Least Tern > English Class > High School Poetry > Middle School Poetry

 

Introductory Poetry Terms

 

I have used these terms with a poetry unit that is based on an anthology made by 6th grade students at Portledge School in February, 2002, supplemented by me and another teacher, Alex Rudback. Most of the examples refer to poems from this anthology. Copies of the poems that are in the public domain are included on this page, for teaching these terms in the context of poems helps to make them meaningful. Poems under copyright are linked to when possible. The list of terms is deliberately selective.
N
ote: the most complete source of terms on the internet appears to be:the Glossary of Terms at the University of Toronto site - http://www.library.utoronto.ca/utel/rp/poetterm.html

 

John McIlvain

 

Sound devices | Meter | Form | Meaning devices | Linguistic devices | Poems

Notes About Converting Word Documents to Web Pages | Poetry on the Web


Sound devices

Alliteration

Assonance

Consonance

Onomatopoeia

      Rhyme

Rhyme scheme

Meter

      Ballad Meter

Iambic pentameter

Form

Stanza

Couplet

      Quatrain

      Free Verse

      Sonnet

      Ballad

Meaning devices

Imagery

Metaphor

Simile

Personification

Pun

Allusion

Paradox

Symbol

Apostrophe

Two Linguistic Devices

      Inversion

Parallelism

Poems

 

 

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Sound devices

 

All sound devices are interesting because they brings together words that sound alike but do not necessarily have anything else in common. In "Fire and Ice" the two words in the title are opposite in meaning but have the same vowel sound (assonance). The poem, which at times suggests that the two are the same in a much as both can "end" the world, would be much less effective if the words lacked this assonance. This is why poetry is so difficult to translate.

 

 

Alliteration: repetition of the initial sounds (usually consonants) of stressed syllables in nearby words or lines, usually at word beginnings.

 

From Lord Tennyson's "Break, Break, Break":

 

And the stately ships go on

      To their haven under the hill.

 

From Lord Byron's "She Walks in Beauty":

 

She walks in beauty, like the night

         Of cloudless climes and starry skies;

 

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Assonance: the relatively close succession of the same or similar vowel sounds, but with different consonants: a kind of vowel rhyme.

 

From William Carol Williams' "The Red Wheelbarrow"

 

Glazed with rain

water

 

beside the white
chickens.

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Consonance: the relatively close succession of the same end consonants with different vowel sounds: a kind of consonant rhyme.

 

Notice all the "r" sounds in the last six lines of "Hyla Brook":

 

Its bed is left a faded paper sheet

Of dead leaves stuck together by the heat -

A brook to none but who remember long.

This as it will be seen is other far

Than with brooks taken otherwhere in song.

We love the things we love for what they are.

 

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Onomatopoeia: any word whose sound echoes its meaning.

 

In "The Oven Bird" Robert Frost uses the word loud onomatopoetically.

 

There is a singer everyone has heard,

Loud, a mid-summer and a mid-wood bird.

 

Frost emphasizes the loudness of "loud" by placing it alone at the beginning of the line ˝ the only line in the poem that starts with an accented (stressed) syllable. (See iambic pentameter)

 

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Rhyme occurs when the last vowel and consonant sounds of two words are identical. In Robert Frost's "Fire and Ice" fire rhymes with desire; ice with twice and suffice; hate with great. Generally speaking,   Rhyme refers to rhymes at the end of the line. Other rhymes are called "internal rhymes." Sometimes rhymes are only approximate. These are called near or slant rhymes.

 

Some say the world will end in fire,

Some say in ice.

From what I've tasted of desire

I hold with those who favor fire.

But if it had to perish twice,                                                  5

I think I know enough of hate

To know that for destruction ice

Is also great

And would suffice.

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Emily Dickinson often employs near rhyme as in the second stanza of "When Night is almost Done."

 

I never spoke with God,

Nor visited in heaven;

Yet certain am I of the spot

As if the chart were given.

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Rhyme scheme: The pattern established by the arrangement of rhymes in a stanza or poem, generally described by using letters of the alphabet to denote the recurrence of rhyming lines:

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I've tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To know that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice
a
b
a
a
b
c
b
c
b

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Meter

 

Meter is the "beat" of a poem. In English, meter was originally measured by "stresses" and a line ended after a specified number of accented syllables. Since the 1400's meter has tended to be measured by accented and unaccented syllables. The unit of meter is called the foot. The length of lines is described by the number of repeated "meters" in the line. (1), dimeter (2), trimeter (3), tetrameter (4), pentameter (5), hexameter (6), heptameter (7) and octameter (8). The most common foot in English is the iamb, which consists of two syllables, the second one of which is accented. Another common foot is the trochee (also two syllables, but with the first accented); some metrical feet (dactyl and anapest) have three syllables. We will focus mainly on the iamb.

