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Poetic Forms
Reference: The Poets Dictionary, William Packard 1989
Category: Poetry Forms

Poetic Terms here


Click below to go directly to each Term.






Blank Verse Ceasura Cinquain Clerihew Concrete Image Connsonance

Free Form









Parallelism Paradelle Personification Prose Rengay Renga







Sprung Rhythm
Spenserian Stanza



Tanka Triolet Variable Foot Villanelle Virelay
Withheld Image

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Acrostic Alexandrine Ballade Ballad Blank Verse Cinquain Clerihew Free Form Etheree

Ghazal Haiku Limerick Pantoum Paradelle Rengay Renga Rubiyat
Senryu Sestina Sijo Sonnet Spenserian Stanza Tanka Triolet Villanelle Virelay
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Poetic Terms Briefly Described


An acrostic poem is one where the first word in each line or the first letter in each line, will spell out a secondary message if read in sequence. Another variation is to have the last word or letter of the line spell out a message.


Acrostic poetry can be rhymed or unrhymed. Strictly metered or Free Verse.

A crostic Poetry
C an have rhythm or
R hyme,.
O r it can be simple verse.
S ometimes it spells out
T he secret message by
I nserting the first or last letter
C ode into the body of the poem.


A line written in hexameter ( A line of verse consisting of six metrical feet.) has a double stress like this line from Othello ( V. ii)

- "That can thy light resume. When I have pluck'd the rose".

The Caesura ( A breath pause; usually stressed by ending and beginning a adjoined words with the same constant - "Mightiest still" / "his surprise" ) division between the two equal half-lines. ( Three feet on each side )


"A needless alexandrine ends the song
That, like a wounded snake,
drags its slow length along" - Alexander Pope

A story or narrative where characters and events stand for some other idea or action on another level. 
John Bunyan Pilgram's Progress is an excellent example of an Allegorical work. Very difficult to use well these days wihtout becoming trite.


It reminds me of.  An allusion is something that brings another thing to mind. "She is acting like a bull-dog on this."

Repetition of a Vowel Sound - "Taner - Santa" / "Gentle - Memory"
(not to be confused  with the French Ballade)

A narrative poem usually depicting folk-lore, myth, or legend. Each stanza is either 2 or 4 lines and
written in ballad meter, i.e., alternating lines of iambic tetrameter and iambic trimeter (Iambic refers to a
"foot" of two syllables, the first unaccented, the second accented. Tetrameter refers to four "feet,"
trimeter refers to three "feet."). This makes the syllable count 8-6-8-6 for each quatrain. Please note
however that only the second and fourth lines rhyme, giving a rhyme scheme of a-b-c-b. Although they
contain little detail, ballads use simplicity and force. They are often sung and written for that purpose.


A French format with 3 seven or eight-line stanzas and an four line envoi (ending conclusion) that repeats the last four
rhymes of the previous stanza. It uses no more than three rhymes with an identical refrain after each. The
rhyme scheme is a-b-a-b-b-c-b-cR a-b-a-b-b-c-b-cR a-b-a-b-b-c-b-cR b-c-b-cR. There is a variation
with six stanzas which is called a double ballade.

Blank Verse

Simply put, blank verse is meter without rhyme. (Meter being strict syllabic stress/ unstress patterns)
It is usually written in iambic pentameter ( 0 /  where 0 is unstressed and / is stressed as in at-TEMPT )
(pentameter refers to 5 "feet."). Some believe it to be the pinnacle of poetry as the format must stand
alone without rhyme as a reinforcement. Any poetry format may be written as Blank verse.


There are two types of cinquain, the first is a short format with 22 syllables. There are five lines
with the syllables arranged like this, 2-4-6-8-2. The second also comes in two styles. While there is no
rhyme scheme, a theme is used instead. The two thematic structures are as follows;

Example 1                                                        Example 2
Line 1: one word                                              Line : subject word (noun)
Line 2: two words describing the title                Line 2: two descriptive words (adjectives)
Line 3: three words (an action)                         Line 3: three action words (verbs)
Line 4: four words (a feeling)                            Line 4: a complete sentence
Line 5: one word referring to the first line          Line 5: synonym for the line 1 wo

Cinquain Examples by Chantaclair

Elusive, Desired
Breathless, Encompassing, Anti-Climatic
Searching forever in vain.


A humorous format contained in a single quatrain and composed of two rhyming couplets.
(Couplet - Two ending lines rimed or unrimed)
rhyme scheme is a-a-b-b with lines of uneven length. Clerihews are usually written as pseudo-biographical
pieces about a famous personage. The name of the subject ends the first, or occasionally the second line
and the humor is light and whimsical instead of satirical. Edmund Clerihew Bentley (1875-1956) created
the format to avoid boredom in school. Below are two examples of his original clerihews.

Sir Humphrey Davy
Abominated gravy.
He lived in the odium
Of having discovered sodium.

The meaning of the poet Gay
Was always as clear as day,
While that of the poet Blake
Was often practically opaque.


