A Brief Dictionary of Prosody (Poetics, Metrics)

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Readers of these essays may find a short dictionary of prosody useful.  The vocabulary used in talking about poetry has been built up over the course of more than two thousand years, and many of the terms used to describe English poetry were used by Classical Greek poets and commentators discussing the “quantitative” poetry of their time.  (The terminology used for discussing Chinese and Indian poetry is also ancient.)  A few of these words are rarely used, but they are included here because you will sometimes run across them.  I have also included “figures of speech,” “themes,” and other matters that are not, strictly speaking, prosodic.  And while many of the words listed here provide a precise vocabulary for speaking about poetry, some of them are pretentious academese, and I would recommend that you use only the necessary minimum and not become intoxicated with them.  The “phrase structure” and “semantic weight” entries are my own ideas, but I think you will find that they are useful.

The words printed in italics also appear as boldface headwords, so you can look them up in the alphabetical sequence.  There are boldface entries for “line,” “poetry,” and “rhyme,” but these have not been put in italics because they occur so often and are fairly well understood.  (It might, however, be a good idea to read them now, especially “poetry,” which represents a minority view with a long history.)  Remember that different forms such as singular/plural and noun/ adjective (foot/feet, iamb/iambic) may present problems.  Be inventive when looking things up.  When several lines of poetry are quoted, they are separated like this/by a slash.  A double slash //is used to separate lines that belong to different stanzas.

I have indicated how uncommon some of these words are by a note in parentheses at the end of the entry, but you should know that styles of analysis have much to do with this.  Some people, for example, want to preserve the appearance of formal exactness in their analyses, so they make use of fictions such as acephalous lines and find monosyllabic feet to be rare.  I don’t.  These notes also indicate how useful some of the words are–in my personal opinion.  If no comment is given you should probably know the word.  Different rhyme sounds in a stanza are represented by successive capital letters, and an X is used for any sound that is not repeated in it.


Acatalectic—a line with the expected number of syllables, used to distinguish such a line from one that is catalectic or truncated at the end of the last foot.  (unnecessary)

Accent—although frequently used to designate any kind of stress, this term should be reserved for tonic accents, the stresses that are required for proper pronunciation, as in (re-quired’), (ex-pec’-ted) and (syl’-la-ble).  (stress is the more general term)

Accentual verse—verse organized by counting the number of strong stresses per line; sometimes called “stress prosody.”  Weakly stressed syllables are not counted at all.  The most common example is Anglo-Saxon verse.

Accentual-syllabic verse—verse organized by counting feet, units which combine strongly-stressed and weakly-stressed syllables.  The most frequently occurring foot in English poetry is the iamb [dih-DAH], as in [at HOME] or [a-BOUT].

Acephalous/ Headless —a line from which a weak stress has been dropped from the beginning of the first foot; a fiction which allows a line to be described in purely traditional terms, such as acephalous iambic pentameter.  If the line is iambic, I prefer to regard the existing syllable of such a foot as being a monosyllabic foot.  (unecessary)

Acrostic—a poem in which the first letters of each line form a name, word, or statement when read in sequence.  (rare)

Adonic—a combination-foot consisting of a dactyl followed by a trochee or a spondee:  [DAH-dih-dih-DAH-dih] or [DAH-dih-dih-DAH-DAH].  (rare in English; more common in German)

Alcaic—a classical form usually consisting of four stanzas of four lines of quantitative poetry; the first two lines in Roman Alcaics may take the form (- – · – – / – · · – · -) where the dashes represent syllables of long quantity and the dots represent syllables of short quantity—the diagonal represents a slight pause; sometimes imitated, not very successfully, in English.  (very rare)

Alexandrine—a line of six iambic feet or of twelve syllables.  The standard line of French verse is a twelve-syllable line, and the corresponding six-foot line (iambic hexameter) is sometimes used in English, notably as the last line of the Spenserian stanza.

Allegory—a coherent and extended representation of one set of things by another so that there is both a surface narrative and a buried one.  In “Pilgrim’s Progress,” the physical journey of the main character (Christian), represents the spiritual path of a Christian through his life, and the map that he must follow to make the trip is the Bible.

Alliteration—a type of rhyme, often making use of the same consonant sounds, usually at the beginnings of words, as in Poe’s “silken, sad, uncertain” in which the (s) sounds alliterate.  Occasionally, vowels are used in this way, as in “An Austrian army awfully arrayed.”

Allusion—a figure of speech in which a tacit reference is made to something (most often from literature or history).  Thus, an obsequious man might be called a “Uriah Heep,” and a female athlete might be called an “amazon.”  These are “tacit” (understood or implied) since they are not explained.

Amphibrach—a poetic foot consisting of two weakly-stressed syllables flanking a more strongly-stressed one [dih-DAH-dih], as in [a LONG shot] or [im-POR-tance].  (not uncommon)

Amphimacer/Cretic—a poetic foot consisting of two strongly-stressed syllables flanking a less strongly-stressed one [DAH-dih-DAH], as in [TAKE your TIME] or [IR-ri-TATE].  (uncommon)

Anacreontic—a classical form in praise of wine, women, and song, imitated in English in trochaic tetrameter, often catalectic.  (The melody of “The Star-Spangled Banner” was ripped off from the British drinking song “To Anacreon in Heaven.”)  (rare)

Anacrusis—one or more weakly-stressed syllables added to the beginning of a line.  These syllables are extra-metrical, which means they are not counted when determining the meter of the line.  In iambic poetry they are most easily accounted for by regarding the first foot as an anapest.  (unnecessary)

Anapest—a poetic foot consisting of two weakly-stressed syllables followed by a more strongly-stressed one [dih-dih-DAH], as in [at the HOUSE] or [in-te-RUPT].

Anaphora/Epanaphora—the repetition of one or more words at the beginnings of successive lines, as in Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s “I love thee freely, as men strive for right/I love thee purely, as they turn from praise.”

Anglo-Saxon verse—the poetry written by English poets before 1100 CE.  “Anglo-Saxon” is synonymous with “Old English” as far as literature is concerned.  This verse is accentual with four strong stresses per line, two on each side of a medial pause.  Three of these stressed syllables alliterate.  There may be any number of weakly-stressed syllables.  One line from “The Battle of Maldon” might be translated:  “and let his HELD HAWK// fly UP from his HANDS.”

Antibachius—a poetic foot consisting of two strongly-stressed syllables followed by a more weakly-stressed one [DAH-DAH-dih], as in [HOLD HARD to] or [AR-CHI-val].  (very rare)

Antithesis–the use of opposites set against each other, such as the refrain in “Ticheborne’s Elegy”: “And now I live, and now my life is done.”