 

Here are some iambic (tetrameter) lines from the beginning of William Wordsworth's "I wandered lonely as a cloud":

 

I wandered lonely as a cloud

That floats on high o'er vales and hills,

When all at once I saw a crowd,

A host, of golden daffodils,

Beside the lake, beneath the trees.

 

Notice that the next line breaks the rhythmic pattern and this stands out:

 

Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

 

It is as if a picture is suddenly given motion, as if the breeze blew across the poem.

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Ballad meter is the source of much debate. The debate focuses on whether you should just count the number of accented syllables (stresses) in lines alternating between four stresses and three, or see these lines as containing four and three feet (usually iambic or trochaic) respectively. Ballad meter is also called hymn meter and you should be able to sing a ballad to the tune of "Amazing Grace" or, less elegantly, to "The Yellow Rose of Texas."  

 

We see the classic pattern in "Sir Patrick Spence." Notice that although the basic rhythm is iambic, there are trochees (words like Drinkin') that begin and end some of the lines.

 

The king sits in Dunfermline toun,

Drinkin' the bluid red wine

'0 whaur will I get a skeely skipper,

To sail this ship o' mine?'

 

Then up and spak an eldern knicht,

Sat at the king's richt knee,

'Sir Patrick Spence is the best sailor,

That ever sail'd the sea.'

 

In the "literary ballad" "La Belle Dames Sans Merci", John Keats tends to shorten the fourth line, but still includes three stresses.

 

Ah, what can ail thee, knight-at-arms,

      Alone and palely loitering;

The sedge is wither'd from the lake,

      And no birds sing.

 

Emily Dickinson uses the basic cadence of ballad meter in most of her poems:

 

There's a certain Slant of light,

Winter Afternoons--

That oppresses, like the Heft

Of Cathedral Tunes--

 

Heavenly Hurt, it gives us--

We can find no scar,

But internal difference,

Where the Meanings, are--

 

 

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Iambic pentameter (see also blank verse) is probably the most common non-ballad line in English poetry.

 

These lines from Robert Frost's "The Oven Bird" are almost "perfect" iambic pentameter lines, especially if you pronounce "flowers" and "showers" as monosyllabic words.

 

He says that leaves are old and that for flowers

Mid-summer is to spring as one to ten.                                   5

He says the early petal-fall is past

When pear and cherry bloom went down in showers

On sunny days a moment overcast;

And comes that other fall we name the fall.

He says the highway dust is over all.                                      10

The bird would cease and be as other birds

But that he knows in singing not to sing.

The question that he frames in all but words

Is what to make of a diminished thing.

 

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Form

 

Stanza: the poetic version of a paragraph, a division of a poem made by arranging the lines into units separated by a space; traditionally poetic stanza are similar in length to one another and similar in rhyme scheme.

 

Couplet: Two successive lines of poetry, usually of equal length and similar meter, with end-words that rhyme.

 

In Robert Frost's "Hyla Brook" there are numerous couplets within a single stanza

 

Its bed is left a faded paper sheet

Of dead leaves stuck together by the heatˇ

 

In Andrew Marvell's "Epitaph" there are three couplets in the first stanza (a six line stanza is called a sestet.)

 

ENOUGH; and leave the rest to Fame!

'Ties to commend her, but to name.

Courtship which, living, she declined,

When dead, to offer were unkind:

Nor can the truest wit, or friend,

Without detracting, her commend.

 

 

In Archibald MacLeish's "Ars Poetica" the couplets are not of equal length but are each stanzas.

 

A poem should be equal to:

Not true.

 

For all the history of grief

An empty doorway and a maple leaf.

 

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Quatrain: A poem, unit or stanza of four lines of verse, usually with a rhyme scheme of abab or its variant, abcb. It is the most common form of stanza in English.

Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
Old Time is still a-flying; 
And this same flower that smiles today  
Tomorrow will be dying.
a
b
a
b

(Robert Herrick)

Break, break, break, 
On thy cold gray stones, O Sea! 
And I would that my tongue could utter   
The thoughts that arise in me.
a
b
a
b

(Lord Tennyson)

 

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Free verse: a form of poetry that does not contain repeated rhythms or regular rhyme, but does use other sound devices like assonance, alliteration, imagery.

 

Notice how these "free" verses from A.R. Ammons' "Eyesight" are in stanzas of similar length.

