison of two unlike things using like or as. Example: he eats like a pig. Vines like golden prisons.

setting: time and place.


sonnet: a fixed verse form consisting of fourteen lines usually in iambic pentameter.


speaker: the person, not necessarily the author, who is the voice of a poem.


symbol: using an object or action that means something more than its literal meaning. Example: water may represent life or rebirth.


the poetry of meditation: 17th century British religious verse, wherein the speaker is in a state of spiritual crisis.


unreliable Narrator: A narrator, speaker, or character that may or may not describe what he witnesses accurately, and/or misinterprets those events because of faulty perception, personal bias, or limited understanding. Often the writer or poet creating such an unreliable narrator leaves clues so that readers will perceive the unreliability and question the interpretations offered.