Apostrophe—a figure of speech in which a statement is addressed to an abstraction, an inanimate thing, or a person who is dead or absent, as in Byron’s line “Roll on, thou deep and dark blue Ocean—roll!”

Arsis—In Greek prosody the unstressed syllable of a foot, and in Roman prosody the stressed syllable—which makes it a rich source of confusion.  (don’t use it)

Assonance—a type of slant rhyme.  The use of the same or similar vowel sounds on stressed syllables, as in “him,” “miss,” and “in”; often called “terminal assonance” when it occurs at the end of a line, where it is frequently the same vowel followed by different consonants, as in “wait,” “take,” and “came,” although “blue” and “rune” are also assonant.

Aubade—a poem associated with the dawn.  (uncommon)

Aube—a poem expressing a woman’s regret that dawn has come and her lover must leave.  (uncommon)

Bachius—a poetic foot consisting of a weakly-stresssed syllable followed by two more strongly-stressed syllables [dih-DAH-DAH], as in [a BAD NIGHT] or [in-TES-TATE].  (very rare)

Ballad—a folk song, sometimes imitated in a short narrative poem.

Ballad stanza—a stanza of four iambic lines of alternating tetrameter and trimeter, the trimeter lines rhyming; the rhyme-scheme is either XAXA or ABAB.  This term is also used for accentual poetry with alternating lines of four stresses and three stresses, the three-stress lines rhyming.  See Common Measure.

Ballade—a French form sometimes imitated in English.  One common type consists of ten lines of iambic pentameter rhyming ABABBCCDCD followed by an envoy rhyming CCDCD.  The envoy is climactic and is usually dedicated to a patron.  The last line of each part is a refrain. There are many variations, but the refrain, the envoy, and the limitation to three or four rhymes is typical.  (rare)

Blank verse—lines of unrhymed iambic pentameter.  Shakespeare’s tragedies plays are mostly in blank verse.

Bob and wheel—a charming feature of alliterated accentual poetry such as “Sir Gawain and the Green Night.” The bob consists of two or three syllables at the end of a stanza, the last being stressed, and the wheel is a quatrain with three stresses per line.  The rhyme scheme of the bob and wheel together is usually ABABA, these rhymes contrasting with the unrhymed lines of the rest of the stanza.  (rare in modern English)

Brace octave-a stanza consisting of two quatrains joined together, rhyming either ABBAABBA or ABBACDDC.

Brace quatrain—a stanza consisting of four lines of iambic pentameter rhyming ABBA.

Burlesque—often defined as a work that ridicules a literary form by treating an inappropriate subject in it, as distinguished from parody which ridicules a specific work in a similar way.  Such distinctions are useful, so I recommend observing this one.

Cacophony–rough, unpleasant sounding line(s), used when appropriate to express mood or feeling, or to be simply descriptive.  The real test for cacophony is to notice the degree to which it makes your vocal organs move, as in Coleridge’s line: “Huge fragments vaulted like rebounding hail.”  Compare this with Euphony.

Caesura—a pause in a line, usually near the middle, sometimes called a “medial pause.”

Carpe diem—“Seize the day.”  Live for the day—a literary theme we all know from the saying in Corinthians:  “Let us eat and drink for tomorrow we die.”

Catalexis/Truncation—omission of one or more weakly-stressed syllables from end of the last foot of a line.  (“truncation” is less common, but it is a much better term, since it explains itself)

Chiasmus—a figure of speech in which the order of words in one element is reversed in the next, as in Johnson’s lines about players and playwrights, “For we that live to please, must please to live”; also used to describe the similar transposition of rhyming sounds; or of form classes such as nouns and verbs; or of what you will.  (rare)

Choriamb—a poetic foot consisting of two strongly-stressed syllables flanking two weakly-stressed ones [DAH-dih-dih-DAH], as in [NOW she is HERE] or [BROK-en a-PART].  (very rare)

Choriambics—a classical form using choriambs, occasionally imitated in English.  (very rare)

Cinquain/Quintet—a stanza consisting of five lines.

Closed Couplet–a rhyming couplet with a distinct pause at the end of the second line.

Common Measure—a stanza consisting of four lines of alternating iambic tetrameter and trimeter, rhyming either ABAB or ABCB.  Abbreviated in hymnals as C.M.  See Ballad Stanza.

Common octave—a stanza consisting of two tetrameter or pentameter quatrains joined together, rhyming either ABABCDCD or XAXAXBXB, where X can be any sound wherever it appears.

Concrete poetry—cutesy, typographic buncombe passed off as poetry.

Consonance—a type of slant rhyme in which the same or closely related final consonant sounds are used with different vowel sounds, as in past/test, fine/train, and shadow/meadow; full consonance occurs when different vowel sounds are substituted into the same framework of consonant sounds:  crept/crypt, trapped/tripped, crane/crone, etc.

Couplet—a stanza consisting of two rhyming lines.

Dactyl—a poetic foot consisting of a strongly-stressed syllable followed by two weakly-stressed syllables [DAH-dih-dih], as in [WATCH for it]and [DEC-or-ate].  Because of the phrase structure of English, taken together with syntactic weight, dactylic movement cannot be extended for any length without becoming very artificial.

Decasyllabic—having ten syllables to the line.  Iambic pentameter is decasyllabic.

Di-iamb—a compound foot consisting of two successive iambs.  In English this foot is important only as a substitute for another four-syllable foot, such as a paeon.  (very rare)

Dieresis—the use of feet that begin and end with the words that make them up.  This tends toward monotony.

Dimeter—a line consisting of two feet.  (rare, as it tends towards triviality and dullness)

Dipody—in classical verse, a measure made up of two feet; thus iambic dimeter would be four iambs since a dipodic measure (each consisting of two iambs) was intended.  In discussing English poetry, dipody is a fiction used to describe four-syllable paeonic feet.  The notion is that one stressed syllable in each such dipodic measure is so weak that it is regarded as unstressed, thus producing the appearance of a four-syllable foot with a single stress.  It makes much more sense to simply recognize the existence of the paeons.  (inane, but not uncommon)

Discordia concors—a term coined by Johnson to describe “a combination of dissimilar images or discovery of occult resemblances in things apparently unlike.”  (it applies to metaphysical poetry in particular, but doesn’t seem to be really necessary, except to impress people at cocktail parties)

Doggerel—rough, crudely made verse, usually incompetent, but sometimes written for humorous effect.

