Sunday, July 1, 2007

literary terms



The form of written language that is not organized according to the formal patterns of verse; although it will have some sort of rhythm and some devices of repetition and balance, these are not governed by a regularly sustained formal arrangement, the significant unit being the sentence rather than the line


Language sung, chanted, spoken, or written according to some pattern of recurrence that emphasizes the relationships between words on the basis of sound as well as sense: this pattern is almost always a rhythm or metre, which may be supplemented by rhyme or alliteration or both. The demands of verbal patterning usually make poetry a more condensed medium than prose or everyday speech, often involving variations in syntax, the use of special words and phrases ( poetic diction) peculiar to poets, and a more frequent and more elaborate use of figures of speech, principally metaphor and simile.


A long narrative poem celebrating the great deeds of one or more legendary heroes, in a grand ceremonious style. The hero, usually protected by or even descended from gods, performs superhuman exploits in battle or in marvellous voyages, often saving or founding a nation.

– Virgil's Aeneid (30–20 BC), Milton's Paradise Lost (1667), epics of Homer, whose Iliad and Odyssey (c. 8th century BCE) are derived from an oral tradition of recitation. The AngloSaxon poem Beowulf (8th century BCE) is a primary epic, as is the oldest surviving epic poem, the Babylonian Gilgamesh (c.3000 BCE). In the Renaissance, epic poetry (also known as ‘heroic poetry’) was regarded as the highest form of literature. Other important national epics are the Indian Mahābhārata (3rd or 4th century BCE) and the German Nibelungenlied (c.1200


A kind of story or rudimentary narrative sequence, normally traditional and anonymous, through which a given culture ratifies its social customs or accounts for the origins of human and natural phenomena, usually in supernatural or boldly imaginative terms. The term has a wide range of meanings, which can be divided roughly into ‘rationalist’ and ‘romantic’ versions: in the first, a myth is a false or unreliable story or belief


A story or group of stories handed down through popular oral tradition, usually consisting of an exaggerated or unreliable account of some actually or possibly historical person—often a saint, monarch, or popular hero. Legends are sometimes distinguished from myths in that they concern human beings rather than gods, and sometimes in that they have some sort of historical basis whereas myths do not; but these distinctions are difficult to maintain consistently.


A brief tale in verse or prose that conveys a moral lesson, usually by giving human speech and manners to animals and inanimate things (see beast fable). Fables often conclude with a moral, delivered in the form of an epigram. A very old form of story related to folklore and proverbs, the fable in Europe descends from tales attributed to Aesop, a Greek slave in the 6th century BCE: his fable of the fox and the grapes has given us the phrase ‘sour grapes’


A story passed on by word of mouth rather than by writing, and thus partly modified by successive retellings before being written down or recorded. The category includes legends, fables, jokes, tall stories, and fairy tales or Märchen. Many folktales involve mythical creatures and magical transformations. It is also a general term for any of numerous varieties of traditional narrative. The telling of stories appears to be a cultural universal, common to primitive and complex societies alike.


A short popular saying of unknown authorship, expressing some general truth or superstition: ‘Too many cooks spoil the broth.’ Proverbs are found in most cultures, and are often very ancient. The Hebrew scriptures include a book of Proverbs. Many poets—notably Chaucer—incorporate proverbs into their works, and others imitate their condensed form of expression: William Blake's ‘Proverbs of Hell’ in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (1793) are, strictly speaking, aphorisms, since they originate from a known author.


A short poem with a witty turn of thought; or a wittily condensed expression in prose. Originally a form of monumental inscription in ancient Greece, the epigram was developed into a literary form by the poets of the Hellenistic age and by the Roman poet Martial, whose Epigrams (86–102 CE) were often obscenely insulting.


Poem of 14 lines, usually in iambic pentameter, restricted to a definite rhyme scheme. There are two prominent types: the Italian, or Patriarchal sonnet, composed of an octave and a sestet (rhyming abbaabba cdecde), and the Elizabethan, or Shakespearean, sonnet, consisting of three quatrains and a couplet (rhyming abab cdcd efef gg).


An elaborately formal lyric poem, often in the form of a lengthy ceremonious address to a person or abstract entity, always serious and elevated in tone. There are two different classical models: Pindar's Greek choral odes devoted to public praise of athletes (5th century BCE), and Horace's more privately reflective odes in Latin (c. 23–13 BCE).


A puzzlingly indirect description of some thing, person, or idea, framed in such a way as to challenge the reader to identify it. Riddles, usually in verse, are found as a popular literary form in most cultures and periods.


Sacred song or hymn. The term usually refers to the Hebrew verses in the biblical book of Psalms, traditionally (but unreliably) attributed to King David. These psalms, notably in the English translation attributed to Miles Coverdale and found in the Book of Common Prayer, have had an important place in Christian worship, in English religious poetry, and in the development of free verse. The art of singing psalms is called psalmody, while a collection of psalms is known as a psalter.

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