 

don't worry, said the mountain,

try the later northern slopes

or if

 

you can climb, climb

into spring: but

said the mountain

 

it's not that way

with all things, some

that go are gone

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In Auden's "Musee de Beaux Arts" there is only one stanza, but notice the organization of the lines with the use of various kinds of repetition, both phonetically and rhythmically. (Throughout the poem there is considerable end rhyme even though there is variation in the length of the lines; Auden was a poet of great discipline so it is probably misguided to label any of his verse as "free")

 

The Old Masters; how well, they understood

Its human position; how it takes place

While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;

 

Walt Whitman was probably the first significant poet who wrote primarily free verse. Here is a section of "When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom" that describes the journey of Lincoln's funeral train:

 

Over the breast of the spring, the land, amid cities,

Amid lanes, and through old woods, (where lately the violets peep'd from the ground, spotting the gray debris ;)

Amid the grass in the fields each side of the lanesˇpassing the endless grass;

Passing the yellow-spear'd wheat, every grain from its shroud in the dark-brown fields uprising;

Passing the apple-tree blows of white and pink in the orchards;

Carrying a corpse to where it shall rest in the grave,

Night and day journeys a coffin.

 

Though these lines are an excellent example of free verse, notice that Whitman provides structure by using extensive repetition and frequently employing figurative language. As is typical with Whitman, the sentence also features inversion.

 

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Blank verse: unrhymed iambic pentameter, common in Shakespeare's plays and many longer poems, such as John Milton's Paradise Lost, the beginning of which provides a famous example:

 

Of Man's First Disobedience, and the Fruit
Of that Forbidden Tree, whose mortal taste
Brought Death into the World, and all our woe,
With loss of Eden, till one greater Man
Restore us, and regain the blissful Seat,
Sing Heav'nly Muse. . .

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Ballad: a traditional and still popular form that is a vehicle for narrative (story) poems which were and still are often sung. Originally passed on orally, they have been a literary form since the 19th century when some of the Romantic poets used the form for "old fashioned" narratives. The ballad is typically written in quatrains of alternating eight and six syllable lines rhymed abcb (for more, see ballad meter). In the Renaissance these were sometimes printed as couplets called "fourteeners" because they had fourteen syllables. Traditional ballads were stories of love or adventure or both that almost always ended tragically.

 

One of the most famous traditional ballads, "Sir Patrick Spence", begins

 

         The king sits in Dunfermline toun,

Drinkin' the bluid red wine

'0 whaur will I get a skeely skipper,

To sail this ship o' mine?'

 

Then up and spak an eldern knicht,

Sat at the king's richt knee,

         Sir Patrick Spence is the best sailor,

That ever sail'd the sea.'

 

Our king has written a braid letter,

And seal'd it wi' his han',

And sent it to Sir Patrick Spence,

Was walkin' on the stran'.

 

'To Noroway, to Noroway,

To Noroway owre the faim;

The king's dochter o' Noroway,

It's thou maun bring her hame.'

 

The first line that Sir Patrick read,

Sae lond, loud laughed he;

The neist line that Sir Patrick read,

The tear blinded his e'e.

 

For the full poem in a slightly modernized version, click here.

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"Edward" is another traditional ballad. It is usually sung with a refrain at the end of each stanza. I have included the refrain to the last stanza; the others are formed in the same way).

 

It is too red for your old grey mare

My son, now tell to me

It is the blood of my old coon dog

Who chased the fox for me.

 

It is too red for your old coon dog

My son, now tell to me

It is the blood of my brother John

Who hoed the corn for me.

 

What did you fall out about?

My son, now tell to me

Because he cut yon holly bush

Which might have been a tree.

 

What will you say when your father comes back

When he comes home from town?

I'll set my foot in yonder boat

And sail the ocean round.

 

When will you come back, my own dear son?

My son, now tell to me

When the sun it sets in yonder sycamore tree

And that will never be, be, be

And that will never be.

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Sara Teasdale captures the feeling of a traditional ballad in "The Look"

 

The Look

 

Stephon kissed me in the spring,

  Robin in the fall,

But Colin only looked at me

  And never kissed at all.

 

Stephon's kiss was lost in jest,

  Robin's lost in play,

But the kiss in Colin's eyes

  Haunts me night and day.

 

        

 

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Sonnet: A fixed form consisting of fourteen lines of five-foot iambic verse.

 

"The Oven Bird" by Robert Frost could be considered a stanza although the rhyme scheme is not one associated with sonnets.

