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Poetic Devices

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English Literature

What is the difference between literary and poetic devices? Well, all poetic devices are literary devices but not all literary devices are poetic devices. Poetic devices are used in poetry to convey meaning or rhythm by using words, sounds, meter, rhyme, and even structural or visual elements. They heighten the literal meaning of words, adding layers of form, sound, and function.

Poetic Devices: definition

Poetic devices are a subcategory of literary devices. This is why all poetic devices are also literary devices. In poetry, a poet will deliberately make use of devices to amplify or change literal meanings, as well as to create rhythm or tone. Poetic devices can be used in many different combinations to create various effects.

Poetic Devices: a list with poetic examples

There are too many poetic devices to create a comprehensive list in this article. Instead, we will look at a few commonly used examples within some broad categories and also highlight their use in well-known poems.

Poetic Devices: sound and repetition

A unique sound is one of the most important elements that a poet will create with words and sound-related poetic devices.

Assonance

Assonance is the repeated use of vowel or diphthong sounds to create rhythm and tempo.

William Blake made extensive use of assonance in his poem, 'The Tyger' (1794). The repetition of the long /i/ sound combined with the similar /y/ sound creates a unique tempo and sound.

Tyger Tyger, burning bright,

In the forests of the night;

What immortal hand or eye,

Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

In what distant deeps or skies.

Burnt the fire of thine eyes?

On what wings dare he aspire?

What the hand, dare seize the fire?

Diphthong sounds are formed by combining two vowels in a single syllable. A common one is /oi/ or /oy/ like in 'boy' or 'hoist'.

Alliteration

Alliteration is often the repeated use of the initial sound of a word or phrase to create auditory and rhythmic effects. Usually defined as the repeated use of the first letter, this is not always the case. The key to alliteration is to look for the repeated sound, not necessarily the letter. ‘Gym junkie’ is an alliteration. ‘Gas giant’ is not.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge uses alliteration in 'The Rime of the Ancient Mariner' (1798) to create a musical tempo with the repeated use of /f/ as the first stressed syllable.

The fair breeze blow, the white foam flew,

The furrow followed free;

We were the first that ever burst

Into that silent sea.

Sibilance

Sibilance is a type of alliteration that features the repetition of the /s/ or a hissing type sound in the stressed syllables of /s/, /ci/ and even some /z/ words.

William Carlos Williams makes use of sibilance in his poem 'This Is Just To Say' (1934). This creates a sense of mood and tone based on the sound created by the repeated /s/.

Forgive me

they were delicious

so sweet

and so cold.

Poetic Devices, Repetition, StudySmarter

Poetic Devices: Repetition. Unsplash.

Poetic Devices: rhythm

The flow of words in a stanza creates a certain rhythm that adds to the mood and tempo of a poem, also enhancing its meaning.

Rhyme

Rhyme uses repeated patterns, using words that have the same sounds. These words can be placed in different places depending on the rhyme scheme used. They might be at the end of each sentence in the case of Monorhyme poems. Couplets contain two line stanzas with the scheme AA BB CC and DD. Triplets include variations on the ABBA scheme. There are many more types and some poems don’t use rhyme at all.

Emily Dickinson makes use of the rhyme scheme ABCB to create rhythm in her poem 'I'm nobody! Who are you?' (1891).

I'm nobody!

Who are you?

Are you nobody, too?

Then there's a pair of us -- don't tell!

They'd advertise -- you know!

How dreary to be somebody!

How public like a frog

To tell one's name the livelong day

To an admiring bog!

Poetic Devices, Rhythm, StudySmarter

Poetic Devices: Rhythm. Unsplash.

Poetic Devices: meaning

Poetic devices can be used to highlight a point and change or enhance meaning. These can be direct or indirect, depending on the device used and how it is used.

Allusion

Allusion is when a poet indirectly refers to something like a mythical, historical, or even a literary person, place, or movement. It is up to the reader to spot the allusion and understand how it infers meaning.

