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Literary Terms

R - Z

     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 R - Z alphabetically. Click below for other entries.


Refrain: A line, group of lines, or part of a line repeated, usually at the end of a stanza, in a poem. See also a chorus, used in song.

Repetend: Similar to a refrain but can be irregular in form or placement.

Rhapsody: A passage expressing unbridled emotion.

Rhyme: The similarity of (usually) sound between two syllables. There are many forms of rhyme, as this 'terms' section indicates.

Rhyme Royal: See Rhyme Royal.

Rhyme Scheme: See A note on formal and free verse.

Rhythm: See Metre.

Romanticism: A reaction against classicism that occurred in the early 19c, and affected all forms of art. Its essence was the emphasis on freedom of expression, as opposed to the imitation of the conventions of classical ideals.

Rondeau: See Roundel.

Rondel: See Roundel.

Roundel: See Roundel.


Scansion: The full analysis of poetic metre, including pauses etc., by the employment of conventional symbols.

Septet: A stanza of seven lines, as used in Rhyme Royal.

Sestet: A stanza of six lines, as used in the second part of a sonnet.

Sestina: See Sestina.

Sonnet: See Sonnet.

Spenserian stanza: A stanza of nine lines, eight iambic pentameters plus one longer alexandrine, rhyming ababbcbcc. It was invented by Sir Edmund Spenser in the late 16c for The Faerie Queene and continued in popularity until the 19c.

Spenserian Sonnet: See Sonnet.

Spondee: A device of metrical variation.

Stanza: A group of lines forming a part of a poem. Stanzas are normally separated by a space in a printed poem. They are sometimes called a stave and, not altogether accurately, a verse.


Stichic: A continuous poem that doesn't use stanzas.

Stress: The variation in emphasis given to a spoken syllable in a poem.

Syllabic verse: Verse where metre and stress is disregarded and lines are measured simply by the number of syllables they contain. Purely syllabic verse has not been used much in the English language (except experimentally by WH Auden, Thom Gunn, and a few others) but is more common in the Romance languages.


Tanka: A Japanese form, conventionally comprising 5, 7, 5, 7, and 7 syllables. See Tanka and Haiku.

Tercet: Three verse lines, often rhyming together. The tercet is a feature of the terza rima, the villanelle, and the sestet of an Italianate sonnet.

Terza Rima: See Terza Rima.

Tetrameter: A verse line comprising four (normally) iambs.

Threnode: (or Threnody). A lament for the dead, often in blank verse.

Triolet: See Triolet (form).

Triple Metre: An uncommon (in English) form using feet of three syllables.

Triple Rhyme: A rhyme on three syllables, as 'for your purse/or for worse'.

Triplet: Three verse lines sharing the same rhyme.

Trochee: A metrical foot comprising one stressed syllable followed by one unstressed. Purely trochaic lines are not often found in English poetry; it is more common to dispense with the final unstressed syllable.


Verse: The same thing as poetry, though the term does not necessarily imply that the piece has poetic merit.

Verse paragraph: Similar to stanza, though in this case the divisions are by the flow of the piece rather than any prosodaic demands.

Versification: Composing verse with regard to the technical demands of metre, stanza etc.

Villanelle: See What is a Villanelle?




Zeitgeist: The spirit of the age. This is the German for 'time-spirit'.

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