GER 341, 342, 343 HomepageOregon State University

POETIC TERMINOLOGY


Below is a very short, very truncated outline of terminology used when writing/reading/analyzing poetry. If you want more definitions--and there are many, many more--they can be found in a book traditionally called Poetics (in German: die Poetik). I have one if you want to look at it.
  1. die Alliteration (alliteration):

    Repetition of the FIRST SOUND of syllables in a line or several lines of poetry. The syllables beginning with this sound, which almost always a consonant, are usually stressed**.
    Example: "Auf deinem Grab zu wurzeln und zu wachsen."
    Function: Alliteration may tie words together, as in the above example, and it always contributes to the musicality of the work.

    **NOTE: Repetition of unstressed consonants is not technically alliteration, but it does underscore the effect of alliteration in other, stressed syllables.

    Example: "Ein Tännlein grünet, wo, wer weiss." ("Wer" is not a stressed syllable, but it contributes to the overall effect)
    Caution: Just because a letter is written the same, it does not mean that its SOUND is the same: for example, sch and s are pronounced differently in German!

  2. die Assonanz (assonance):

    Repetition of middle vowel sounds between different consonant sounds.
    Example: Sie sind erlesen schon/ Denk es, so Seele."
    Function: Assonance has the same function as alliteration, because alliteration is essentially a special instance of assonance. Normally, we don't speak of end rhyme as contribution to assonance (see der Reim below).

  3. das Enjambement (enjambment, run-on lines):

    The flowing of syntactic units over the end of a verse line. Strictly speaking, one has a run-on line if one would not expect any sort of pause at the end of a verse line.

    Function: Run-on lines can form groups, or they can simply act to increase the fluidity of the poetry by decreasing the importance of the verse boundaries. If the syntactic unit ends immediately after enjambment, the words after enjambment may be emphasized.

  4. die Hervorhebung, die Betonung (stress, emphasis):

    This emphasis may be metrical (caused by a deviation from the prevailing meter of a poem, see das Metrum). It may be rhetorical, for example variation of normal word order (see die Wortstellung) or repetition (see die Wiederholung). Alliteration and assonance may emphasize certain words by tying them together (see die Alliteration, die Assonanz). Unusual word choice may create emphasis (see die Wortwahl). In general one can say the exceptions to the rule in each poem are quite frequently identical with those aspects of the poem which are to be emphacized.

  5. das Metrum (meter):

    The fixed (or nearly fixed) pattern of stressed (also called accented) and unstressed (also called unaccented) syllables (betonte und unbetonte Silben in German) in the lines of a poem that produces its pervasive rhythm.

    The basic unit of rhythm is the foot, consisting most often of an arrangement of at least one accented syllable, designated in an analysis of the poem by an accent mark over the syllable, (die Hebung or die betonte Silbe in German) and one or more unaccented syllables, designated by small u over the syllable (die Senkung or die unbetonte Silbe in German). Meter is determined by the type and the number of feet in a line.

    The three common patterns in German poetry are jamisch (Iambic): unaccented syllable/ accented syllable/ unaccented syllable/ accented syllable..../ trochäisch (Trochaic): a u a u...., and daktylisch (u) a u u a u u a u u .... The number of feet in a line is described as monometer (one foot), dimenter (two feet), trimeter (three feet) tetrameter (four feet), pentameter (five feet), hexameter (six feet) or heptameter (seven feet). In German you can use these same words, i.e. Pentameter, or you can use the German equivalents like Fünffüssler.

    Function: The effect of meter cannot be defined apart from the poem. Iambic and trochaic verse may impress us as simple and natural or as stylized and artificial, depending on the type of language used in the poem. Dactyls may give us the impresioin of dance rhythms, but they may also be used for dignified, stately poetry. Meter may be used for emphais (see die Hervorhebung). In each case, one must dtermine the effect of the meter within the specific context.

  6. der Reim (rhyme):

    The similarity of sound between two words. When the sounds of their accented syllables and all succeeding sounds are identical, words rhyme. The most common form of rhyme is "end rhyme" when the rhyme comes at the end of a line. There is, however, also "internal rhyme" when words within a line rhyme (see below).

