Literary Terms

H - L

     All this tries to do is to give a brief glossary of terms. These are mostly those that have been used elsewhere on this part of the site, but some others have been added.

     I have deliberately excluded many that seem to me to be insignificant or pointless and have been arbitrary in my judgements. There is no pretence to be comprehensive.

      This page covers H - L alphabetically. Click below for other entries.


Haiku:It is sometimes called a Hokku. See Why Write Haiku.

Half-rhyme: Known by many other names such as near-rhyme; slant-rhyme, etc. As its name suggests, it is a 'rhyme that doesn't quite rhyme' as in 'shall/tell' for example. It is a very useful way of avoiding forced rhyme. Wilfred Owen and more recently Philip Larkin were fine exponents of it.

Heptameter: A metrical verse comprising seven stressed syllables. It is often called a fourteener in English. See Metre.

Heroic couplet: A rhyming pair of iambic pentameter lines. See Metre.

Hexameter: A metrical verse comprising six stressed syllables. See Metre.

Homonym: A word with the same sound (homophone) or spelling (homograph) as another but with a different meaning. So wright/right would be homophones and left (in the sense of the left hand) and left (in the sense of leaving something behind) would be homographs.

Huitain: A French stanza form of eight lines of eight or ten syllables. The lines usually rhyme ababbcbc or abbaacac.

Hymn: A lyric poem in praise of a divine or celebrated being. The term is often used ironically.


Hyperbaton: Inversion (this term is also often used) or the significant alteration of the normal word order. It is a poetic device that is frowned upon today.


Iamb: A metrical unit or foot made up of one unstressed syllable followed by one stressed syllable. The iambic pentameter, five stresses in a ten-syllable line, is the most common form in English (but not Welsh) verse. See Metre.

Idyll: A short poem celebrating an incident in a idealised rural setting.

Image: This rather imprecise term is nevertheless of supreme importance in poetry. It means the use of language to indirectly convey a sensory impression in the reader's mind. The imagist poets were a small but influential Anglo-American group in the early 20c who specialised in short poems built around a single image.

Internal rhyme: Rhyme which occurs within the same line of verse.

Intonation: The pattern of variation in an oral poem or any other spoken work.

Irony: A statement, on face value straightforward enough, used in a way that means something very different (often the exact opposite) of the words spoken or written. In its crudest form it is also called sarcasm.


Jingle: A simple, repetitive, rhyme used for epigrams etc. - very often today for film and TV advertising.


Kenning: Use of a roundabout phrase for a common thing, eg 'whale's land' for 'sea'. It was very common in Anglo-Saxon verse.


Lay: (or lai). A short narrative poem. The term originally came from the French.

Lament: A poem expressing deep grief or sorrow about a thing or person now gone.

Leitmotif: A repeated phrase or image in a poem or other piece of writing supporting a theme. The word is from the German, and was originally (and still is) applied to music.

Leonine rhyme: The rhyming of a word in the middle of a line with its ending, as in 'The ice did split, with a thunder fit' and in many other examples from Samuel Taylor Coleridge's The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.

Light Verse: Verse, often humorous, which has no serious intention. There will soon be TWO Light Verse pages on the More Words section of this web site.

Limerick: A form of light verse, rhyming aabba, as the following:

     There was an old man of Blackheath
     who sat on his set of false teeth.
     He cried with a start:
     'Oh Lord bless my heart
     I've bitten myself underneath'.

In their strictest form, limericks should consist of five anapaestic lines, lines 1, 2 and 5 containing three stressed syllables, and lines 3 and 4 two. In its early 19c use, line 5 would use the same rhyming word as line 1, i.e., the last line of the above could be 'that silly old man of Blackheath'. This rather wasteful use of a line is not made now. Limericks have often been obscene. Do you know the one that begins 'There was a young lady of Ealing ...'? See Nonsense Verse.


Lipogram: See Oulipan.

Literal: The simplest use of a word or expression, as distinct from any figurative sense. You should never say things like 'I literally flew out of the window'. If you do and it's true then I want some of whatever it is that you're on.

Lyric: A short poem expressing the mood of a character - not necessarily the poet him or herself.