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A Japanese form of poetry consisting of three unrhymed lines of five, seven, and five syllables. The elusive flavor of the form, however, lies more in its touch and tone than in its syllabic structure. Deeply imbedded in Japanese culture and strongly influenced by Zen Buddhism, haiku are very brief descriptions of nature that convey some implicit insight or essence of a moment. Traditionally, they contain either a direct or oblique reference to a season:
A field of tulips--
convulsions of vivid hues
ferried by the breeze
                              -- rgs
Sidelight: Haiku derived from the hokku, which was the opening part of the renga, a lengthy Japanese poem usually composed by several poets writing alternating stanzas.
Sidelight: After World War II, haiku attracted an increasing interest among American poets and is now written in many other languages as well, often with experimental changes in the form. The original Japanese haiku was written in a one-line format
(See also Senryu, Tanka, Cinquain)

A near rhyme; also, an apocopated rhyme in which the rhyme occurs only on the first syllable of the rhyming word, as in blue and truly or sum and trumpet.

HAMARTIA (hah-mahr-TEE-uh)
In literature, the tragic hero's error of judgment or inherent defect of character, usually less literally translated as a "fatal flaw." This, combined with essential elements of chance and other external forces, brings about a catastrophe. Often the error or flaw results from nothing more than personal traits like probity, pride, and overconfidence, but can arise from any failure of the protagonist's action or knowledge ranging from a simple unwitting act to a moral deficiency.
Sidelight: The tragic hero is usually of high estate and neither entirely virtuous nor bad. Hamartia, rather than villainy, is the significant factor leading to his suffering. He evokes our pity because, not being an evil person, his misfortune is a greater tragedy than he deserves and is disproportionate to the "flaw." We are also moved to fear, as we recognize the possibilities of similar errors or defects in ourselves.
See Alliteration

A part of the Parnassus, a mountain range in Greece, which was the home of the Muses. The name is used as an allusion to poetic inspiration.

(See also Afflatus, Numen, Parnassian)

The approximate half of a line of poetic verse. In dramatic poetry, where the hemistichs are split into two short lines, it is used whenever characters exchange short bursts of dialogue rapidly, heightening the effect of quarrelsome disagreement; in classical poetry such a series is called hemistichomythia. Other types of poetry may use an occasional hemistich to give the effect of emotionally disturbed thought or action.
Sidelight: Alliterative verse was composed with two hemistichs on a single line, divided by a caesura.
(Compare Stich, Monostich, Distich, Stichomythia)

A metrical line of eleven syllables.

(See also Decasyllable, Dodecasyllable, Heptasyllable, Octosyllable)

HENDIADYS (hen-DYE-a-dis)
The use of a pair of independent words joined by and, where one of the words achieves the effect of a modifier, to express a single expanded idea, as nice and warm (nicely warm) or Tennyson's:

waving to him white hands and courtesy (courteous white hands)
Sidelight: Shakespeare's works contain many examples of hendiadys, such as "sound and fury" (furious sound) in Macbeth, and "heat and flame" (hot flame) in Hamlet.
(Compare Prolepsis, Syllepsis. Zeugma)

HEPTAMETER (hep-TAM-uh-tur)
A line of verse consisting of seven metrical feet. It is also called a septenarius, especially in Latin prosody.
Sidelight: A heptameter is called a fourteener when it is iambic.
(See Meter)
(See also Poulter's Measure)

A metrical line of seven syllables.

(See also Decasyllable, Dodecasyllable, Hendecasyllable, Octosyllable)

Two successive lines of rhymed poetry in iambic pentameter, so called for its use in the composition of epic poetry in the 17th and 18th centuries. In neo-classical usage the two lines were required to express a complete thought, thus a closed couplet, with a subordinate pause at the end of the first line. Heroic couplets, which are well-suited to antithesis and parallelism, are also often used for epigrams, such as Pope's:
        You beat your pate, and fancy wit will come.
        Knock as you please--there's nobody at home.
Sidelight: Poems written in heroic couplets, such as Pope's The Rape of the Lock, are especially subject to the danger of metrical monotony, which poets avoid by variations in their placement of caesuras.
(See also Couplet, Distich, Open Couplet)

So named because it is the form in which epic poetry of heroic exploits is generally written, its rhyme scheme is abab, composed in iambic pentameter verse in English, hexameter in Greek and Latin, ottava rima in Italian.
Sidelight: The English form of the heroic quatrain is also called the elegiac stanza for its frequent use in elegiac verse, as in Gray's "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard." The form has also been used by other poets without elegiac intent, as in Shakespeare's sonnets.
(See also Chanson de Geste, Epopee, Epos, Quatrain)
(Compare Ballad, Narrative, Tragedy)

