Glossary L

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Universal Elements of Poetry

light verse - The term used to describe kinds of verse that have no purpose but to entertain with humorous tone based on familiar subjects. Frequently written for children. Forms used are clerihew, limerick, double dactyl, epigram, and mock-epic. Two forms have strict construction rules, the double dactyl and the clerihew.

For strictly humor the finest example is that of Matthew Prior (1664-1721) in Hans Carvel. The work that gave us this quote “the end must justify the means”. A later example would be Thomas Gray (1716-1771) and Ode on the death of a dead Cat. Then there is Ogden Nash in what some call doggerel “If called by a panther; Don’t anther.” Some poets have written humorous versions of serious thoughtful poems. For example this one on Trees by Joyce Kilmer.

I think that I shall never see
A billboard lovely as a tree.
Indeed, unless the billboards fall,
I’ll never see a tree at all.

Do not mistake this for a clerihew even though it is a quatrain and has two rhyming couplets. The clerihew would have an irregular rhyme and would be dedicated to a person whose name would appear in the first line as this one by Richard Bentley (1662-1742):

The people of Spain think Cervantes
Equal to half-a-dozen Dantes:
An opinion resented most bitterly
By the people of Italy.

limerick - The term derives from the Irish town of Limerick. Originally limericks were pub songs with a closing line of “Will you come up to Limerick?” It uses the metrical form anapest or three syllable foot having two weak syllables followed by a strong syllable. The anapest
meter is usually reserved for frivolous, inane subjects. The limerick is 5 line form with a rhyme pattern aabba. The first, second, and fifth lines have seven to twelve syllables and are trimeter (rhyme with one another) and third and fourth lines have five to ten syllables and are dimeter.

Here is an example from T. S. Eliot:

There once was a limerick school
Which made anapestics its rule,
All that stomp and pound-pounding
Just never stops sounding
Like cymbals strapped on a lame mule.

Another from Edward Lear:

There was an old man in a tree
Who was horribly bored by a bee
When they said, Does it buzz?
He replied Yes, it does
It’s a regular brute of a bee”

literal meaning - In poetry to reproduce a sense experience from a given moment. First attempted by the Thomas Traherne in Walking and later perfected by many of Wordsworth's poems.

literature - "the artistic expression in writing of the best thought on subjects of universal interest"

litote - Greek "litotes" meaning "simple". A figure of speech using ironic understatement, in other words affirm something by denying its opposite. An example would be the last lines in e.e. cummings' since feeling is first:

since feeling is first
who pays any attention
to the syntax of things
will never wholly kiss you;
wholly to be a fool
while Spring is in the world
my blood approves,
and kisses are a better fate
than wisdom
lady i swear by all flowers. Don't cry
- the best gesture of my brain is less than
your eyelids' flutter which says
we are for each other; then
laugh, leaning back in my arms


Also these lines from Andrew Marvell's To His Coy Mistress:

"The grave's a fine a private place,
But none, I think, do there embrace."

Another example from William Wordsworth's Composed Upon Westminster Bridge:

"Earth has not anything to show more fair"

local poetry - A term coined by Samuel Johnson to represent poetry devoted to the celebration of a particular place, for example Cooper’s Hill. In georgic style Pope used it as a model for his Windsor Forest:

Excerpt only

My eye, descending from the hill, surveys
Where Thames amongst the wanton valleys strays;
Thames, the most lov'd of all the Ocean's sons
By his old sire, to his embraces runs,
Hasting to pay his tribute to the sea,
Like mortal life to meet eternity.
Though with those streams he no resemblance hold
Whose foam is amber, and their gravel gold,
His genuine and less guilty wealth t' explore,
Search not his bottom, but survey his shore,
O'er which he kindly spreads his spacious wing,
And hatches plenty for th' ensuing spring;
Nor then destroys it with too fond a stay,
Like mothers which their infants overlay;
Nor, with a sudden and impetuous wave,
Like profuse kings, resumes the wealth he gave.
No unexpected inundations spoil
The mower's hopes, nor mock the ploughman's toil,
But godlike his unwearied bounty flows,
First loves to do, then loves the good he does;
Nor are his blessings to his banks confin'd,
But free and common as the sea or wind;
When he to boast or to disperse his stores,
Full of the tributes of his grateful shores,
Visits the world, and in his flying towers,
Brings home to us, and makes both Indies ours;
Finds wealth where 'tis, bestows it where it wants,
Cities in deserts, woods in cities plants;
So that to us no thing, no place is strange,
While his fair bosom is the world's exchange.
O could I flow like thee, and make thy stream
My great example, as it is my theme!
Though deep, yet clear, though gentle, yet not dull;
Strong without rage, without o'erflowing full.

long meter - A quatrain in iambic tetrameter, rhyming in the second and fourth lines and often in the first and third. Also called long measure.

