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A Japanese form of five lines with 5, 7, 5, 7, and 7 syllables—31 in all. See Philip Appleman’s “Three Haiku, Two Tanka.” See also renga.


A statement redundant in itself, such as “free gift” or “The stars, O astral bodies!” Also, a statement that is necessarily true—a circular argument—such as “she is alive because she is living.”


A poetic unit of three lines, rhymed or unrhymed. Thomas Hardy’s “The Convergence of the Twain” rhymes AAA BBB; Ben Jonson’s “On Spies” is a three-line poem rhyming AAA; and Percy Bysshe Shelley’s “Ode to the West Wind” is written in terza rima form. Examples of poems in unrhymed tercets include Wallace Stevens’s “The Snow Man” and David Wagoner’s “For a Student Sleeping in a Poetry Workshop.”

Browse more poems with tercets.

Terza rima

An Italian stanzaic form, used most notably by Dante Alighieri in Commedia (The Divine Comedy), consisting of tercets with interwoven rhymes (ABA BCB DED EFE, and so on). A concluding couplet rhymes with the penultimate line of the last tercet. See Percy Bysshe Shelley’s “Ode to the West Wind,” Derek Walcott’s “The Bounty,” and Omeros, and Jacqueline Osherow’s “Autumn Psalm.”

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A line made up of four feet. See William Shakespeare’s “Fear No More the Heat o’ the Sun” or “Channel Firing” by Thomas Hardy.

Textual criticism

A branch of literary criticism concerned with analyzing and determining the accuracy of texts. By examining the documents themselves in print and manuscript form—as well as any associated documentation such as letters, journals, or notebooks—textual critics attempt to identify and remove errors resulting from multiple transcriptions and printings and restore the work to its most original state. They also seek to present the text in a format that benefits readers and scholars, often with facsimile reproductions of the original manuscripts or print versions, along with a critical apparatus explaining textual variants between versions, critical commentaries, and bibliographies. Textual criticism developed out of ancient, classical, and Biblical scholarship, but has increasingly been used to deal with variations found in much modern literature, whether as a matter of typographical error, authorial revision, or historical and cultural textual support. Recent prominent textual critics include W.W. Greg, Fredson Bowers, G. Thomas Tanselle, D.C. Greetham, Peter Shillingsburg, and Jerome McGann.


The poet’s attitude toward the poem’s speaker, reader, and subject matter, as interpreted by the reader. Often described as a “mood” that pervades the experience of reading the poem, it is created by the poem’s vocabulary, metrical regularity or irregularity, syntax, use of figurative language, and rhyme.


A strain of Romanticism that took root among writers in mid-19th-century New England. Ralph Waldo Emerson laid out its principles in his 1836 manifesto Nature, in which he asserted that the natural and material world exists to reveal universal meaning to the individual soul via one’s subjective experiences. He promoted the poet’s role as seer, a “transparent eyeball” that received insight intuitively through his or her perception of nature. Henry David Thoreau was an early disciple of Emerson’s philosophy.

Triadic/stepped line

A poetic line that unfolds in three descending or “stepped” parts. Invented by William Carlos Williams who used the device in poems such as “Desert Music,” “The Descent,” and “Asphodel, That Greeny Flower,” the triadic line was taken up by poets such as Thom Gunn and Charles Tomlinson. Williams linked the triadic line to his concept of the “variable foot,” a metrical device he believed solved the tension of form in free verse. Variously interpreted, the variable foot has been taken to mean a unit of time, stress, syntax, rhythm, and typography.


A line of three metrical feet. Percy Bysshe Shelley’s “To a Skylark” employs trochaic trimeter in the first two lines of each stanza. See also Léonie Adams’s “The Mount.”


An eight-line stanza having just two rhymes and repeating the first line as the fourth and seventh lines, and the second line as the eighth. See Sandra McPherson’s “Triolet” or “Triolets in the Argolid” by Rachel Hadas.


A metrical foot consisting of an accented syllable followed by an unaccented syllable. Examples of trochaic words include “garden” and “highway.” William Blake opens “The Tyger” with a predominantly trochaic line: “Tyger! Tyger! Burning bright.” Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven” is mainly trochaic.
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