Double-dactyl—a humorous stanza form consisting of two quatrains rhyming ABCD, the D rhyme being the same for both stanzas.  The first three lines of each stanza consist of two dactyls, and the last line is made up of a dactyl followed by a monosyllabic foot.  The first line must be nonsense, such as “higgledy-piggledy,” the second line is a name, and one of the first three lines in the second quatrain must be a single double-dactylic word.

Dramatic monolog/monologue)—a poem represented as something said by a speaker, hence “dramatic,” as in a play.

Dramatic verse—one of the three general categories of poetry based upon function:  dramatic verse is the poetry heard in poetic drama, such as Shakespeare’s tragedies.

Elegy/Dirge—a poem of lament or meditation.  Elegy is the better word since “dirge” is more often used for funeral music.  (not uncommon)

Elision—in reading poetry, the “swallowing up” of syllables to force words into regular feet; in writing the replacing of syllables with apostrophes, as in Shakespeare’s “When in eternal lines to time thou grow’st,” in which the (e) is elided from “growest.”  (the lines are almost always better if every sound is given its full value, but the term is not uncommon)

End rhyme—the use of rhyme-sounds as the last syllables of several lines which are close together.

End-stopped—said of lines ending with a pause, either rhetorical or grammatical.

English ode/Irregular ode/Cowleian ode—an extremely free form in which the different verse paragraphs may vary in line length, number of lines, rhythm, and rhyme scheme.  Examples include Wordsworth’s “Intimations of Immortality,” Coleridge’s “Dejection,” and Keats’ “Ode to Psyche.”

English sonnet/Shakespearian sonnet—a stanza form of fourteen lines of iambic pentameter rhyming ABAB CDCD EFEF GG.  The final couplet almost always serves as a conclusion.  (widely used but not devised by Shakespeare so “English sonnet” is the better term.)

Enjambment/Run-on lines—said of lines which do not end with a pause, lines in which the sense runs past the end of the line.  (a convenient term, but “run-on” works well)

Envoy/Envoi—a short stanza used at the end of certain types of poems such as the ballade.  (uncommon)

Epic–a long narrative poem which deals with adventures of a hero, such as “The Iliad,” “The Aeneid,” and “The Song of Roland, “The Divine Comedy,” etc.

Epigram—a short, pithy saying, sometimes written in poetry, such as Pope’s “Epigram Engraved on the Collar of a Dog Which I Gave to His Royal Highness”: “I am his Highness’ dog at Kew/Pray tell me, sir, whose dog are you?”

Epistle—a letter; also a poem written as if it were a letter.  (uncommon)

Epitaph—an inscription on a tombstone; sometimes a poem written as if for that purpose.  (uncommon)

Euphony–pleasant, smooth sound in a line, as in Coleridge’s “So twice five miles of fertile ground.”  Compare it with cacophony.

Extra-metrical syllables—syllables which are not counted when determining the meter of a line.  For example, I do not include the syllables imported into the line by substitution, such as the substitution of an anapest for an iamb.

Eye rhyme—words that end in the same vowel and consonant(s) but which do not sound the same, such as “shove,” “move,” and “Jove”; words that look to the eye as if they are true rhymes.  It should be noted that these become assonance when heard, and that is all that counts:  the appearance on the page is an irrelevant exercise in ingenuity if it is intended at all.  (of little value).

Fable—a short poem pointing a moral or lesson, often involving animals as characters.

Falling Meter/Rhythm–lines written in dactyls or trochees, which is to say that the feet end with weak stresses.  (of little value)

Feminine rhyme/Double rhyme—the rhyming of the final two syllables of one line with those of another–the next to the last being stressed, as in Byron’s “And then what proper person can be partial/To all those nauseous epigrams of Martial?”

Figure of Speech—Use of words and phrases in ways that go beyond their conventional use, meaning, or arrangement, the most important types being apostrophe, hyperbole, irony, litotes, metaphor, metonymy, personification, punning, simile, synecdoche, and synesthesia.

Feet—the units counted in the lines of accentual syllabic and quantitative verse, the most important in English poetry being the iamb, trochee, pyrrhic, spondee, anapest, and dactyl.  The amphibrach, amphimacer, tribrach, molossus, bacchius, and antibacchius are sometimes used.

Fourteener—an iambic heptameter line popular in the Elizabethan period, believed to have been the source of the ballad stanza, which was made by dividing rhyming heptameter couplets after the fourth foot in each line.  (quite rare, but useful to explain the ballad stanza!)

French forms—complicated artificial forms, some used occasionally in English since about 1400, some introduced in the nineteenth century.  The most common are the ballade, rondeau, rondel, sestina, triolet, and villanelle.  (usually, little more than an exercise in ingenuity.)

Haiku—a Japanese stanza written in syllabic verse consisting of two lines of five syllables separated by one line of seven.  (ineffective in English, because the stresses make it almost impossible to be aware of the syllable count)

Hemistich—a half line.  (unnecessary, except when talking about Anglo-Saxon verse)

Hendecasyllabic—having eleven syllables to the line; the standard French and Italian line.

Heptameter/Septameter—a line consisting of seven feet.  (uncommon)

Heroic Couplet—a stanza consisting of two rhyming lines of iambic pentameter, often end-stopped.

Heroic Quatrain—a stanza consisting of four iambic pentameter lines rhyming ABAB.

Hexameter—a line consisting of six poetic feet.

Horatian ode—named for the Roman poet, Horace, a form consisting of a series of identical stanzas, usually personal and meditative.  Examples include Pope’s “Ode on Solitude,” Shelley’s “Ode to the West Wind,” and Keats’ “Ode to a Nightingale.”

Hovering stress/Distributed stress—a stress said to be spread over two adjacent syllables as in [NOW CAME] and [TWI-LIGHT].  It makes more sense to regard these as spondees [DAH-DAH].  (unnecessary)

Hudibrastic verse—satirical doggerel written in iambic tetrameter couplets.  (uncommon)

Hyperbole—a figure of speech; exaggeration, sometimes earnest (to be regretted), sometimes humorous (to be applauded).

Hypercatalectic/Hypermetrical—a line ending in one or two syllables more than is described by the meter.  (hypercatalectic is probably unnecessary, and “hypermetrical” is the better word anyway)

Iamb—an accentual-syllabic poetic foot consisting of a weakly-stressed syllable followed by a more strongly-stressed one [dih-DAH], as in [at HOME] or [in-TEND].