 

The most famous sonnet writer in English was Shakespeare, but the sonnet was also a popular form in the twentieth century. Originally a vehicle for love poems, it has come even to used in dramatically different ways. W.H. Auden wrote a series of sonnets related to war. Below is the 15th.


As evening fell the day's oppression lifted;
Tall peaks came into focus; it had rained:
Across wide lawns and cultured flowers drifted
The conversation of the highly trained.

Thin gardeners watched them pass and priced their shoes;
A chauffeur waited, reading in the drive,
For them to finish their exchange of views:
It looked a picture of the way to live.

Far off, no matter what good they intended,
Two armies waited for a verbal error
With well-made implements for causing pain,

And on the issue of their charm depended
A land laid waste with all its young men slain,
Its women weeping, and its towns in terror.

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Meaning devices

 

Imagery: the words a poet uses to evoke images that the reader "sees" (or hears, smells, tastes, touches) because they describe what the senses can "sense. (Sights, sounds, smells, flavors, textures etc.)

 

Notice how in the third stanza of "Break, Break, Break" Lord Tennyson uses three kinds of image:

 

And the stately ships go on

      To their haven under the hill;

But O for the touch of a vanish'd hand,

                And the sound of a voice that is still!

 

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Figures of speech such as simile, metaphor, personification, and symbol are common in poetry. They always have both a narrow, literal meaning, and a broader, figurative meaning. When used, they ask the reader to think about the words being used in at least two ways. 

 

Metaphor: a figure of speech in which a word or phrase describing one thing is transferred to something entirely different. Metaphors can be looked at as a kind of "condensed simile", a comparison without the use of "like" or "as." In the following example from Robert Frost's "Hyla Brook" the bed/sheet metaphor describes the brook as it looks to the poet when it has dried out.

 

Its bed is left a faded paper sheet

Of dead leaves stuck together by the heat.

 

Part of the aptness of this metaphor is that "bed" in itself can have two meanings (stream bed - bed to sleep upon) and is a kind of pun. The second line is effective because faded paper sheet (the metaphor), which sounds as if it has a romantic-wistful potential, is brought to earth.

 

Robert Herrick in "To Virgins, Making Much of Time" continues the metaphoric image of "time flying" in the second stanza of the poem:

 

The glorious lamp of heaven, the sun,

   The higher he's a-getting,

The sooner will his race be run,

   And nearer he's to setting.

 

Calling the sun "The glorious lamp of heaven" is metaphoric; notice Herrick "mixes" his metaphor when he predicts the sun's "race" will be run. This metaphor is an example of personification.

 

 

In the second stanza of William Blake's "The Poison Tree" there are metaphors within metaphors.

 

And I watered it in fears

Night and morning with my tears,

And I sunned it with smiles

And with soft deceitful wiles.

 

"It" is his "wrath" (anger) from the previous stanza. From the poems title we know that the symbol for (and a metaphor of) his wrath is  "The Poison Tree." Watering wrath in "fears" is a metaphor; watering the tree (already a metaphor) with "tears" is a type of exaggeration or hyperbole. Sunning wrath both extends the tree metaphor, and introduces a new metaphor smiles before ending with "soft deceitful wiles" which parallels the "fears" of the first line. For a poem that looks on the surface to be almost childlike in its simplicity, "The Poison Tree" seems to have more than its share of intricacies.

 

Some modern poets like William Carlos Williams seem to want to see things as they are detached, as it were, from extraneous meanings. Poems like "The Red Wheelbarrow" avoid metaphor and are distorted when read metaphorically. Sometimes a red wheelbarrow is just a red wheelbarrow.

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Simile: a figure of speech in which an explicit comparison is made between two essentially unlike things, usually using like, as or than:

 

Lord Byron's "She Walks in Beauty" begins with a simile.

 

She walks in beauty, like the night

         Of cloudless climes and starry skies.

 

As does William Wordsworth's "I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud":

 

I wandered lonely as a cloud

That floats on high o'er vales and hills.

 

Note how these similes expand upon the initial image.

 

From Robert Frost's "Hyla Brook":

 

... the Hyla breed

That shouted in the mist a month ago,

Like ghosts of sleigh-bells in a ghost of snow.

 

Archibald MacLeish's "Ars poetica" begins with four similes:

 

A poem should be palpable and mute

As a globed fruit,

 

Dumb

As old medallions to the thumb,

 

Silent as the sleeve-worn stone

Of casement ledges where the moss has grown--

 

A poem should be wordless

As the flight of birds.

 

After several more similes, MacLeish ends his poem with four couplets that do not contain a simile.

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Personification: a type of metaphor in which distinctive human characteristics are given to an animal, object or idea.

