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Originally, poetry in which words of different languages were mixed together or, more strictly, words in the poet's vernacular were given the inflectional endings of another language, usually for humorous or satiric effect. In modern times, however, in recognition of the multilingual relationships of sound and sense between different languages, it is used most often with serious intent, thus transformed from a species of comic or nonsense verse into poetry characterized by scholarly techniques of composition, allusion, and structure.

(See also Amphigouri)

A short medieval lyric or pastoral poem expressing a simple delicate thought.

MALAPROPISM (MAL-a-prop-izm)
A type of solecism, the mistaken substitution of one word for another that sounds similar, generally with humorous effect, as in "arduous romance" for "ardent romance." The term is named for the character, Mrs. Malaprop, in Richard Sheridan's play, The Rivals, who made frequent misapplications of words, for example:

as headstrong as an allegory on the banks of the Nile.
Sidelight: The name of Sheridan's character, Mrs. Malaprop, was taken from the French expression for "inappropriate" or "out of place," mal à propos.
(See also Catachresis, Enallage, Mixed Metaphor, Oxymoron, Paradox, Solecism, Synesthesia)

Excessive ornateness marked by the use of extravagant metaphors, so named from the 17th century Italian poet, Giambattista Marino, and his school of followers.

(See also Baroque, Conceit, Euphuism, Gongorism, Melic Verse)

A rhyme occurring in words of one syllable or in an accented final syllable, such as light and sight or arise and surprise.

(Contrast Feminine Rhyme)

Poetic rhythm or cadence as determined by the syllables in a line of poetry with respect to quantity and accent; also, meter; also, a metrical foot.
Sidelight: While the two terms are usually used synonymously, meter suggests a predictable regularity, so measure is more aptly used in reference to the irregular rhythm of free verse.
(See Accentual Verse, Quantitive Verse, Syllabic Verse)
(See also Common Measure)

MEIOSIS (my-OH-sis)
An understatement; the presentation of a thing with underemphasis in order to achieve a greater effect, such as, "the building of the pyramids took a little bit of effort."
Sidelight: Just as a hyperbole can underscore a truth by overstatement, the meiosis achieves the same effect with understatement.
(See also Litotes)
(Compare Irony, Pathos)
(Contrast Hyperbole)

Members of various German trade guilds formed in the 15th and 16th centuries by merchants and craftsmen for the cultivation of poetry and music, succeeding the Minnesingers.
Sidelight: Applicants had to study poetry and singing while learning their trade and pass examinations through degrees of "scholars," "schoolmen," "singers," and "poets," to eventually become Meistersingers (Mastersingers). The most famous of the Meistersingers was Hans Sachs (1494-1576), to whom about 6,000 poems are attributed.
(See also Improvisatore, Jongleur, Minstrel, Troubadour, Trouvere)

An ornate form of Greek poetry of the 7th and 6th centuries BC which was written to be sung, either by a single voice or a chorus, to the accompaniment of musical instruments.
Sidelight: Melic verse was the forerunner of lyric verse.
(Compare Canzone, Ghazal, Ode, Pindaric Verse, Romance, Society Verse)

(See also Conceit, Euphuism, Gongorism, Marinism)

See under Acrostic Poem

A figure of speech in which a word or phrase literally denoting one object or idea is applied to another, thereby suggesting a likeness or analogy between them, as
     The Leaves of Life keep falling one by one.
                 --- Edward Fitzgerald, The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám

     I fall upon the thorns of life! I bleed!
                 --- Percy Bysshe Shelley, "Ode to the West Wind"

               .   .   . The cherished fields
     Put on their winter robe of purest white.
                 --- James Thomson, The Seasons

Sidelight: While most metaphors are nouns, verbs can be used as well:
       Till the calm rivers, lakes, and seas,
     Like strips of the sky fallen through me on high,
       Are each paved with the moon and these.
                 --- Percy Bysshe Shelley, "The Cloud"
Sidelight: The poetic metaphor can be thought of as having two basic components: (1) what is meant, and (2) what is said. The thing meant is called the tenor, while the thing said, which embodies the analogy brought to the subject, is called the vehicle.
Sidelight: Both metaphors and similes are comparisons between things which are unlike, but a simile expresses the comparison directly, while a metaphor is an implied comparison that gains emphatic force by its connotative value.
Sidelight: A word or expression like "the leg of the table," which originally was a metaphor but which has now been assimilated into common usage, has lost its figurative value; thus, it is called a dead metaphor.
Sidelight: Frequently, the term metaphor, as opposed to a metaphor, is used to include all figures of speech, so the expression, "metaphorically speaking," refers to speaking figuratively rather than literally.
(See also Allegory, Conceit, Extended Metaphor, Mixed Metaphor,
                 Kenning, Personification, Synesthetic Metaphor
(Compare Analogy, Metonymy, Symbol, Synecdoche)

Of or relating to a group of 17th century poets whose verse was distinguished by an intellectual and philosophical style, with extended metaphors or conceits comparing very dissimilar things.