Ictus—denotes the stress that falls on a syllable, as opposed to denoting the stressed syllable, itself.  (Rare, and even more rarely necessary)

Image/Imagery—a suggestive description of a sense-impression, as in Keats’ “The sedge has withered from the lake, / and no birds sing.”

Imagism—a poetic movement of the early 20th century which reduced poetry to little more than brief descriptions of things in unadorned but suggestive language. Mostly, imagistic prose.

In Memoriam stanza—an iambic tetrameter quatrain rhyming ABBA which is named after Tennyson’s long elegy of the same name, which was written in memory of his friend, Arthur Hallam.

Internal Rhyme—rhyming words occurring within the line, often rhyming with the rhyme-word at the end of the line.

Ionic—a classical four-syllable foot sometimes imitated in English, it has two forms, the “ionic a majore” [DAH-DAH-dih-dih] and the” ionic a minore” [dih-dih-DAH-DAH].  The “a minore” form is the most useful occurring as an occasional substitute for the third paeon.  (rare)

Irony—a figure of speech in which the intended meaning is at odds with words used or with the surrounding circumstances, as in “That’s brilliant,” said coolly when someone else is speaking ignorantly.  Irony is more restrained than sarcasm.  A sarcastic rejoinder might be “I forgot that you’re the world expert in such matters.”  A literary example is Marvell’s, “The grave’s a fine and private place.”

Italian sonnet/Petrarchan sonnet—a stanza form of fourteen lines of iambic pentameter rhyming ABBA ABBA CDE CDE.  The first eight lines are called the octave, and the last six, the sestet.  A volta (turn), a rhetorical shift occurring at the beginning of the sestet, marks the change from a “topic” section to a “comment” section.  There may be some variation in the rhyme-scheme of the sestet, but the last two lines are rarely a couplet.  (widely used, but not devised by Petrarch so “Italian sonnet” is the better term)

Kenning—a concise metaphor used in Anglo-Saxon poetry, such as “the whale road” used to mean the sea; kennings are somewhat similar to the epithets of classical epics.

Lay/lai—a short lyric or narrative poem written to be sung; now rare, but sometimes referred to in narrative poems and in titles, as in “The Lais of Marie de France.”

Leonine rhyme—a type of internal rhyme which uses the same rhyme-sound before the caesura and also at the end of the line.  (rare and probably unnecessary)

Light verse—generally, poetry written to amuse including burlesques, double-dactyls, epigrams, limericks, nonsense verse, parodies, and vers de société.  The fact that it amuses does not mean that such verse is not serious, for burlesques, parodies, and vers de société point out folly and excess.

Limerick—a humorous poetic form consisting of five anapestic lines rhyming AABBA, with three feet in all of the lines except the third and fourth which have two feet.

Line—the fundamental unit of poetry.  When you read a poem, you should always prolong the last syllable of each line slightly to allow the poem’s form to function.

Litotes—lessening; a figure of speech in which something is weakly affirmed by denying its opposite, as in, “he is not unintelligent”—which really means, “he is not entirely stupid.”  It is not merely understatement but a way of damning with faint praise; hence, the use of the term “lessening.”

Logaoedic—a term from classical prosody used to describe lines that mix different feet without a fixed underlying pattern.

Long ballad—a stanza consisting of four iambic tetrameter lines rhyming ABAB, XAXA, or AABB.

Long measure—a stanza of four lines of iambic tetrameter rhyming ABAB or ABCB, abbreviated L.M. in hymnals.

Lyric—one of the three general categories of poetry based upon function:  lyrics are short poems that are meditative or express feeling.  The others are dramatic and narrative.

Macaronic—a term that describes the use of various languages mixed together in a poem.  Some macaronic poems are satirical or mock-heroic, some are little better than Pig-Latin, and some are very serious.

Macron— a horizontal line over a syllable; the mark used to identify long quantity in dealing with quantitative verse.  (Rare)

Masculine rhymestress on the last syllable of a rhyming word, as in [con-CEDE] and [in-DEED].

Measure—a term designating a “compound-foot” in classical prosody, so two measures, each consisting of two iambic feet, were called iambic dimeter rather than iambic tetrameter.  This confusing notion still survives in talk of dipody.  The term is also used casually to mean foot, stanza and meter.  (rare and confusing; don’t use it)

Metaphor—a figure of speech in which one thing (the tenor) is referred to as being another (the vehicle), thus making an implicit comparison, as in Shakespeare’s “In me thou see’st the twilight of such day/As after sunset fadeth in the west,” in which the speaker is actually talking about growing old.  The tenor is “age,” the vehicle is “twilight.”  Do not use metaphor as a general term for figures of speech, as the expression, “metaphorically speaking” invites you to do.

Metaphysical poetry—poetry which strains after ingenuity, the metaphors and imagery being unconventional, the logic forced, and the meaning often paradoxical.  John Donne is the writer most often associated with the term:  in one poem he argues at length that the speaker of the poem and the young woman the speaker wishes to seduce are already more than married because their blood is mingled in a flea that has fed on them both!

Meter—the idealized underlying rhythmic pattern of accentual-syllabic and quantitative verse.  In English accentual-syllabic poetry, the formal pattern of strongly-stressed and weakly-stressed syllables underlying the rhythm of the lines is expressed in terms such as iambic pentameter and anapestic tetrameter; both are “meters.”

Metonymy—a figure of speech in which something is referred to as being something else which is related to it, as in “the White House responded” instead of “the administration responded.”

Metrical Stressstress created by the expectation arising out of the rhythm which is being created.  In the iambic trimeter lines, “the stress arises from / the accents on the words,” the stress on “from” is metrical stress.

Mock-heroic—describes a humorous poem which renders a subject ridiculous by dealing with it in an inappropriate, high-flown, manner, thus exposing its triviality; the mock epic is an example.

Molossus—a poetic foot consisting of three strong stresses [DAH-DAH-DAH], as in [DEAD MAN’S CHEST]; useful only in substitution in modern English.  (uncommon)

Monk’s Tale stanza—an eight-line stanza of iambic pentameter rhyming ABABBCBC, named after Chaucer’s “The Monk’s Tale.”  (rarely used)

Monometer—a line consisting of a single poetic foot.

Monosyllabic foot—a foot consisting of a single stressed syllable [DAH].

Mora—a hypothetical time period used in discussing classical poetry.  (very rarely needed)

Narrative verse—one of the three general categories of verse based upon function; narrative poetry tells a story.

