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Poetic Terms

This section offers basic information about poetic terms: the words that critics use to analyze the technical side of poetry. Because I mean this to function as an introductory text rather than an encyclopedia, you might find yourself looking for information that I do not cover here. In such cases, try the much larger glossaries at Bob's Byway or Jack Lynch's developing Glossary of Literary and Rhetorical Terms.

Before we charge ahead, let me define one term in advance: "verse." On the next page, you will see an explanation of "verse systems"; such a phrase uses "verse" in its broader literary definition, which opposes verse to prose. Most of the time, it is sufficient to think of verse in this sense as synonymous with "poetry," but bear in mind the existence of prose poems (such as the poems of Ossian, many of William Blake's poems, and some contemporary poems), which are not verse.

For the record, "verse" has at least three other meanings. In literature, the words can also refer to a single line of poetry. In music, it can refer to the words that change each time through a song while the "chorus" remains the same ("What's the third verse of 'Old MacDonald Had a Farm'?" you might ask), and it can also refer to the introductory, almost-spoken section that precedes the main melody in songs from old musicals. Later recordings often drop the verse from such songs, so you can show that you really know your Gershwin, for example, by reciting the verse as well as the chorus (main melody) from "A Foggy Day."

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