The following poem written by Eugene Field is in long meter and is titled Long Meter:

All human joys are swift of wing
For heaven doth so allot it
That when you get an easy thing
You find you haven't got it.

Man never yet has loved a maid,
But they were sure to part, sir;
Nor never lacked a paltry spade
But that he drew a heart, sir!

Go, Chauncey! it is plain as day
You much prefer a dinner
To walking straight in wisdom's way--
Go to, thou babbling sinner.

The froward part that you have played
To me this lesson teaches:
To trust no man whose stock in trade
Is after-dinner speeches.

There is no information on the origin of this form other than it first appeared in the Middle Ages as a ballad song form. Here is one anonymous example from the seventeenth century, Scottish verse titled Lord Randall:

'O where ha you been, Lord Randal, my son?
And where ha you been, my handsome young man?'
'I ha been at the greenwood; mother, mak my bed soon,
For I'm wearied wi hunting, and fain wad lie down.

"An wha met ye there, Lord Randal, my son?
An wha met you there, my handsome young man?"
"O I met wi my true-love; mother, mak my bed soon,
For I 'm wearied wi huntin, an fain wad lie down."

"And what did she give you, Lord Randal, my son?
And what did she give you, my handsome young man?"
"Eels fried in a pan; mother, mak my bed soon,
For I 'm wearied with huntin, and fain wad lie down."

"And wha gat your leavins, Lord Randal, my son?
And what gat your leavins, my handsom young man?"
"My hawks and my hounds; mother, mak my bed soon,
For I 'm wearied wi huntin, and fain wad lie down."

"And what becam of them, Lord Randall, my son?
And what became of them, my handsome young man?"
"They stretched their legs out an died; mother, mak my bed soon,
For I 'm wearied wi huntin, and fain wad lie down."

"O I fear you are poisoned, Lord Randal, my son!
I fear you are poisoned, my handsome young man!"
"O yes, I am poisoned; mother, mak my bed soon,
For I 'm sick at the heart, and I fain wad lie down."

"What d' ye leave to your mother, Lord Randal, my son?
What d 'ye leave to your mother, my handsome young man?"
"Four and twenty milk kye; mother, mak my bed soon,
For I 'm sick at the heart, and I fain wad lie down."

"What d' ye leave to your sister, Lord Randal, my son?
What d' ye leave to your sister, my handsome young man?"
"My gold and my silver; mother, mak my bed soon,
For I 'm sick at the heart, an I fain wad lie down."

"What d' ye leave to your brother, Lord Randal, my son?
What d' ye leave to your brother, my handsome young man?"
"My house and my lands; mother, mak my bed soon,
For I 'm sick at the heart, and I fain wad lie down."

"What d' ye leave to your true-love, Lord Randal, my son?
What d' ye leave to your true-love, my handsome young man?"
"I leave her hell and fire; mother, mak my bed soon,
For I 'm sick at the heart, and I fain was lie down."

lyric poetry - The word "lyric" is taken from the Greek lyricos to describe a form of poetry that expresses feeling and emotion through song. The most frequent form is the sonnet followed by the ode, elegy, ballad, villanelle, pastoral, and canzone. Odes and elegies have their own sub-forms. Their one commonality is the refrain. See Glossary for details and examples of the sub-forms.

Lyric poetry follows a regular meter pattern based either on the number of syllables or the number of stresses in a line. The most common meters are:

  • iambic- two syllables, with a short, unstressed syllable followed by a long or stressed syllable.
  • trochaic or English lyric meter - two syllables with a long, stressed syllable followed by a short, unstressed syllable.
  • pyrrhic - two unstressed syllables
  • anapestic - three syllables, the first two short. unstressed and the last syllable long, unstressed.
  • dactylic - three syllables, the first one long, stressed and the other two short, unstressed.
  • spondaic - two syllables, with two successive long, stressed syllables.

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