T.S. Eliot makes use of allusion throughout his poem 'The Waste Land' (1922). He often alludes to William Shakespeare so we will look at one of his references to The Tempest (1611). It is indirectly connected but the implied meaning is one of a creation of falsehoods. This is further supported by allusions to Madame Sosotoris in the same stanza.

Those are pearls that were his eyes. Look!” - The Wasteland: line 48

This references a song sung by Ariel in The Tempest: Act 1, Scene 2. Ariel is lying to Ferdinand about the death of his father in the shipwreck.

Full fathom five thy father lies;

Of his bones are coral made;

Those are pearls that were his eyes:

Nothing of him that doth fade

But doth suffer a sea-change

Into something rich and strange - The Tempest: Act 1, Scene 2

Madame Sosotoris was a famous clairvoyant from Aldous Huxley's Chrome Yellow (1921). She is an old woman who cons gullible victims who are interested in the afterlife. She is actually a man, Mr. Scogan, in disguise.

Poetic Devices: punctuation

Similar to form, punctuation or a lack of punctuation is used to structure a poem and tell a reader how the words should flow. This creates tempo and meaning.

Enjambment

Enjambment is when a sentence continues without pause or terminal punctuation from one line to the next within a stanza. The reader’s eye isn’t interrupted by punctuation and can run on without a gap. This creates tempo and allows a poet to determine how their words are read or spoken.

Considered a master of enjambment, E.E. Cummings uses this device in his poem, 'Spring omnipotent goddess' (1920).

Spring omnipotent goddess. Thou

dost stuff parks

with overgrown pimply

chevaliers and gumchewing giggly

damosels Thou dost

persuade to serenade

his lady the musical tom-cat

Thou dost inveigle

Read this poem aloud to yourself or someone else. Listen to how E.E. Cummings creates the way his poems sounds by his lack of punctuation. Did you run out of breath by the end?

Identifying Poetic Devices in poems

Once you know the various types of poetic device, it is easier to spot them in poems. Finding them is just the first step, though. Next you need to assess why the poet used that device and what they are trying to convey.

You will need to look for the effect on meaning, form, or sound in a poem. The context of the rest of the poem and its external factors will also influence your understanding of the device used and why it was used.

Can you name the highlighted device used in Carol Ann Duffy’s 'Valentine' (1993)?

Not a red rose or a satin heart.

I give you an onion.It is a moon wrapped in brown paper.It promises lightlike the careful undressing of love.

Here.It will blind you with tearslike a lover.It will make your reflectiona wobbling photo of grief.

I am trying to be truthful.

Not a cute card or a kissogram.

I give you an onion.Its fierce kiss will stay on your lips,possessive and faithfulas we are,for as long as we are.

Take it.Its platinum loops shrink to a wedding ring,if you like.Lethal.Its scent will cling to your fingers,cling to your knife.

Can you see another poetic device in 'Valentine'? Hint: E.E. Cummings uses this device frequently.

Poetic Devices - Key takeaways

  • 'All poetic devices are literary devices but not all literary devices are poetic devices' is the easiest way to understand how these two categories work together.

  • Poetic devices can make use of words, sounds, meter, rhyme, and even structural or visual elements.

  • These can convey form, meaning, rhythm, and sound to assist the poet in creating the effect that they want to achieve.

  • Common poetic devices include assonance, alliteration, sibilance, rhyme, enjambment, and allusion.

  • Once you know the devices, you can find them more easily and then consider why they were used and what effects or additional meaning they create.

Poetic Devices

All poetic devices are literary devices but not all literary devices are poetic devices. 


Poetic devices are used specifically in poetry to convey meaning or rhythm. This is achieved  by using sounds, words, rhyme,meter, and even structural or visual elements. 


They heighten the literal meaning of words.


Examples of poetic devices include assonance, alliteration, sibilance, rhyme, enjambment, and allusion.