 

From Philip Larkin's "Coming":

 

On longer evenings,

Light, shill and yellow,

Bathes the serene

Foreheads of houses

 

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Pun: a pun occurs when a word is used in such a way as to have more than one meaning; in this way it is a kind of "instant metaphor."

 

In the "Oven Bird", after describing an "early petal fall" Frost writes:

 

And comes that other fall we name the fall.

 

The fall of leaves becomes the season named "the fall."

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Allusion: a reference to something like a person, a quote from a famous source (in English and American literature often the Bible), or a famous work of art.

 

Both William Carlos Williams' "Landscape with the Fall of Icarus" and W.H. Auden's "Musées de Beaux Arts" make allusions to a famous painting by Breughel and to the fall of Icarus depicted in the painting.

 

William Blake's "A Poison Tree" seems to make an allusion to the story of the Garden of Eden.

        

(And it grew both day and night,

Till it bore an apple bright.)

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Paradox: a statement that on the surface seems to contradict itself and does not make sense, but that at another level express a truth.. In "The Oven Bird" Robert Frost writes,

 

The bird would cease and be as other birds

But that he knows in singing not to sing.

 

"in singing not to sing" is a paradox; the contradiction is obvious; what is not so obvious is what the "truth" of the statement is. What Frost is actually doing here is "describing" the bird's song as unsonglike and appropriate for a hot and motionless time of the year. In another part of the poem, Frosts writes the bird "says that leaves are old" and that "highway dust is over all."

 

What could Archibald MacLeish in "Ars Poetica" mean by these paradoxes which begin his poem and say that a poem should not "speak"?

 

A poem should be palpable and mute

As a globed fruit,

 

Dumb

As old medallions to the thumb,

 

Silent as the sleeve-worn stone

Of casement ledges where the moss has grown--

 

A poem should be wordless

As the flight of birds.

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Symbol, an image that comes to stand for something (often an idea) beyond itself. Icarus has come to stand for all men who "fly too close to the sun" and do not heed the cautions of their parents.

 

What do you think the tree in William Blake's "A Poison Tree" symbolizes?

 

 

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Apostrophe, a figure of speech in which a poem seems to speak to something that cannot respond. Here, Lord Tennyson's "Break, Break, Break" is addressing the sea:

 

Break, break, break,

        On thy cold gray stones, O Sea!

And I would that my tongue could utter

         The thoughts that arise in me.

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Two Linguistic Devices

 

 

Inversion, the reordering (inverting) of the usual word order of a sentence, often by placing the subject after the verb as in the lines of Philip Larkin's from "Coming":

 

On longer evenings,

Light, still and yellow,

Bathes the serene

Foreheads of houses

 

or these by Emily Dickinson from "I never Saw a Moor" 

 

I never spoke with God,

Nor visited in heaven;

Yet certain am I of the spot

As if the chart were given.

 

Here, in "There is a Certain Slant of Light, Dickinson places the direct object before the subject and verb:

 

Heavenly Hurt, it gives us -

 

A famous example is the beginning of Milton's Paradise Lost:

 

Of Man's First Disobedience, and the Fruit
Of that Forbidden Tree, whose mortal taste
Brought Death into the World, and all our woe,
With loss of Eden, till one greater Man
Restore us, and regain the blissful Seat,
Sing Heav'nly Muse. . .

 

Walt Whitman ends a section of "When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom" with:

 

Carrying a corpse to where it shall rest in the grave,

Night and day journeys a coffin.

 

But no one inverts more than ee cummings in "Me up at does"

 

Me up at does

 

out of the floor

quietly Stare

 

a poisoned mouse

 

Notice that after the reversal of "still" and "who" in the next line of the poem (below), the rest of the poem is in "normal" word order.

 

still who alive

 

is asking What

have i done that

 

You wouldn't have

 

How does the jumbled word order at the beginning make the end more effective?

 

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Parallelism is a general term that includes a number of specific devices all of which are rooted in having different parts of a sentence or corresponding parts in two sentences mirror each other in structure. Parallelism is a frequent device in prose as well as poetry.

 

Blake's "The Poison Tree" begins with a stanza where the third line parallels the first, and the fourth, the second.

 

I was angry with my friend:

I told my wrath, my wrath did end.

I was angry with my foe:

I told it not, my wrath did grow.

 

 

Lord Byron's "She Walks in Beauty" ends with a sentence that has several examples of parallel structure:

 

And on that cheek, and o'er that brow,

       So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,

The smiles that win, the tints that glow,

       But tell of days in goodness spent,

A mind at peace with all below,

       A heart whose love is innocent!