See under Stanza

See under Homonym

HEXAMETER (hex-AM-uh-tur)
A line of verse consisting of six metrical feet; the term, however, is usually used for dactylic hexameter, consisting of dactyls and spondees, the meter in which the Greek and Latin epics were written.
Sidelight: A hexameter is called an Alexandrine when it is iambic or trochaic in its English version.
(See Meter)
(See also Poulter's Measure)

HIATUS (hy-AY-tus)
See under Elision

See Double Dactyl

See Haiku

See under Simile

See under Homonym

One of two or more words which are identical in pronunciation and spelling, but different in meaning, as the noun bear and the verb bear.
Sidelight: Although often called homonyms in popular usage (indeed, in some dictionaries as well), homophones are words which are identical in pronunciation but different in meaning or derivation or spelling, as rite, write, right, and wright, or rain and reign. Heteronyms are words which are identical in spelling but different in meaning and pronunciation, as sow, to scatter seed, and sow, a female hog. Homographs are words which are identical in spelling but different in meaning and derivation or pronunciation, as pine, to yearn for, and pine, a tree, or the bow of a ship and a bow and arrow.
(Compare Antonym, Paronym, Synonym)
(Contrast Sight Rhyme)

See under Homonym

An ode relating to or resembling the works or style of the Roman poet, Horace, consisting of a series of uniform stanzas, complex in their metrical system and rhyme scheme. The Greek form is called an Aeolic ode. Horatian odes are characteristically less elaborate and more contemplative than Pindaric odes.
Sidelight: John Keats' "Ode to a Nightingale" is an example of a Horatian ode.
(See also Sapphic Verse)

In scansion, a stress which is thought of as being equally distributed over two adjacent syllables, a concept proposed to cover an accent not in alignment with the expected metrical ictus, as in Pope's:

That in | one speech | two Neg- | atives | affirme

(See also Spondee, Sprung Rhythm)

A mock-heroic humorous poem written in octosyllabic couplets, after Hudibras, a satirical poem by Samuel Butler.

(See also Burlesque, Parody, Pasquinade, Satire)
(Compare Antiphrasis, Irony)

A song or ode of praise, usually addressed to gods, but sometimes to heroes or to abstractions such as Truth, Justice, or Fortune.

(See also Paean, Encomium)

HYPALLAGE (high-PAL-uh-jee)
A type of hyperbaton involving an interchange of elements in a phrase or sentence so that a displaced word is in a grammatical relationship with another that it does not logically qualify, as in:
With rainy marching in the painful field
             ---Shakespeare, Henry V, IV.iii

Alas, what ignorant sin have I committed?
             --- Shakespeare, Othello, IV.ii

While the cock . . .
Stoutly struts his dames before;
             --- Milton, "L'Allegro"

(Compare Anastrophe, Chiasmus)

HYPERBATON (hi-PER-buh-tahn)
An inversion of the normal grammatical word order; it may range from a single word moved from its usual place to a pair of words inverted or to even more extremes of syntactic displacement. Specific types of hyperbaton are anastrophe, hypallage, and hysteron proteron.
Sidelight: The poetic use of hyperbaton is the principal difference in diction between poetry and prose. Poets utilize it to meet the needs of meter or rhyme, for emphasis or rhetorical effect, and to temper the flow of narrative

HYPERBOLE (hi-PER-buh-lee)
A bold, deliberate overstatement, e.g., "I'd give my right arm for a piece of pizza." Not intended to be taken literally, it is used as a means of emphasizing the truth of a statement.
Sidelight: A type of hyperbole in which the exaggeration magnified so greatly that it refers to an impossibility is called an adynaton.
(Contrast Litotes, Meiosis)

Having an additional syllable after the final complete foot in a line of verse. A verse marked by hypercatalexis is called hypermetrical.

(Compare Anacrusis)
(Contrast Acatalectic, Catalectic)

A line which contains a redundant syllable or syllables at variance with the regular metrical pattern.

(See also Hypercatalectic)

HYSTERON PROTERON (HIS-tuh-rahn PRAH-tuh-rahn)
Related to the hyperbaton, a figure of speech in which the natural or logical order of events is reversed, as in "I die! I faint! I fail!" from Shelley's "The Indian Serenade."

(Compare Anachronism, In Medias Res)


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Could mortal lip divine
The undeveloped freight
Of a delivered syllable,
'T would crumble with the weight.

---Emily Dickinson

Syllables govern the word.

---John Selden