Nonsense verse—light verse notable for its music and lack of everyday logic, e.g. Lear’s “The Owl and the Pussycat Went to Sea” and Lewis Carroll’s “The Jabberwocky.”

Occasional verse—poetry prompted by some event; the vaporings of poet laureates are often of this type.

Octave—the first eight lines of an Italian sonnet; sometimes used to describe an eight-line stanza.

Octameter—a line consisting of eight poetic feet.

Octosyllabic—a line consisting of eight syllables.

Octosyllabic couplet–a rhyming couplet of four iambic feet.

Ode—A poetic form occurring in three basic types:  the Pindaric ode, a form of occasional verse of the classical period which is divided into strophes, antistrophes, and epodes; the Horatian ode, which is written in repeated stanzas and is more personal; and the English ode, which is extremely free.

Onomatopoeia—use of words that suggest their meaning in their sound.  Trivial examples include:  hiss, snap, bang, pop, etc.  More sophisticated is Tennyson’s, “And the murmuring of innumerable bees.”

Ottava rima—a stanza consisting of eight lines of iambic pentameter rhyming ABABABCC.

Oxymoron—a two-word paradox such as Milton’s “darkness visible,” which he used to describe the palpable darkness of Hell; sometimes used to signify the conjunction of contradictory phrases, but paradox is a much better term for that.

Paeon—a four-syllable poetic foot containing one strongly-stressed syllable.  There are four types identified by the location of the stress, the third paeon, for example, is stressed on the third syllable.  Paeonic feet are usually explained by references to dipody, but it is more sensible simply to recognize them as what they are.

Pantoum—a Malayan verse form made up of quatrains of indeterminate length rhyming ABAB, the second and fourth line of each stanza becoming the first and third of the next.  The last stanza uses the third and first lines of the first stanza as the second and fourth line so the poem begins and ends with the same line.  Two related ideas are dealt with, developed alternately in the successive pairs of lines.  (charming, but rare)

Paradox—a figure of speech in which something is stated that contradicts common sense, but still has meaning, such as “less is more,” or as I prefer to put it (by adding chiasmus), “less is more, more or less.”

Parody—an imitation of another literary work—or of the type of work written by a particular writer or school of writers—having the intent of ridiculing its content or style.  See Burlesque.

Pastoral/Eclogue—a poem about an idealized world of shepherds and rustics.  (pastoral is more common and therefore the better term)

Pathetic fallacy—an often-sentimental attribution of human feelings to natural things, as in “the cruel currents of the sea that pull a young child down into the depths.”  This should be carefully distinguished from personification, which is a deliberately created figure of speech, as opposed to hyperbolic writing.  (that being said, far too much has been made of this idea.)

Pentameter—a line consisting of five poetic feet.

Persona—an invented self that expresses ideas and attitudes which may not be those of the author.  The first-person pronouns used in first-person narratives reveal the presence of a persona unless they are otherwise identified.

Personification—a figure of speech in which human attributes are given to non-human things; an essential ingredient in fables, allegories, and the like.  An example is Ben Jonson’s lines about the moon (personified as Diana) beginning, “Queen and huntress, chaste and fair.”

Phrase structure—the order of form classes (nouns, verbs, adjectives, prepositions, etc.) in phrases.  Prepositions and conjunctions precede nouns and verbals in English, and this is important in recognizing stress patterns.  In a phrase such as “at the house,” the important word is the noun (house), and in normal speech it is emphasized more than the preposition (at) or the article (the).  Thus, we can see that we have an anapest (dih-dih-DAH) and not a dactyl or other poetic foot.  The same sort of thing can be said of helping verbs and main verbs in a verb phrase such as “she has SLEPT,” where the helping verb (has) is less important than the main verb (slept).  Again, we can see that we have an anapest.

Pindaric ode— a classical form of occasional verse meant to be performed in song and dance, written in strophes, antistrophes, and epodes.  Each strophe is a “nonce” form, one invented for the occasion; the following antistrophe imitates that form; and the following epode has its own form.  Great liberty in line length, rhyme scheme, and number of lines is shown by the strophes and epodes.

Poesy—an archaic term for poetry.

Poetaster—an incompetent poet.

Poetic diction—the notion that a particular kind of unnatural word-choice should be used in writing poetry.  Every adolescent poet who has read Shakespeare and Herrick is likely to write love poems ”bedecked” with “thee” and “thine,” as opposed to “using”  “you” and “your.”  In the eighteenth century, fish were likely to be “members of the finny tribe,” or some such nonsense.

Poetic license—the liberty to deviate from pronunciation, word order, or diction sometimes claimed by poets; obviously a boon to poetasters.

Poetics—another word for prosody.

Poetry—rhythmic language distinguished from prose in being organized by qualities of sound, rather than by the requirements of sense and syntax.  This is most often achieved by counting repeated elements such as syllables or poetic feet, although very free poetry may be have lines of varying lengths and may lack a uniform rhythmic pattern.  Poetry is closer in many ways to song than to prose, and by this definition it NEVER has the rhythms of prose.  It is not characterized in any fundamental way by the presence of imagery, figures of speech, beauty, wit, or other such matters which are—in fact—the property of both poetry and prose.  Very little of what is called “free verse” or “vers libre” fits this definition, being, in fact, “free prose” or “prose libre.”  Words have histories and it makes little sense to change definitions in ways that deny those histories and that also make the words, themselves, less useful.  The fact that the new definition has become well-entrenched in the last 100 years should not stop us from looking at the facts and rethinking matters.  (A little more on this can be found in the remarks on Shapiro and Beum in the “Further Reading” section at the end of the dictionary.)

Poulter’s measure—a form consisting of alternating alexandrines and fourteeners; the name originated from the poulterers’ practice of giving twelve eggs for the first dozen and fourteen for a second, which is akin to the notion of the “baker’s dozen.”  Very popular in the 16th century.  (Now rare)

Prosody—the study of the principles of writing poetry, also called poetics, versification, and metrics.

Pun—a figure of speech designating the use of words that have the same sound but different meanings, as in Blake’s “And MARK in every face I meet/MARKS of weakness, MARKS of woe.”  Sometimes one of the meanings is supplied by the context.

Pyrrhic—a poetic foot consisting of two weakly-stressed syllables [dih-dih].

Quantitative verse—poetry organized by counting combinations of short syllables and long ones, “short” and “long” referring to the actual amount of time spent in pronouncing them; typical of Greek and Latin poetry but not well suited to English which lacks such clear-cut distinctions of quantity.  Nonetheless, we have borrowed much of our prosodic terminology from quantitative prosody, adapting it by substituting weak stress and strong stress for short syllables and long syllables.