 

Tennyson's "Break, Break, Break" includes two sentences that parallel each other in structure.

 

O, well for the fisherman's boy,

        That he shouts with his sister at play!

O, well for the sailor lad,

         That he sings in his boat on the bay!

 

 

 

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Poems

 

Sir Patrick Spence (anonymous)

To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time, Robert Herrick (1591-1674)

Epitaph, by Andrew Marvell (1621-1678)

A Poison Tree, William Blake (1757-1827)

'I wandered lonely as a cloud...', William Wordsworth (1770-1850)

La Belle Dame Sans Merci, John Keats (1795-1821)

She Walks in Beauty, George Gordon, Lord Byron (1788-1824)

Break, Break, Break, Alfred Lord Tennyson (1809-1883)

I never saw a Moor, Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)

There's a certain Slant of light, Emily Dickinson

When night is almost Done, Emily Dickinson

Fire and Ice, Robert Frost (1874˝1963)

Hyla Brook, Robert Frost

The Oven Bird, Robert Frost

The Red Wheel Barrow, William Carlos Williams (1883-1963)

The Look, Sara Teasdale (1884 - 1933)

 

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Sir Patrick Spence

 

(There are many versions of this poem, some longer, some shorter. I have modernized some of the spelling to make the poem easier for students, but tried to keep both the rhythm and the sound of the original as much as seemed feasible; when the modern equivalent seemed too distant from the original, I left the word undisturbed.)

 

The king sits in Dunfermline town,

Drinkin' the blood red wine

'O where will I get a steely skipper,

To sail this ship o' mine?'                                            

 

Then up and spake an older knight,

Sat at the king's right knee,

'Sir Patrick Spence is the best sailor,

That ever sail'd the sea.'

 

Our king has written a broad letter,

And seal'd it with his hand,

And sent it to Sir Patrick Spence,

Was walkin' on the strand.

 

'To Noroway, to Noroway,

To Noroway o'er the foam;

The king's daughter o' Noroway,

It's thou must bring her home.'

 

The first line that Sir Patrick read,

So loud a laugh laughed he;

The next line that Sir Patrick read,

The tear blinded his e'e.                                     

 

'O what is this has done this deed,

And told the king o' me,

To send us out at this time o' the year

To sail upon the sea?

 

Be't wind, be't wet, be't hail, be't sleet,                         

Our ship must sail the foam;

The king's daughter o' Noroway,

It's we must fetch her home.'

 

They hoist their sails on Mononday,

Wi' a' the speed they may;                                           

They had landed in Noroway

Upon a Wodnesday.

 

* * * * *

 

'Make haste, make haste, my merry men all,

Our good ship sails the morn,'

'O say not so, my master dear,

For I fear a deadly storm.

 

I saw the new moon late yestre'en,                      

Wi' the old moon in her arm,

And I fear, I fear, my master dear,

That we will come to harm.

 

They had not sail'd a league, a league,

A league but barely three,

When the light grew dark, and the wind blew loud,

And gurly grew the sea.                                     

 

The anchors brake, and the topmasts lop't

'Twas such a deadly storm

And the waves came o'er the broken ship,

Till a' her sides were torn.

 

* * * * *

 

Go fetch a swab o' the silken cloth,

Another o' the twine,

And wrap them to our good ship's side,

That the salt sea come nae in.

 

They fetch'd a swab o' the silken cloth

Another o' the twine,

And they wrapp'd them round that good ship's side,

But still the sea came in!

 

O loath, loath were our good Scots lords,

To wet their cork-heel'd shoes;

But long ere all the play was play'd,

They watched their hats aboon.

 

And many was the feather bed,

That fluttered on the foam;

And many was the good lord's son,

That never more came home!

 

The ladies wrang their fingers white,

The maidens tore their hair,

A' for the sake o' their true loves,-

For them they'll see nae mair!                                      

 

O long, long may the ladies sit,

Wi' their fans into their hand,

Before they see Sir Patrick Spence

Come sailin' to the strand!

 

O long, long may time maidens sit,

Wi' their gold combs in their hair,

A' waiting for their own dear loves,-

For them they'll see nae mair!

 

It's forty miles from Aberdeen,

And fifty fathoms deep,

And there lies good Sir Patrick Spence,

Wi' the Scots lords at his feet!

 

o' = of

 

e'e = eye

 

B'et = Between

 

a' = all

 

yestre'en = yesterday evening

 

gurly = stormy

 

lop = lap in the original; obscure.

 

aboon = above: they were over their heads.