(Compare Classicism, Idealism, Imagism, Impressionism,
                 Objectivism, Realism, Romanticism, Symbolism

A measure of rhythmic quantity; the organized succession of groups of syllables at basically regular intervals in a line of poetry, according to definite metrical patterns. In classic Greek and Latin versification, meter depended on the way long and short syllables were arranged to succeed one another, but in English the distinction is between accented and unaccented syllables. The unit of meter is the foot. Metrical lines are named for the constituent foot and for the number of feet in the line: monometer (1), dimeter (2), trimeter (3), tetrameter (4), pentameter (5), hexameter (6), heptameter (7), and octameter (8); thus, a line containing five iambic feet, for example, would be called iambic pentameter. Rarely does a metrical line exceed six feet.
The metrical element of sound makes a valuable contribution to the mood and total effect of a poem.
Sidelight: In the composition of verse, poets sometimes make deviations from the systematic metrical patterns. This is often desirable because (1) variations will avoid the mechanical "te-dum, te-dum" monotony of a too-regular rhythm and (2) changes in the metrical pattern are an effective way to emphasize or reinforce meaning in the content. These variations are introduced by substituting different feet at places within a line. (Poets can also employ a caesura, use run-on lines and vary the degrees of accent by skillful word selection to modify the rhythmic pattern, a process called modulation. Accents heightened by semantic emphasis also provide diversity.) A proficient writer of poetry, therefore, is not a slave to the dictates of metrics, but neither should the poet stray so far from the meter as to lose the musical value or emotional potential of rhythmical repetition. Of course, in modern free verse, meter has become either irregular or non-existent.
Sidelight: Generally speaking, it is advisable for poets to delay the introduction of metrical variations until the ear of the reader has had time to become accustomed to the basic rhythmic pattern.
Sidelight: In music, the term, rubato, refers to rhythmic variations from the written score applied in the performance.
(See Common Measure, Scan, Scansion)
(See also Accentual Verse, Quantitive Verse, Syllabic Verse)

METONYMY (meh-TAHN-ih-mee)
A figure of speech involving the substitution of one noun for another of which it is an attribute or which is closely associated with it, e.g., "the kettle boils" or "he drank the cup." Metonymy is very similar to synecdoche.
Sidelight: Some metonymic expressions, like paleface for white man or salt for sailor, have become so much a part of everyday language that they can no longer be considered as figurative in a poetic sense.
(Compare Antonomasia, Cataphora)

See Meter

See Foot

A "rest" or "hold" that has a temporal value, usually to compensate for the omission of an unstressed syllable in a foot.
Sidelight: Neither a metrical pause itself nor its length can be scanned, but scansion will show the omission of the unstressed syllable(s) it replaces.
Sidelight: Edgar Allan Poe described the metrical pause as "a variable foot which is the most important in all verse," but some theorists disagree that a time value is valid in modern metrics.
Sidelight: A pause that is non-metrical and expressed only in the
performance is called a caesura.
The branch of prosody concerned with meter.

METRIST (MEH-trist, MEE-trist)
A writer of verse.

(See also Bard, Poet, Sonneteer, Versifier, Wordsmith)

See Internal Rhyme

Pertaining to the poetry or style of the poet, John Milton, one of the most respected figures in English literature.

MIMESIS (mih-MEE-sis)
Literally, imitation or realistic representation -- but its poetic significance is more specific: it refers to the combination of sound in phonetic symbolism and onomatopoeia (sound suggestion) with the connotative, symbolic, and synesthetic effects of the words themselves and their syntactic arrangement to resemble, reinforce, shape, and temper their lexical sense in a manner that mirrors the meaning. In An Essay on Criticism, Pope simplified with the precept, "the sound must seem an echo to the sense." He wrote the following couplet to illustrate:
Soft is the strain when Zephyr gently blows,
And the smooth stream in smoother numbers flows.
(See also Ekphrasis, Sound Devices)

Lyric poets of Germany in the 12th to 14th centuries, all men of noble birth who received royal patronage and who wrote mainly of courtly love. They were succeeded by the Meistersingers.
Sidelight: The Minnesingers used the collective term, Minnesang, for their work on themes of courtly love.
(See also Improvisatore, Jongleur, Minstrel, Troubadour, Trouvere)

In the Middle Ages, the general term for a performer who subsisted by reciting verse and singing, usually accompanied by a harp. Some minstrels were traveling entertainers; others were permanently employed by nobles.