First, learn the different types of poetic devices and then look for their impact on the meaning, form, or sound of a poem.

Poetic devices are used to convey form, additional meaning, rhythm, and sound in a poem.

There are almost too many to list in one place but common ones include

sibilance, enjambment, assonance, alliteration, rhyme, and allusion.

Final Poetic Devices Quiz

Question

True or false: The word 'sibilance' derives from the word 'sibilant'. Sibilant is a type of abrasive sound with a higher pitch.

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Answer

True. The word 'sibilance' derives from the word 'sibilant'. Sibilant is a type of abrasive sound with a higher pitch.

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Question

True or false: Leisure and pleasure are examples of sibilant words.

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Answer

True. Leisure and pleasure are examples of sibilant words because the 's' sound sounds like 'sh'.

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Question

How does Mew use sibilance in her poem 'A Quoi Bon Dire?' and how does it reflect the meaning of the text?


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Answer

The repeated 's' sound mimics a hissing sound that could represent the lingering whisper of her former lover, that only she can hear. As a subtle technique, almost like a secret code representing her former lover, the sibilance emulates the fact that only she can feel her lover's presence. 

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How can you spot sibilance? 


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Answer

Sibilance can be spotted when the soft sound 's' is used frequently in a short space of time.

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 What effect does sibilance have on literature?


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Answer

Sibilance has multiple effects. It can help reinforce the meaning of a text, hint at hidden meaning in a poem, establish rhythm, and draw attention to specific parts of a poem. 

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Question

How does Sexton use sibilance and what effect does it have on her poem lullaby? 


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Answer

As Sexton's poem 'Lullaby' depicts a nurse returning to a mentality ill patient with sleeping pills, the drowsyness associated with sleeping is emulated in the silabence. The repetition of 's' sounds litter the poem with soft sounds, mimicing a lullaby, a sleepy song sending readers to sleep - much like the subject of the poem. 



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Question

Which of the following are examples of sibilant words? 


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Answer

All of them

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Question

How is sibilance associated with a semantic field?


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Answer

 A semantic field is a term describing a section of text that contains similarities, this could be anything from plosive sounds, water imagery, to alliteration. Sibilance is similar to a semantic field as it is an area of text containing a plethora of 's' sounds, thus it is a semantic field of 's' sounds.

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Question

How is onomatopoeia associated with sibilance?


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Answer

Onomatopoeia is when a word sounds like what it means. For instance, 'ding-dong' describes the sound a doorbell makes, and the word sounds like the sound itself. Sibilance is similar to onomatopoeia as the repetition of the 's' sound can emulate what it describes. 

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Question

How does MacNeice use sibilance in 'Meeting Point'? 


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Answer

In 'Meeting Point' the sibilance hints at an underlying message in the poem. The succession of 's' sounds could be liked to sand slipping through an hourglass timer, reminding readers that time is continuing and nothing can stop it, even love. The subtle use of sibilance representing time slipping away, reflects the way time moving on has been marginalized in the lover's lives, as it is in the poem.



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Question

How does sibilance add musicality to poetry?


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Answer

Much like other literary techniques like assonance, alliteration, and consonance, sibilance adds musicality to poetry. When we speak, we wouldn't normally choose to use multiple words that contain 's' sounds. It is a technique authors deliberately use to enrich their writing and make it sound more poetic.  

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Question

How does sibilance draw attention to specific parts of a poem?


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Answer

 the same sounds grouped together in a couple of lines in a poem highlights a particular part of the poem as it differs from non sibilant sentences. Poets can use this effect to subtly draw attention to key parts of their texts.



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Question

True or false: All words containing the sound 's' make them sound similar and smooths transitions between words


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Answer

True. All words containing the sound 's' make them sound similar and smooths transitions between words

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Question

How does sibilance hint at underlying messages in poetry?


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Answer

As a subtle technique, it is possible sibilance could be used to reveal an underlying message in a poem 

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Question

How does Keats use sibilance in 'An Ode to Autumn'?