 

nae = no

 

mair = more.

 

 

top > poems  

To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time

Robert Herrick (1591-1674)

 

Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,

   Old Time is still a-flying;

And this same flower that smiles today

   Tomorrow will be dying.

 

The glorious lamp of heaven, the sun,

   The higher he's a-getting,

The sooner will his race be run,

   And nearer he's to setting.

 

That age is best which is the first,

   When youth and blood are warmer;

But being spent, the worse, and worst

   Times still succeed the former.

 

Then be not coy, but use your time,

   And while ye may, go marry;

For having lost but once your prime,

   You may forever tarry.

top > poems  

Epitaph

by Andrew Marvell (1621-1678)

 

ENOUGH; and leave the rest to Fame!

'Tis to commend her, but to name.

Courtship which, living, she declined,

When dead, to offer were unkind:

Nor can the truest wit, or friend,

Without detracting, her commend.

 

To say--she lived a virgin chaste

In this age loose and all unlaced;

Nor was, when vice is so allowed,

Of virtue or ashamed or proud;

That her soul was on Heaven so bent,

No minute but it came and went;

That, ready her last debt to pay,

She summ'd her life up every day;

Modest as morn, as mid-day bright,

Gentle as evening, cool as night:

--'Tis true; but all too weakly said.

'Twas more significant, she's dead.

top > poems  

A Poison Tree

William Blake (1757-1827)

 

I was angry with my friend:

I told my wrath, my wrath did end.

I was angry with my foe:

I told it not, my wrath did grow.

 

And I watered it in fears

Night and morning with my tears,

And I sunned it with smiles

And with soft deceitful wiles.

 

And it grew both day and night,

Till it bore an apple bright,

And my foe beheld it shine,

And he knew that it was mine,--

 

And into my garden stole

When the night had veiled the pole;

In the morning, glad, I see

My foe outstretched beneath the tree.

 

top > poems  

'I wandered lonely as a cloud...'

William Wordsworth  (1770-1850)

 

I wandered lonely as a cloud

That floats on high o'er vales and hills,

When all at once I saw a crowd,

A host, of golden daffodils,

Beside the lake, beneath the trees,

Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

 

Continuous as the stars that shine

And twinkle on the milky way,

They stretch'd in never-ending line

Along the margin of a bay:

Ten thousand saw I at a glance

Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

 

The waves beside them danced, but they

Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:--

A Poet could not but be gay

In such a jocund company!

I gazed--and gazed--but little thought

What wealth the show to me had brought;

 

For oft, when on my couch I lie

In vacant or in pensive mood,

They flash upon that inward eye

Which is the bliss of solitude;

And then my heart with pleasure fills

And dances with the daffodils.

top > poems  

La Belle Dame Sans Merci

 

John Keats, 1795-1821

 

O, what can ail thee, knight-at-arms,

    Alone and palely loitering?

The sedge is wither'd from the lake,

    And no birds sing.

 

O, what can ail thee, knight-at-arms,

    So haggard and so woe-begone?

The squirrel's granary is full,

    And the harvest's done.

 

I see a lily on thy brow,

    With anguish moist and fever dew;

And on thy cheek a fading rose

    Fast withereth too.

 

I met a lady in the meads

    Full beautiful --- a faery's child;

Her hair was long, her foot was light,

    And her eyes were wild.

 

I made a garland for her head,

    And bracelets too, and fragrant zone;

She look'd at me as she did love,

    And made sweet moan.

 

I set her on my pacing steed,

    And nothing else saw all day long;

For sideways would she lean, and sing

    A faery's song.

 

She found me roots of relish sweet,

    And honey wild, and manna dew;

And sure in language strange she said,

    'I love thee true.'

 

She took me to her elfin grot,

    And there she wept and sighed full sore,

And there I shut her wild sad eyes

    With kisses four.

 

And there she lulled me asleep,

    And there I dream'd --- ah! woe betide! ---

The latest dream I ever dreamt

    On the cold hill side.

 

I saw pale kings, and princes too,

    Pale warriors, death-pale were they all;

They cried --- 'La Belle Dame sans Merci

    Hath thee in thrall!'

 

I saw their starved lips in the gloam

    With horrid warning gaped wide,

And I awoke, and found me here

    On the cold hill side.

 

And this is why I sojourn here,

    Alone and palely loitering;

Though the sedge is wither'd from the lake,

    And no birds sing.

top > poems  

She Walks in Beauty

George Gordon, Lord Byron (1788-1824)

 

She walks in beauty, like the night

         Of cloudless climes and starry skies;

And all that's best of dark and bright

         Meet in her aspect and her eyes:

Thus mellow'd to that tender light

        Which heaven to gaudy day denies.

