Literary Terms

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Literary Terms H-Z

40. hyperbole: a deliberate exaggeration or overstatement is used in the service of truth.

  • His eloquence could split rocks.
  • My left leg weighs three tons

41. iamb: a metrical foot consisting of one unaccented syllable followed by one accented syllable (example: re - HEARSE)

42. internal rhyme: a rhyme in which one or both of the rhyme words occurs WITHIN THE LINE.

43. irony: a contrast between what is stated and what is really meant

Eg. By Spring, if God was good, all of the proud privileges of trench lice, mustard gas, spattered brains, punctured lungs, ripped guts, mud, and gangrene, might be his. - Thomas Wolfe

44. litotes: a deliberate understatement, not to deceive someone but to enhance the impressiveness of what we have to say.

  • Last week I saw a woman flayed, and you will hardly believe how much it altered her appearance for the worse. -Jonathan Swift
  • It isn’t very serious. I have this tiny little tumor on the brain. -J.D. Salinger

45. lyric poem: a poem, usually a short one, that expresses a speaker's thoughts or describes an object or emotion.

46. metaphor: a direct comparison of two unlike things. The two things being compared may be named or unnamed.

  • On the final examination, several students went down in flames.
  • Birmingham lighted a runaway fuse, and as fast as the headlines could record them, demonstrations exploded all over the country.

47. metaphysical poetry: The best metaphysical poetry is honest, unconventional, and reveals the poet's sense of the complexities and contradictions of life. It is intellectual, analytical, psychological, and bold; frequently it is absorbed in thoughts of death, physical love, and religious devotion. Metaphysical poets such as John Donne wanted to write poems that were not in the style of sentimental Elizabethan love poetry. These poems are known for their use of conceits - unusual analogies such as linking love and a compass.

  • tendency to psychological analysis of emotion of love and religion
  • form is frequently an argument
  • images were “unpoetical” - drawn from commonplace life or intellectual study

48. meter: rhythmical pattern of a poem

49. metonymy: figure of speech that substitutes something closely related for the thing

Eg. crown for royalty; brass for military officers; pen for writer; White House for the US President; rebels for VHHS students.

50. motif: a recurring feature (such as a name, an image, or a phrase) in a work of fiction . A conspicuous recurring element, such as a type of incident, a device, a reference, or verbal formula, which appears frequently in works of literature. For instance, the ugly girl who turns out to be a beautiful princess is a common motif in folklore, and the man fatally bewitched by a fairy lady is a common folkloric motif. The mockingbird imagery in To Kill a Mockingbird acts as a motif. The Carpe Diem (seize the day) motif often appears in contemporary literature.

51. narrative poem: tells a story in verse. Ballads and epics are two forms of narrative poetry. An example is Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven.”

52. octave: an eight line stanza

53. onomatopoeia: use of a word whose sound in some degree imitates or suggests its meaning.

  • Over the cobbles he clattered and clashed in the dark inn yard. -Alfred Noyes
  • The birds chirped away. Fweet, Fweet, Bootchee-Fweet. - Saul Bellow

54. oxymoron: the yoking of two terms that are ordinarily contradictory

Eg. sweet pain; cheerful pessimist; conspicuous by her absence; thunderous silence; make haste slowly; jumbo shrimp; rational hysteria

55. paradox: a statement that reveals the truth but at first seems contradictory

  • He is guilty of being innocent. - about Joseph K. in Kafka’s The Trial
  • The past is the prologue. -Paul Newman

56. paraphrase: a restatement of the content of a poem designed to make its prose meaning as clear as possible.

57. parallelism: the use of phrases, clauses, or sentences that are similar or complementary in structure or in meaning.

58. pentameter: a metrical line containing five feet. Shakespeare most often wrote in iambic pentameter ( 5 feet per poetry line with each foot consisting of an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable.)

59. personification: a figure of speech in which human attributes are given to an animal, an object, or a concept.

  • The ground thirsts for rain; the harvester sits carelessly on the granary floor; the wind cried as it raced through the trees.
  • A tree whose hungry mouth is prest/ Against the earth’s sweet-flowing breast.