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Answer

The opening lines of the poem contain sibilance helping the poem flow smoothly and have a somewhat musical effect. The soft 's' sound reiterates the soft autumnal connotations of 'sun' and 'mist' - as Keats affectionately describes this season. 



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Question

True or false: Blank verse is always written in iambic pentameter.

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Answer

False. Most of the time blank verse is written in iambic pentameter, but not always. Poetry must be unrhymed and metered to qualify as blank verse. 



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Question

 True or false: Penta means ten in Latin.

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Answer

False. Penta means five in Latin.

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Question

 How many feet are there in line of iambic pentameter?


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Answer

There are five feet in a line of iambic pentameter.


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What constitutes an iambic foot? 


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A foot, in poetic terms, is a repeated sequence of meters. Therefore, an iambic foot is made up of two syllables: unstressed followed by stressed.

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Question

 What rhythm has been used to describe iambic pentameter?


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Answer

Iambic pentamter is described as having a heartbeat rhythm: de / DUM de / DUM de / DUM de / DUM de / DUM. 

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Question

Which poet believed rhyme does not show literary talent? 

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Answer

Scholars believe Milton thought it does not take much literary talent to think of words that rhyme, it is such more of a skill to write in meter. He declares writing in rhyme is restrictive and limits the ideas you can explore as a writer.



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Why does Shakespeare use caesura in his blank verse writing?


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Answer

Shakespeare employs caesura and enjambment to make the text seem more realistic and conversational, as we naturally pause when we speak. 

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Question

How does blank verse reinforce the meaning of Wordsworth's 'The Prelude'?


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Answer

The blank verse form supports Wordsworth in his journey between his childhood and adult self, as he ponders his past in relation to his future. We see him switching between his present and previous consciousness. The blank verse makes it easier to dip in and out of memories as there are few rules to follow, yet it remains impressive that he is able to write such an intricate narrative in regular meter. 



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Question

Why does Shakespeare use enjambment in his blank verse?


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Answer

Shakespeare uses enjambment to ensure the lines have the correct number of syllables long to fit iambic pentameter. For example, if the lines 'Our fears in Banquo stick deep, // And in his royalty of nature reigns that' was one long line, it would be longer than ten syllables and no longer classes as iambic pentameter.

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Question

How does iambic pentameter make 'My Last Duchess' by Rober Browning seem more sinister? 

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Answer

The upbeat rhythm of the poem (written in iambic pentameter) makes it slightly more sinister as it gives it a musical poetic feeling, which feels out of place given he is talking about how he killed his wife. 

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Question

True or false: Blank verse is popular among poets as it enables them to have the freedom of expression whilst maintaining a poetic rhythm following iambic pentameter or a similar metrical pattern.


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Answer

True. Blank verse is popular among poets as it enables them to have the freedom of expression whilst maintaining a poetic rhythm following iambic pentameter or a similar metrical pattern.

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Question

How does blank verse enhance Frost's poem 'The Death of the Hired Man'?


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If Frost was to explain the events in prose it would sound mundane, but the iambic pentameter gives it a poetic rhythm which makes it more interesting to read as he is able to embody the characters' emotions in the form. Their anticipation around discovering Silas is back is reflected in the frequent switch between lines broken up by caesura, and others left free-flowing with enjambment. 

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How can blank verse represent character status?


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Blank verse can also represent high social status as it indicates certain characters are educated enough to speak following a certain rhythm without using rhyme.

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What is the difference between blank verse and free verse?


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Whilst blank verse and free verse are not restricted by rhyme, they are different in the fact that blank verse follows a metrical pattern, whereas free verse does not.

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Why does blank verse often contain caesura and enjambment?


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Blank verse often contains enjambment and caesura to stop it from sounding monotonous.

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What are end-stop lines?

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Lines without enjambment are end-stopped because the sentence finishes at the end of the line. When a line is not end-stopped, it is likely to be an example of enjambment.