 

One shade the more, one ray the less,

        Had half impair'd the nameless grace

Which waves in every raven tress,

       Or softly lightens o'er her face;

Where thoughts serenely sweet express

       How pure, how dear their dwelling-place.

 

And on that cheek, and o'er that brow,

       So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,

The smiles that win, the tints that glow,

       But tell of days in goodness spent,

A mind at peace with all below,

       A heart whose love is innocent!

top > poems

Break, Break, Break

Alfred Lord Tennyson (1809-1883)

 

Break, break, break,

        On thy cold gray stones, O Sea!

And I would that my tongue could utter

         The thoughts that arise in me.

 

O, well for the fisherman's boy,

        That he shouts with his sister at play!

O, well for the sailor lad,

         That he sings in his boat on the bay!

 

And the stately ships go on

      To their haven under the hill;

But O for the touch of a vanish'd hand,

      And the sound of a voice that is still!

 

Break, break, break

       At the foot of thy crags, O Sea!

 But the tender grace of a day that is dead

      Will never come back to me.

top > poems  

I never saw a Moor

Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)

 

I never saw a moor,

I never saw the sea;

Yet know I how the heather looks,

And what a wave must be.

 

I never spoke with God,

Nor visited in heaven;

Yet certain am I of the spot

As if the chart were given.

top > poems  

There's a certain Slant of light

 

Emily Dickinson

 

There's a certain Slant of light,

Of* Winter Afternoons--

That oppresses, like the Weight

Of Cathedral Tunes--

 

Heavenly Hurt, it gives us--

We can find no scar,

But internal difference,

Where the Meanings, are--

 

None may teach it--Anything--

'Tis the Seal Despair--

An imperial affliction

Sent us of the air--

 

When it comes, the Landscape listens--

Shadows--hold their breath--

When it goes, 'tis like the Distance

On the look of Death --

 

 

 

* The existing manuscript version reads "Winter afternoons" without the "Of).

 

** the existing manuscript version reads "heft".

 

*** Anything: the existing manuscript version reads "any"

 

top > poems  

When Night is almost done (347)

 

Emily Dickinson

 

 

  When Night is almost done --

  And Sunrise grows so near

  That we can touch the Spaces --

  It's time to smooth the Hair --

 

  And get the Dimples ready --

  And wonder we could care

  For that old -- faded Midnight --

  That frightened -- but an Hour --

top > poems  

 

Fire and Ice

 

Robert Frost (1874˝1963)

 

Some say the world will end in fire,

Some say in ice.

From what I've tasted of desire

I hold with those who favor fire.

But if it had to perish twice,               5

I think I know enough of hate

To know that for destruction ice

Is also great

And would suffice.

top > poems  

Hyla Brook

 

Robert Frost  

BY June our brook's run out of song and speed.

Sought for much after that, it will be found

Either to have gone groping underground

(And taken with it all the Hyla breed

That shouted in the mist a month ago,         5

Like ghosts of sleigh-bells in a ghost of snow) -

Or flourished and come up in jewel-weed,

Weak foliage that is blown upon and bent

Even against the way its waters went.

Its bed is left a faded paper sheet                  10

Of dead leaves stuck together by the heat -

A brook to none but who remember long.

This as it will be seen is other far

Than with brooks taken otherwhere in song.

We love the things we love for what they are.                  15

top > poems  

The Oven Bird

 

Robert Frost 

 

 

There is a singer everyone has heard,

Loud, a mid-summer and a mid-wood bird,

Who makes the solid tree trunks sound again.

He says that leaves are old and that for flowers

Mid-summer is to spring as one to ten.                   5

He says the early petal-fall is past

When pear and cherry bloom went down in showers

On sunny days a moment overcast;

And comes that other fall we name the fall.

He says the highway dust is over all.           10

The bird would cease and be as other birds

But that he knows in singing not to sing.

The question that he frames in all but words

Is what to make of a diminished thing.

top > poems  

The Red Wheel Barrow

 

William Carlos Williams (1883-1963)

 

so much depends

upon

 

a red wheel

barrow

 

glazed with rain

water

 

beside the white

chickens

 

top > poems  

The Look

 

Sara Teasdale (1884 - 1933)

 

Stephon kissed me in the spring,

  Robin in the fall,

But Colin only looked at me

  And never kissed at all.

 

Stephon's kiss was lost in jest,

  Robin's lost in play,

But the kiss in Colin's eyes

  Haunts me night and day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  12/1/03