(See also Gleeman, Improvisatore, Jongleur, Meistersingers, Minnesingers, Troubadour, Trouvere)
(Compare Bard, Metrist, Sonneteer, Wordsmith)

The art and occupation of minstrels; also, a collection of minstrel songs or a group of musicians or minstrels.

A metaphor whose elements are either incongruent or contradictory by the use of incompatible identifications, such as "the dog pulled in its horns" or "to take arms against a sea of troubles."
Sidelight: The effect of a mixed metaphor can be absurd as well as sublime.
(See also Catachresis, Enallage, Malapropism, Oxymoron, Paradox, Synesthesia)

A satiric literary form that treats a trivial or commonplace subject with the elevated language and heroic style of the classical epic.
Sidelight: An outstanding example in English verse is Pope's The Rape of the Lock, which he wrote to expose the absurdity of a threatened feud between two families over an incident in which a young baron cut a curl from the head of a society belle.
(See also Hudibrastic Verse)
(Compare Parody)

In poetry, the harmonious use of language relative to the variations of stress and pitch.
Sidelight: Modulation is a process by which the stress values of accents can be increased or decreased within a fixed metrical pattern.
(See also Alliteration, Assonance, Consonance, Euphony)
(Compare Cadence, Ictus, Rhythm, Sprung Rhythm)

MOLOSSUS (moh-LAH-sus)
In classical verse, a metrical foot consisting of three long syllables.

MONODY (MAHN-uh-dee)
A poem in which one person laments another's death, as in Tennyson's, "Break, Break, Break," or Wordsworth's "She Dwelt Among the Untrodden Ways."

(See also Dirge, Elegy, Epitaph)

See Dramatic Monologue or Interior Monologue

MONOMETER (muh-NAH-muh-tur)
A line of verse consisting of a single metrical foot or dipody, as in Robert Herrick's "Upon His Departure Hence."

(See Meter)

A poem in which all the lines have the same end rhyme.

(See also Ghazal)

A poem or epigram of a single metrical line.

(Compare Distich, Hemistich)

A word of one syllable.
Sidelight: Although the idea of a monosyllabic foot in English verse has been proposed, i.e., an accented syllable plus a hypothetical pause, the notion that pauses may constitute parts of feet is contrary to generally accepted metrical theories.
(See also Disyllable, Polysyllable, Trisyllable)

See Tone

The minimal unit of rhythmic measurement in quantitive verse, equivalent to the time it takes to pronounce an ordinary or average short syllable; two morae are equivalent to a long syllable.

A rhyme in which two or more words produce a multiple rhyme, either with two or more other words, as go for / no more, or with one longer word, as cop a plea / monopoly. It is usually used for comic effect.
Sidelight: Byron's Don Juan, contains many examples of mosaic rhymes.
(See also Disyllabic Rhyme, Triple Rhyme)

A thematic element recurring frequently in literature, such as the dawn song of an aubade or the carpe diem motif.

(See also Burden, Theme)
(Compare Content, Diction, Form, Persona, Style, Texture, Tone)

A source of inspiration, a guiding genius.
Sidelight: In Greek mythology, the nine daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne were called the Muses, each of whom was identified with an individual art or science. While there are historic inconsistencies in the records that have been handed down, a common listing is as follows:
Calliope (kuh-LY-uh-pee): Muse of epic poetry
Clio (KLY-oh or KLEE-oh): Muse of history
Erato (EHR-uh-toh): Muse of lyric and love poetry
Euterpe (yoo-TUR-pee): Muse of music, especially wind instruments
Melpomene (mel-PAH-muh-nee): Muse of tragedy
Polymnia (pah-LIM-nee-uh): Muse of sacred poetry
Terpsichore (turp-SIK-uh-ree): Muse of dance and choral song
Thalia (thuh-LY-uh): Muse of comedy
Urania (yooh-RAY-nee-uh): Muse of astronomy
(See also Afflatus, Helicon, Numen, Parnassian, Pierian)

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Poetry is a means to a certain kind of knowledge,
and there is a certain kind of knowledge to which it is the only means.

---Archibald MacLeish

         sweet food of sweetly uttered knowledge.

---The Defence of Poesie, Sir Philip Sidney