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Question

True or false: The word enjambment comes from the French word 'enjamber'

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Answer

True. The word enjambment comes from the French word 'enjamber' which means 'to stride over' or 'encroach', explaining how it links to the English definition of enjambment of words overrunning onto other lines of poetry.  



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Question

How does enjambment quicken the pace of poetry?


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Answer

The enjambment quickens the pace of the poem by reducing breaks between sentences. We read sentences quicker when there is no punctuation to break them up, explaining how enjambment can increase the speed at which poems are read.

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Question

True or false: Enjambment only occurs when a sentence runs onto another line of poetry with no punctuated break.


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Answer

False. Enjambment can also occur when a sentence runs from one stanza or one couplet to another.

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Question

Why do authors use enjambment?


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Answer

Authors use enjambment to control the pace of their poems. Whilst it can allow the poetry to flow freely and fast-paced, it can also be used to create a metrical rhyme scheme by controlling where words are placed to enable particular rhymes.



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Question

How can enjambment alter the rhyme scheme of a poem? 


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Answer

Enjambment can alter the rhyme scheme of a poem when it is used to prematurely break a sentence off, changing the placement on particular words. It could stretch two rhyming words in one sentence over two lines, creating an AA rhyme scheme. 

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Question

Why is enjambment an important poetic device?


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Answer

Enjambment is an important poetic device as it allows the author to have control over the flow of their poem, enabling them to replicate the meaning of the poem in the rhythm of the text.

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Question

What is the difference between enjambment and caesura?


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Answer

Caesura is a pause within a line using a full stop, comma, colon, or another type of punctuation. Enjambment is when a sentence spans over more than one line of poetry, stanza, or couplet. 

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Question

How can enjambment and caesura be used together to disrupt the flow of sentences?


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Answer

Both enjambment and caesura are able to disrupt the flow of sentences when used together. For example, in 'Me, Covered in Ash' Brown offsets traditional sentence structure by including full stops in the middle of lines ('for no apparent reason. Maybe to prove we all') and continuing sentences across multiple lines of poetry. It feels more natural for a sentence to end at the end of the poetic line rather than in the middle.

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Question

What is an example of how enjambment has been used to emphasize free-flowing verse? 


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Answer

Rosetti exclaims her happiness through the free-flowing verse made up of enjambment, quickening the pace, emulating the liberated nature of a singing bird. Readers read quickly through the poem learning of her happiness before they are ground to a halt with the full stop at the end of the stanza. 

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Question

What is an example of how enjambment has been used to regulate the rhythm of a poem?


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Answer

The lack of punctuation in Poem "À la recherche d 'Gertrude Stein" by Frank O' Hara in combination with enjambment helps create a consistently fast pace, as though the speaker is racing through time in order to spend time with his lover. 

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Question

How is villanelle pronounced?

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Answer

villanelle is pronounced: vil-uh-nell.

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Question

What is the etymology of villanelle?

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Answer

It derives from the Italian word villanella, meaning a rustic or rural song.



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Question

How does a villanelle make use of repetition?


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Answer

It contains two refrains that appear in every stanza. 

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Question

How does the form of a villanelle determine its length? 


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Answer

They typically have 19 lines which are separated into five tercets, with a quatrain (four lines) as the sixth stanza.

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Question

What is the standard rhyme scheme of a villanelle?


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Answer

The tercets follow an ABA rhyme scheme and the final stanza has an ABAA rhyme scheme.

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Question

How many refrains does a villanelle have?


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Answer

2

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Question

True or false: all villanelles must follow the established form.


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Answer

False. Many poets often choose to make minor changes to villanelles, usually to the refrains.

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Question

True or false: villanelles were originally simple ballad-like songs with no strict form.


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Answer

True. Before the modern-day form, they didn’t actually have an established structure.

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Question

From what poem did the modern form of the villanelle originate?


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Answer

Jean Passerat's poem titled 'Villanelle' (1606).

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