60. point of view: vantage point from which a narrative is told. These include the personal, private thoughts to the reader.

61. protagonist: the central character of a drama, novel, short story, or narrative poem. The character that the readers USUALLY sympathizes the most with. Protagonists often have rivals or opposing characters called antagonists

62. pun: a play on words. Involves using a word or a phrase that has two different meanings at the same time.

  • If we don’t hang together, we’ll hang separately. -Ben Franklin
  • Your word is sound, nothing but sound. -Ben Franklin

63. quatrain: a four line stanza

64. refrain: a repeated word, phrase, line, or group of lines, normally at some fixed position in a poem written in stanzaic form.

65. rhetorical question: when a question is asked that requires no one to answer it

Eg. A good student body is perhaps the most important factor in a great school. How can you possibly make good wine from poor grapes?

66. rhyme: repetition of the accented vowel sound and all the succeeding sounds in important or importantly positioned words ( examples: old-cold, vane-reign, court-report). This definition applies to a perfect rhyme.

67. rhyme scheme: regular pattern of rhyming words in a poem or stanza.

68. rhythm: any wave-like recurrence of motion or sound.

69. satire: writing that ridicules or holds up to contempt the faults of individuals or groups.

70. sentimental poetry: poetry that attempts to manipulate the reader’s emotions in order to achieve a greater emotional response than the poem itself warrants. (a sentimental novel or film is often called a “tear-jerker.”)

71. sestet: a six line stanza

72. setting: the time and place in which a story or poem occurs

73. simile: the comparison of two unlike things using the words "like" or "as". Eg.

  • He had a posture like a question mark.
  • Silence settled down over the audience like a block of granite.
  • Like an arrow, the prosecutor went directly to the point.

74. soliloquy: long speech made by one character who is alone and thus reveals his/her

75. sonnet: a fourteen-line poem with a single theme. Two traditional patterns exist.

  • Petrarchan or Italian sonnet is divided into two parts-- an eight-line octave and a six line sestet. The octave rhymes abba abba, while the sestet generally rhymes cde, cde. The two parts of the sonnet work together. The octave raises the question, states a problem, or presents a brief narrative. The sestet answers the question, solves the problem, or comments on the narrative.
  • Shakespearean or English sonnet consists of 3 quatrains and a concluding couplet, with a rhyme scheme of abab cdcd efef gg. Each of the 3 quatrains usually explores a different variation of the main theme. The couplet presents a summarizing or concluding statement.

76. stanza: a clustered group of lines in a poem. Many poems are divided into stanzas that have metrical patterns repeated throughout a poem.

77. synecdoche: (sin- NECK- ta-KEY) a figure of speech in which a part is used to stand for the whole. Eg.

  • bread for food; cutthroat for assassin; hands for helpers; roofs for houses; silver for money;
  • In Europe, we gave the cold shoulder to DeGaulle, and now he gives a warm hand to the Chinese. -Richard Nixon
  • Give us this day our daily bread.
  • The face that launched a thousand ships
  • They braved the waves to protect the fatherland.
  • Are there no roofs in this town that will harbor an honorable man?

78. tercet: a three line stanza

79. theme: the general idea or insight about life that a writer wishes to express in a literary work. A central idea or statement that unifies and controls an entire literary work. The theme can take the form of a brief and meaningful insight or a comprehensive vision of life; it may be a single idea such as "progress" (in many Victorian works), "order and duty" (in many early Roman works), "seize-the-day" (in many late Roman works), or "jealousy" (in Shakespeare's Othello).

80. tone: the attitude a writer takes toward his or her subject, characters, or audience. The means of creating a relationship or conveying an attitude or mood. By looking carefully at the choices an author makes (in characters, incidents, setting; in the work's stylistic choices and diction, etc.), careful readers often can isolate the tone of a work and sometimes infer from it the underlying attitudes that control and color the story or poem as a whole. The tone might be formal or informal, playful, ironic, optimistic, pessimistic, or sensual.

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