Created about twenty years ago by an Arkansas poet named Etheree Taylor Armstrong, this titled form, the Etheree, consists of ten lines of unmetered and unrhymed verse, the first line having one syllable, each succeeding line adding a syllable, with the total syllable count being fifty-five.

This concise form is meant to focus on one idea or subject.



Buds are
Peeking through
The grey back fence.
Each bloom is lovely.
And as one opens out
In splendid peachy yellow
Beginning as a tiny bud
Until it ends a plate-sized dazzler
I am lost in a reverie of "Peace."

Mary Margaret Carlisle, Webster, TX

Free Form

Rhyming poetry without a set meter. Rhythm and word-flow decide where to place the rhymes,
although they always end the lines. Technically it could be considered free verse. Free form often makes
use of feminine rhymes (rhymes ending with an unaccented syllable, i.e., walking and talking, or wanted
and daunted. Often feminine rhymes are added as an extra syllable to pieces written in iambic
Free Verse

Free verse is cause for some controversy amongst poets and poetry enthusiasts. Poetry makes use
of line breaks to accent and break up the words while prose uses punctuation and paragraphing. An easy
definition of free verse would be prose written rich in imagery and broken up with line breaks instead of
punctuation and paragraphing. Below is an example.


An Iranian format rarely more than a dozen couplets of the same meter. The rhyme scheme is a-a
b-a c-a and so on. Ghazal also follows the radif tradition. This means a portion of the first line --
comprising not more than two or three words -- immediately preceding the rhyme-word at the end, should
rhyme with its counterpart in the second line of the opening couplet, and afterwards alternately throughout
the poem. The last couplet of the ghazal called makta often includes the pen-name of the poet, and is
more personal than general in its tone and intent. Each couplet is to be a complete thought. Some ghazal
are written with a theme throughout all the couplets, but that is a fringe trend. Ghazal is arabic for "talking
to women." Below is a contemporary example.

Her Virtues
If romantic moods require delight
then must your embrace inspire delight.

I live for the time I might know your touch.
The rush of your touch is dire delight.

Magic enchantment is cast by your words.
Your silken voice sets afire delight.

My mind is jaded by all that I see.
Lost in your eyes I find higher delight.

Yours is the love I've dreamed of all my life.
Your mind eclipses all prior delight.

©1999 Wordsmith


A short, intense Japanese format, nature oriented, and with three lines with a syllable count of
5-7-5. They are usually untitled as good haiku stand alone. Haiku tend to be minimalistic and utilize
immediacy. Immediacy refers to the sense of a scene being directly presented to your senses. Haiku tries
to capture a specific moment or image in place and time. A season word is usually required in the
traditional form to place a poem in a specific season. Several Japanese formats use the 5-7-5 syllable

Autumn steam rises
passion's flame ignited whole
one shared breath exchanged



A light or humorous verse form of five chiefly anapestic (a metrical "foot" with two unaccented
syllables followed by a long or accented syllable) verses of which lines one, two and five are of three feet
and lines three and four are of two feet, The rhyme scheme is a-a-b-b-a.

Metaphor -

Figure of speech where someting is transfered in meaning.  (Greek word for transfer - MetaOpa)
"I am a trainwreck waiting to happen!"


This delightful format originated in the Far East. There are no less than 6 quatrains, though you
may have more. The twist to it is this; the second and fourth lines of each stanza become the first and
third lines in the following stanza, respectively. A vital component is using the first and third lines of the
first quatrain/stanza as the fourth and second lines of the last stanza. This brings the poem full circle. The
rhyme scheme is this, a1-b1-a2-b2 b1-c1-b2-c2 c1-d1-c2-d2 d1-e1-d2-e2 e1-f1-e2-f2 f1-a2-f2-a1.


More of a word puzzle, the paradelle is a very difficult format to master. A paradelle is a repetition
of lines, with each stanza ending in two lines which use all of the words in the previous lines. Also, the
last stanza uses all of the words from all previous stanzas. Below is an example.


Night is cold and lonely
Night is cold and lonely
Still the tempest does turn
Still the tempest does turn
Cold tempest is still night
and turn does the lonely.

Sparkles of ice glitter
Sparkles of ice glitter
Cloudy breath floats away
Cloudy breath floats away
Breath of cloudy sparkles
away ice breath glitter.

Winter brings it's caress
Winter brings it's caress
Delight rewards the soul
Delight rewards the soul
Winter rewards delight
it's soul brings the caress.

Winter glitter sparkles
and tempest floats away
it's cloudy soul does turn
the ice of lonely night
caress is the rewards
still breath brings cold delight.

©1999 Wordsmith


Similar to renga, this six stanza format has a theme or common topic. The syllable count is as
follows; 3-line stanzas are typically short-long-short (e.g. 5-7-5) and the 2-line stanzas are typically
long-long (e.g. 7-7).