    Unreiner Reim (approximate or slant rhyme) occurs when the correspondence is only approximate and not exact, for example in Eichendorff's poem Der Einsielder, which "rhymes" -müd and -lied. Some slant rhymes are or may have been pure ones in the poet's dialect; nonetheless, from a literary (hochdeutsch) point of view, they have the same effect as that of slant rhymes: to link the poem with folk poetry.

    Der Binnenreim (internal rhyme) is rhyme within the verse line. It adds to the musicality of the poem and occasionally helps emphasize a word or words within the verse line.

    The terms masculine rhyme (männlicher Reim) and feminine rhyme (weiblicher Reim) indicate whether the last syllable is accented (männlich) or unaccented (weiblich). In general one can say that feminine rhymes are frequently softer and more flowing than masculine rhymes, and conversely that masculine rhymes are frequently more abrupt than feminine ones.

    Function: A traditional device of poetry, rhyme contributes to rhythm, helps organize the language of poetry, makes poetry easier to memorize, and is a source of pleasure in itself.

  7. das Reimschema (rhyme scheme):

    A standard method of indicating the arrangement of rhymes is to designate rhymes with small letters, for example from Goethe's Erklönig:
    Wer reitet so spät durch Nacht und Wind? a
    Es ist der Vater mit seinem Kind. a
    Er hat den Knaben wohl in dem Arm b
    Er fasst ihn sicher, er hält ihn warm. b

    An unrhymed line in rhymed verse is called die Waise and is indicated by an x.

  8. der Rhythmus (rhythm):

    A patterned flow of sound in poetry and prose. The rhythm of verse can be found in the combined effect of the rather regular repetition of the accents (Hebungen) AND in their relative weight.

  9. Skandieren (scansion):

    Analyzing the meter in lines of poety by counting and marking the accented and unaccented syallables, dividing the lines into metrical feet, and showing the major pauses, if any, within the line. The conventional system of scanning calls for marking accented syllables with an accent mark and unaccented syllables with a small u.

  10. die Strophe (strophe, stanza):

    A unit of lines within a poem, usually parallel in structure (meter and rhyme scheme) with other units in the poem. Poems composed of nonparallel strophes are of course not unusual. Varitions in the length of such strophes often correspond to the developing ideational content. If the units are too dissimilar, it is best not to refer to them as strophes, but simply as units (die Einheit) or sections (der Abschnitt).

  11. die Wiederholung (repetition):

    This feature is important in virtually all poetic forms. Repetition can be understood as the recurrence of stresses at regular intervals or as the existence of certain metrical patterns.

    Then also repetition may mean the recurrence of sounds, or of certain words, concepts or structures.

  12. die Wortauslassung (omission of words):

    In normal spech one may omit certain words for stylistic reasons (to improve sentence rhythm or avoid repetitioin). These reasons also apply to poetry, where the use of fragmentary sentences is rather common. Normally the omitted words are axiliary verbs (gemacht hat, gesehen hat, gespielt hat: hat would be left out) or words which have appeared before.

  13. die Wortgestalt (word form):

    Short and extended forms of German words are used frequently in poetry as in normal speech. Soome are common to both, such as "denk(e)," "wie's"= wie es," and "sehens = sehen es." Others we find primarily in poetry, for example Schiller uses "ew'gen" to mean "ewigen" and "verteilet" instead of "verteilt."

    These latter are generally archaic and clearly stamp the language of the poem as poetic, even slightly artificial. One also finds adjectives without endings, for example Goethe's "dein eigen Angesicht." The use of "ward" for "wurde" is similar.

  14. die Wortstellung (word order):

    In poetry and in emotional language in general we find certain deviations from the normal word order. A traditional one in poetry is the prepositioned genitive: Klopstock, "Des Maies Erwachen" for "das Erwachen des Mais," Goethe, "bei der Liebsten Gruss" for "bei dem Gruss der Liebsten." Unusual word order may suggest Greek poetry, or colloquial word order. Unusual word order may also be used to emphasize particular words.

  15. die Wortwahl (word choice):

    In all languages there is a traditional poetic vocabulary which contains a number of archaic or seldom used words and omits many commonly used ones. Much can be learned by noting to what extent a certain poet uses the poety vocabulary of his or her generation. In general on can say that the more modern the poet is, the broader and more contemporary the poetic vocabulary becomes. Present day poets frequently delight in mixing stylistic and soical levels in their poetic vocabulary.

ljking@oregonstate.edu