Quantity—the length of time taken to pronounce a syllable.  Difference of quantity is a feature of English, but it is subordinate to tonic accent in determining stress.

Quatrain—a stanza of four lines, the most common being the In-Memoriam stanza, Rubaiyat stanza, ballad stanza, brace quatrain, common measure, short measure, and long measure.

Refrain—words or lines repeated at intervals in a poem, usually at the end of a stanza.

Rhetorical stress—the stress put on a word to emphasize a particular meaning.  “I WILL work on that,” for example, is stressed on “will” to show that my intention is what I am trying to convey; In “I will work on THAT,” the stress is on “that” to show that a particular task is the point at issue.

Rhyme—a category of sound relationships which includes alliteration, assonance, consonance, and true rhyme.  Rhyming sounds may also be categorized by their position in a line, and these include end rhyme, internal rhyme, and leonine rhyme.  And they may be categorized as masculine or feminine rhymes depending upon whether the final rhyme-sound is stressed or not.  Finally, there are various types of inexact rhyme such as slant rhyme and eye rhyme.  (You should know that there isn’t complete agreement on the various categories of rhyme.)

Rhyme-scheme—the pattern of end-rhymes in a stanza determined by assigning the letter A to the first rhyme-sound at the end of a line, B to the second, etc.  All repeated sounds take the letter assigned at the first occurrence.  All lines ending in sounds not repeated in the stanza are assigned an X.  Thus, the rhyme scheme for the Rubaiyat stanza is AAXA, and that of the English sonnet is ABAB CDCD EFEF GG.

Rhyme-royal/Troilus stanza—a seven-line stanza of iambic pentameter rhyming ABABBCC.  The last line is sometimes an alexandrine.

Rhythm—the pattern of emphasis produced when you read a poem with intelligence and feeling; as opposed to the meter, the generalized underlying pattern.  You will sometimes find “rhythm” used to mean “meter,” but it is best to keep these two words separate.

Rising Meter/Rhythm–lines made of iambic or anapaestic feet, which is to say, rhyming lines that end on a strong stress.

Rondeau—a French form existing in several forms but usually consisting of thirteen tetrameter lines rhyming AABBA//AABR//AABBAR, where R is a refrain formed from the first words of the first line, and the double slashes//show that it is divided into three stanzas.

Rondel—a French form, a variant of the rondeau, rhyming ABba//abAB//abbaAB, where the capital letters are entire lines that become refrains and the double slashes//show that it is divided into three stanzas.

Roundelay—originally a variant of the rondeau; now used for any poem with a refrain, which is written to be accompanied by music.

Rubaiyat stanza—an iambic pentameter quatrain with the rhyme scheme AAXA, where the third line does not rhyme with the others.

Run-on Lines–lines that do not end in a pause.  See enjambment.

Sapphic—a classical stanza consisting of four lines of quantitative poetry; sometimes used as a name for the meter of the first three lines. This is one form they might take: (- . – – – / . . –  . – .) where the dashes represent syllables of long quantity, and the dots represent syllables of short quantity.  The diagonal represents a slight pause. Like other quantitative verse, this is very difficult to imitate successfully in English.

Satire—a general term for a literary work written to amuse while ridiculing vice or folly.  Being general, satire does not focus upon the form or content of a specific literary work for its subject—as parody and burlesque do—but they might also be described as being satirical.  Use the most precise term for your purposes.

Scansion—prosodic analysis of a poem.  The first step is to determine whether the movement is in twos (iambic [dih-DAH]) or threes (anapestic [dih-dih-DAH]).  This requires that all of the lines be looked at to find several which exhibit a clear pattern—and to do so you must be aware of the syntactic weight of the words, the phrase structure, the rhetorical stress, and the meaning of the utterance.  You should bear in mind the fact that English scansion is concerned only with relative stress—the difference between weakly-stressed and strongly stressed syllables that are adjacent.  Don’t expect to figure all of this out by concentrating on the first line, for it may contain substitutions that make it difficult to analyze.  (It is also possible that the movement may be based on four syllables—the most common example being the third paeon [dih-dih-DAH-dih], but this is uncommon.)  The second step is to see how this pattern can be related to the other lines.  Any poetic foot can be substituted for another as long as the underlying meter remains clear, and the substitution fits in with the developing rhythm.  You must also be aware that this rhythm may require a stress to be placed upon an ordinarily weakly-stressed syllable (metrical stress).  These steps will allow you to determine both the meter and the actual rhythm of the lines.  You should then determine the rhyme-scheme and identify the stanza form if possible.  To indicate stress on a page, it is convenient to mark out the pattern with a sequence of exes and slashes representing the weakly-stressed and strongly-stressed syllables, respectively.  “That time of year thou may’st in me behold” can be symbolized, (x /    x /    x /    x /    x / ).  These symbols can be written directly above the vowels of the words if there is room on the page.  (In writing by hand, I use a shallow, dish-shaped mark instead of the (x), and this, too, is common.)  We “scan” a poem to create a “scansion,” and if a line is intractable, we say it “doesn’t scan.”

Septet –a stanza consisting of seven lines.

Sestet –the last six lines of an Italian sonnet; a stanza consisting of six lines.

Sestina—a French form consisting of six sestets and a concluding tercet.  The final words of the lines of the first sestet are reused as the final words of the lines of the following sestets in a different, predetermined order each time.  If the final words of the first sestet are numbered from one to six from top to bottom (123456), the second sestet uses these words in the sequence (615243), and the third, (364125).  (Using the symbol > to mean “becomes the”, we can say that at each step, the first word of one sestet  > second of the next; the second > fourth; the third > sixth; the fourth > fifth; the fifth > third; and sixth > first.)  The tercet uses the pattern (531) with the pattern (246) appearing mid-line.  (more an exercise of skill than anything else)

Shaped Verse/Pattern poetry—poetry written in lines of different lengths which create a shape on the page which is related to the poem’s topic; a trivial exercise in ingenuity that adds nothing to the value of a poem.  George Herbert, a fine poet, was, nonetheless, a frequent offender, e.g. “Easter Wings” and “The Altar.”

Short measure—a quatrain rhyming ABAB or ABCB, the third line being iambic tetrameter and the others iambic trimeter; abbreviated S.M. in hymnals.

Simile—a figure of speech in which an explicit comparison is made, generally using “like” or “as,” as in Byron’s “She walks in beauty like the night/of cloudless climes and starry skies.”