A renga is a series of linked poems of alternating 5-7-5 and 7-7 syllable stanzas. Traditionally there
is no theme as each stanza must relate to the previous stanza and the one below it, yet no three
consecutive stanzas are to make sense. The relationship between each stanza and those before and after it
is often obscure but is never readily apparent. Renga are written collaboratively with at least two poets
who take turns writing each succesive stanza. It is worth noting that most oriental languages are
unaccented languages so meter is not used.


This arabic format has a quatrain wherein the first, second, and fourth lines rhyme. The rhyme
scheme is thus; a-a-b-a. A single stanza can be a poem in itself or multiple stanzas may be joined to create
a larger piece. Below is an example.


Not one ever truly content,
will look beyond their hellish bent.
Easily accepting the past,
for evil deeds none will repent.

Women that see me never sigh,
no longer do I question why,
for I see truth in the mirror
and the Beast it shows begs to die.

©2000 Wordsmith


Usually reserved for light and witty verse, this fixed form utilizes three stanzas of either 8 or 10
syllables with only two rhymes used. A word or words from the first part of the first line are used as a
(usually unrhymed) refrain ending the second and third stanzas. The rhyme scheme is a-a-b-b-a a-a-b-R a-a-b-b-a-R.

(Copy Senryu colour) Simile
Latin - Means something is LIKE another.  'His eyes were like icicles on a shimmering tree'. 
CLose in meanint and often confused with
Metaphor (See above)


Like haiku, this format uses the 5-7-5 syllable count. Unlike haiku subject matter is human emotions
and relationships rather than nature.


The sestina is the most convoluted format imaginable. Technically it is free verse as it uses no
rhyme and is usually (not always) without meter. First off, six words are chosen for the sestina as end
words. The end words rotate their position with each new stanza. As there are six words, there are six
stanzas plus a three line end tag. There is a variation using twelve words and is called a double-sestina.
Here then is the word scheme (note that the order of the end words will be written across rather then
vertically); ABCDEF, FAEBDC, CFDABE, ECBFAD, DEACFB, BDFECA. Following that is a three line
end tag or envoi that may be used in two distinct forms, either ECA or ACE, with B, D, and F included
within the lines of the envoi respectively.


Like haiku the sijo is nature oriented. There are three lines, each averaging 14-16 syllables with a
total of 44-46 syllables. Each line has a specific focus; the first line introduces a situation or problem, the
second line includes a development, the third line resolves tensions created in the first line or resolves the
problem in the first line. Again we must note that Oriental languages tend to be unstressed. Each piece
must be self-explanatory, requiring no title. Below is an example.


Time without pause, whirls around us in natures hungry breath,
today reaches into bowls of tomorrow with claws of yesterday,
we are reborn minute by minute in the dance of our soliquoy.

©2001 Chantaclair's Parlor


This is probably the most well known and recognized format in the present day. Though made
famous by Shakespeare, the format is much older and there are actually three different sonnet formats;
Shakespearean, Petrarchan (Italian), and Spenserian. Each has a unique rhyme scheme but all have
fourteen lines. The sonnet may be broken into three quatrains with alternating rhyme and a heroic couplet
ending it. Note that when written there are no spaces between stanzas. The petrarchan format has several
different possible endings known as tercets (three line stanza). Here then is the rhyme scheme for the
three styles.


a-b-a-b c-d-c-d e-f-e-f g-g


a-b-a-b b-c-b-c c-d-c-d e-e


a-b-b-a a-b-b-a c-d-c c-d-e

End Tercet Variants


Spenserian Stanza

Simple and straightforward, it is a stanza of nine lines, all iambic except the last which is an
alexandrine. The alexandrine is a line with twelve syllables and written in reverse iambic, which is to say
that it begins with an accented syllable and ends with an unaccented syllable. The rhyme scheme for this
stanza is as follows; a-b-a-b-b-c-b-c-c.


A five line Japanese format with lines of 5-7-5-7-7. Please note that often the end tag of 7-7 is
separated from the 5-7-5 part, although this may vary. They are not restricted to nature or season as
haiku are. Tanka refers to modern poems in this form while Waka refers to pre-twentieth century poems
in this style.


Either a poem or stanza of eight lines in which the first line is repeated as the fourth and seventh
lines, and the second line as the eighth. The rhyme scheme is ABaAabAB. Note that only two rhymes
are used within this format.


This format has nineteen lines, 5 stanzas of three lines each and 1 stanza of four lines. The rhyme
scheme appears thus; a-b-a a-b-a a-b-a a-b-a a-b-a a-b-a-a. There is one vital twist to the villanelle; the
first, then third line of the poem alternate as the last line of stanzas 2, 3, and 4, and then end stanza 5, and
the poem itself, as a couplet. The villanelle is usually written in tetrameter (4 "feet") or pentameter.


This is an ancient French format having stanzas of varying length and number with alternating long
and short lines. The rhyme scheme is interlaced; a-b-a-b b-c-b-c c-d-c-d d-e-d-e e-f-e-f ...


Definitions from the Poetic Terms category:







eye rhyme

feminine rhyme


iambic pentameter


internal rhyme

line break







rhyme scheme





vowel rhyme

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