Poetry Terms

What is a poem?

“A piece of writing in which the words are arranged in separate lines, often ending in rhyme, and are chosen for their sound and for the images and ideas they suggest.”

 –Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary & Thesaurus[1]

For almost four thousand years, people have been using poetry to share ideas and experiences. Some poems rhyme—with two or more lines ending in words that sound similar—but it isn’t a requirement.

April is National Poetry Month. The Academy of American Poets launched National Poetry Month in 1996 in order to celebrate the integral role poets have in your culture.

 Over the course of this month, I’ll be posting some brief summaries of different types of poems:

Free Verse









Mirror Poetry

Poetry Terms

To start out this series let’s look at some basic definitions of poetry terms:

Meter: the rhythm of a line of poetry—or the pattern of unstressed syllables and stressed

Iambic pentameter is a good example of meter. William Shakespeare used it in all 154 of his sonnets. It contains 5 iambs (a short unstressed syllable followed by a longer, stressed syllable) per line and every even-numbered syllable is stressed.

An example is this line from Hamlet, by William Shakespeare:

To BE, or NOT to BE, that IS the QUEStion

Syllable: a part of a word that is pronounced as one unit and contains a single vowel sound.

The word syllable has three syllables: sylŸlaŸble

The word poem has two: poŸem

The word rhyme has one: rhyme

Rhyme: the similarity between the ending sounds of words. In a poem, usually the last word will be the one that rhymes between verses.

               Examples of rhymes:

Rhyme and time

Meter and cheater

Verse and worse

Rhyme scheme: the pattern to the ends of lines in a poem or verse

               The rhyme scheme to a Shakespearean sonnet is:


The first word rhymes with the third, the second with the fourth, and so on until the end where the last two lines rhyme with each other.

Stanza: a section of a poem consisting of a set amount of lines grouped together either by their meter, rhyme scheme, or the length.

Couplet: a stanza consisting of two lines

Tercet: a stanza consisting of three lines

Quatrain: a stanza consisting of four lines

               Out of the night that covers, me

               Black as the Pit from pole to pole,

               I thank whatever gods may be

               For my unconquerable soul

                              First stanza from Invictus by William Ernest Henley 1849-1903[2]

Cinquain: a stanza consisting of five lines

Sestet: a stanza consisting of six lines


1 https://dictionary.cambridge.org/us/dictionary/english/poem

2 These poems are in the public domain


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