Skeltonic verse/Tumbling verse—a type of deliberately rough poetry probably best described as doggerel.  It has three or four strongly-stressed syllables per line and any number of weakly-stressed syllables.  Alliteration and rhyme is used to add emphasis.

Slant rhyme/Near rhyme/Approximate rhyme/Off rhymeassonance and consonance, especially when used as end-rhyme.

Sonnet—a stanza form made up of fourteen lines of iambic pentameter in English verse.  There are four forms, the Italian Sonnet (Petrarchan), the English Sonnet (Shakespearean), the Spenserian Sonnet, and the Terza Rima Sonnet.

Spenserian sonnet—a sonnet form consisting of fourteen lines rhyming ABAB BCBC CDCD EE.

Spenserian stanza—a stanza form consisting of nine lines rhyming ABABBCBCC, the final line being an alexandrine.

Spondee—a poetic foot consisting of two strongly stressed syllables [DAH-DAH], as in [FEEL GOOD].

Sprung rhythm—an attempt made by G.M. Hopkins to describe his accentual poetry in the terms of accentual-syllabic poetry.  (misguided, unsuccessful, confusing, and unnecessary; don’t use it)

Stanza—a group of lines constituting a unit of poetry.  A stanza may stand alone or be part of another poem; thus, the Spenserian stanza, which might stand by itself, is used by Byron to tell the story of his long poem “Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage.”  The most common stanza forms are the couplet, tercet, triplet, ballad stanza, Rubaiyat stanza, In Memoriam stanza, limerick, stave of six, rhyme royal, triolet, ottova rima, common octave, brace octave, spenserian stanza, sonnet, and the French forms.  The stanza form of terza rima is the tercet, and it takes a series of such tercets, properly arranged, to be terza rima.  It is like blank verse in being a type of poetry, but not a stanza form. Parts of poems that are set apart but do not have a fixed form are called verse paragraphs.

Stave of six—a stanza consisting of either iambic tetrameter or pentameter rhyming ABABCC.

Stress—emphasis on a syllable of a word, created by:  tonic accent, long quantity, the need for rhetorical stress, syntactic weight, or metrical stress.  In English poetry, only the relative stress difference between adjacent syllables is important; thus (im-PER-a-TIVE) has two stresses.

Strophe—a part of the Pindaric ode; sometimes confusingly used to mean verse paragraph.  (don’t use this except when talking about the Pindaric ode or Greek choruses.)

Substitution—the use of one poetic foot in place of another.  In accentual-syllabic English poetry, this may be done freely as long as the substituted feet fit into the rhythm and the underlying meter remains clear.  The most common substitution is probably the use of a trochee in place of an iamb for the first foot in a line of iambic pentameter, sometimes called a “trochaic reversal.”  Anapests are also common substitutions into predominantly iambic rhythms.

Syllabic verse—poetry organized by counting the number of syllables per line, a system frequently used for languages that do not have a tonic accent.  It is used for Chinese and French verse, but does not work well in English.

Symbol—the use of one thing to represent another.  The word is frequently claimed to have ineffable meaning by authors who write inscrutable prose.

Symbolist poetry—a term applied to several different literary movements; American transcendentalists saw the particular facts of nature as symbolizing spiritual facts; French symbolists created a kaleidoscope of metaphors in an effort to express personal feeling.  As this suggests, neither movement had much intellectual coherence.  The term is still useful to describe poems in which the music of the lines and the suggestiveness of the language are a prominent feature.

Synecdoche—a figure of speech in which a whole is represented by a part, as in “give me a hand.”

Synesthesia—a figure of speech in which a word used to refer to the impressions of one sense is connected with a sensation that is typically perceived by another, as in Shelley’s “And the hyacinth purple, and white, and blue,/which flung from its bells, a sweet peal anew/of music so delicate, soft and intense/it was felt like an odour within the sense.“  It should be carefully distinguished from transferred epithets if it is to be useful.  A “loud shirt” is a transferred epithet since “shirt” does not conjure up any sense impression.

Syntactic weight—the difference in importance—and consequently in stress—found among words of different form classes (nouns, verbs, adjectives, etc.).  A helping verb, for example, is less important than the main verb in a verb phrase and cannot reasonably be stressed as much, e.g. “am TIRED” when used normally in normal speech.  Generally speaking, adjectives and adverbs have less syntactic weight than nouns and verbs, and the function words such as “in,” “the,” and ”but” have very little.

Tail—a very short line at the end of a stanza which may rhyme with another line in the same stanza or with a line in a following stanza.

Tenor—a word in a metaphor which carries an implied meaning, which is the vehicle of the metaphor.  In Emily Dickinson’s metaphor, “house that seemed a swelling of the ground,” “grave” is the tenor and “house” is the vehicle.  (confusing and of little value)

Tercet—The general term for a stanza of three lines.  This should not be used as a synonym for triplet.

Terza rima—a poetic form made up of tercets, usually of iambic pentameter, of which the first rhymes ABA; the second, BCB, the third, CDC, etc., the middle rhyme of each tercet being the outer rhymes of the next.  Occasionally written in English, but difficult to manage without running the sense from tercet to tercet.

Terza rima sonnet—a stanza form consisting of fourteen lines of iambic pentameter rhyming ABA BCB CDC DED FF.  The final couplet is almost always a conclusion.

Tetrameter—a line consisting of four poetic feet.

Theme/formula/motif—a well-known notion that serves as a concise, genralized statement of what is going on in a poem or a part of a poem, e.g. carpe diem, ubi sunt, and the vanity of human wishes.

Thesis—a term of classical prosody meaning the stressed syllable in Greek and the unstressed syllable in Latin.  (confusing and now rare:  Don’t use it)

Tonic accent—the accent required for correct pronunciation of a word, as in (ac’-cent), and (re-quired’).

Transferred epithet—an adjective attached to a noun that it doesn’t logically modify; usually “transferred” from something else in the context, as in Owen’s “blind, blunt bullet-leads” and Dickinson’s “babbles the bee in a stolid ear.”

Tribrach—a poetic foot consisting of three weakly stressed syllables [dih-dih-dih], as in [as in a].

Trimeter—a line consisting of three poetic feet.

Triolet—a French form consisting of eight lines, usually written in iambic tetrameter, rhyming ABAAABAB; lines 1, 4, and 7 are identical, as are lines 2 and 8.  This can be charming and playful, but like most of the French forms, it is insubstantial.

Triplet—a stanza consisting of three lines, all ending in the same rhyme-sound; tercet is the general term for three-line stanzas and should not be used to describe triplets.

Trochee—a poetic foot consisting of a strongly stressed syllable followed by a more weakly stressed one [DAH-dih], as in [TRY it] and [RAN-cid].  Because of the phrase structure of English, taken together with differences in syntactic weight, trochaic movement cannot be extended for any length without becoming very artificial.

Trope—a rhetorical term for figures of speech, it has been burdened down with theory to the point that it is best reserved for its other meaning, the amplification of liturgical texts, the most famous example being, perhaps, the “quem quaeritas” trope.

True rhyme—rhyme in which the final vowel sound and the succeeding consonant sounds are the same in each rhyming word, such as “feet,” “meat,” and “complete.”  In a rhyming dictionary, this sound might be listed as the -EET sound.

Turn of Words—use of the same words at the end of one line and the beginning of the next, as in Davies’ “The world of love wherein I live and die,/I live and die and divers changes prove./I changes prove, yet still the same am I . . . .”

Ubi sunt—“where are . . . ?”;  a theme expressing the transience of life, glory, beauty, etc.. Villon’s query, as translated by Rossetti, is the most famous example: “But where are the snows of yester-year?”

Vanity of Human Wishes—a theme expressing the futility of human aspirations in a world of chance; named for a poem by Johnson based on Juvenal.

Vehicle—the implied meaning of a metaphor.  (confusing and of little real value)

Vers de Société—a type of light verse characterized by elegance and wit; it is often a kind of comedy of manners, pointing out social folly.  Phyllis McGinley was a great modern master of the form.

Verse—a confusing term used sometimes to mean stanza, sometimes poetry, and sometimes line.  It is a part of many traditional terms, but you shouldn’t use it separately to mean any of the three things mentioned above.

Verse paragraph—a group of lines set apart from others in a poem, but which does not have a form that is repeated.

Villanelle—a French form consisting of six stanzas (five tercets and a quatrain).  The rhyme-scheme is A’BA” ABA’ ABA” ABA’ ABA” ABA’A” where A’ and A” are different repeated lines.

Virelay—a French form consisting of an indeterminate number of stanzas rhyming ABAB BCBC CDCD DADA for a four-stanza example.  As you can see, the second line of the last stanza picks up the rhyme-sound from the first line of the first stanza.  The first and third lines of every stanza are long and the second and fourth are short.

Virgule—a slash mark / used to divide a line into feet and to separate lines when they are quoted in a passage of prose.  The term is sometimes used for a vertical line|.

Wrenched accent—the distortion of pronunciation in order to fit a word into a fixed meter; a fault of either the poet or the reader.

Zeugma—a figure of speech in which a word is made to apply to other words in a parallel construction, usually to create an ironic juxtaposition for comic effect, as in Pope’s, “Whether the nymph shall . . . stain her honour, or her new brocade/forget her pray’rs, or miss a masquerade.”  Here, “prayers” and “honour” are ironically placed on the same footing as “brocade” and “masquerade.”


A Prosody Handbook.  Karl Shapiro and Robert Beum.  New York:  Harper and Roe, Publishers, 1965.  This is one of my favorite books on prosody, but it is not arranged as a dictionary.  The only fault I can find with it is that the authors take poetry to be some mysterious thing that can’t quite be defined, and then set about defining a supposed subclass of “poetry” as being “verse.”  There is a long history of such vacuous talk; fortunately, it only takes up a few pages here.  (I might counter their view with a more venerable one by quoting the entry on poetry from the classic eleventh edition (1911) of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, “Although many critics are now agreed that “L’art est une form,” that without metre and without form there can be no poetry, there are few who would contend that poetry can exist by virtue of any one of these alone, or even by virtue of all of these combined.”  There we have it.  Without form there is no poetry . . . but true poetry still remains something ineffable?  I agree that form is essential to poetry, but I reject ineffability—that is what the value judgments, “good” and “bad,” are for (together with “beautiful” “stirring,” and all the rest).  Poetry is not, itself, a term of praise or a recognition of genius; it is (or should be) a clearly defined and useful descriptive term.  Bad poetry is what one gets if one doesn’t have the power to move the reader through the sound, the imagery, and feeling of the poem; nonetheless, if it has form it remains a poem—a bad one.)

The Poet’s Handbook.  Judson Jerome.  Cincinnati:  Writer’s Digest Books, 1980.  Jerome is one of the most thoughtful commentators on prosody that I know of.  This book is an elementary look at diction, line division, fixed forms, etc.  He also published The Poet and the Poem, a penetrating analysis of the problems of writing and evaluating poetry.

Poetry Handbook:  A Dictionary of Terms.  4th ed.  Babette Deutsch.  New York:  Barnes & Noble Books, 1981.  This is a very nice reference with many example poems.  The only fault I find with it is the fact that it sends you from pillar to post; for example, if you look up “ottava rima” you are sent to “stanza.”

A Handbook to Literature.  6th ed.  C. Hugh Holman and William Harmon.  New York:  MacMillan Publishing Company, 1992.  This is a useful and encyclopedic reference, but the authors seem to live in the lofty tower of criticism (there is very little oxygen up there), and they love to deal in minutiae.  (Talk about art seems to nurture these things.)

Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics.  Ed. Alex Preminger.  Princeton:  Princeton U. Pr., 1974.  This is the ultimate reference for such subjects, but it is not as easy to use as the books listed above, and the entries by the various experts are uneven in approach and content.

Historical Manual of English Prosody.  George Saintsbury.  New York:  Schocken Books, 1966.  I don’t know if this is still in print, but if it isn’t, it should be.  It was written in 1910 as a brief introduction to the material covered in his massive three-volume study.  Saintsbury was almost certainly more responsible than anyone else for the wide-spread acceptance of the system of classification which recognizes quantitative, accentual, accentual-syllabic, and syllabic prosodies, with special reference to the “foot system” as the preferred method of scansion for English.  The greater part of the book is a history of the development of the prosodic resources of English poetry from the Anglo-Saxon poets through the Victorians.  It also includes a glossary, a list of poets with commentary on their prosodic influence, and information on the origin of lines and stanzas.  If you are interested in prosody, I think that you should have this, but you must remember that Saintsbury was trained in the classics and that for him iambic tetrameter was iambic dimeter (read the entry on “measure” given above to understand this).  Ultimately, the greatest value of this book is, I think, the fact that Saintsbury had a very excellent ear for the rhythms of English.