Advanced Placement English Literature & Composition
Mrs. Benjamin (adapted from AP Summer Institute 2010)
I. Reading Poetry
Generally poetry is to be read for pleasure. While I try first and foremost to encourage students to enjoy reading, an important
aspect of this pleasure (and one that leads to more success in the classroom), ideally involves coming to an appreciation of what
we are reading. This necessarily suggests reaching an understanding of how each poem we read works, or does not work, on
multiple levels. It is generally advisable to start with what we recognize on the surface of the poem, working from the literal to
the figurative. Here are some questions that can be applied as a start:
1. What do you know about the author or time period in which the poem was written? How might this information help?
2. What is suggested by the title?
3. Who is the speaker?
4. Whom is the speaker addressing?
5. What is the context (setting, time, place, situation)?
6. What happens in the poem?
7. What is the tone of the poem?
8. How would you characterize the diction?
9. What is the structure of the poem?
10. Are there any shifts in speaker, tone, subject, diction, etc. in the poem?
11. What observations would you make about rhyme and rhythm in the poem?
12. How does the poem make you feel?
13. What ideas (themes) are explored in the poem?
Note that as you consider the poem, particularly if your aim is to write about it, you need to reflect upon how each of these
aspects is relevant to the last question. How does the answer to each question shed light on the meaning of the poem?
One technique, kind of a mnemonic device, that many AP teachers often use to help students cover the most important of these
questions, is the “TPFASTT” approach.
T (TITLE)—Anticipate meaning based upon the title: Questions raised?
P (PARAPHRASE)—What’s happening?
F (FIGURATIVE DEVICES)—What figurative devices are present?
A (ATTITUDE)—How would you characterize the tone (author/speaker’s attitude)?
S (SHIFTS)—Note any shifts in tone, subject, speaker, diction, etc.
T (TITLE)—Re-think the meaning of the title. Accurate? Ironic?
T (THEME)—What is the message? How do other elements contribute to message?
II. Listening to Poetry
Poetry is meant to be read aloud, listened to. In his essay “The Philosophy of Composition” Edgar Allan Poe detailed all sorts of
concerns he claimed as occupying his time in his planning of “The Raven.” Many of these concerns revolved around his notion
of how the poem should sound. Whether we buy everything Poe sells in this personal account or not, it is always important to
listen to poetry. Some aspects of listening involve considering rhyme, repetition, meter, rhythm, and pace.
Lines that end with words that sound alike are said to rhyme. When the sounds are close, or when words possess a number of
the same consonants and/or vowels, they may be said to be near or slant rhymes.
Rhymes that end in accented (stressed) syllables are said to be masculine. Rhymes that end in unaccented (unstressed)
syllables are considered feminine.
Ex. extend/pretend = masculine
sleeping/weeping = feminine
Rhyme scheme refers to the pattern of rhyming words within a given stanza or poem. Usually this is designated by applying a
letter to each end rhyme (abab, cdcd, efef, gg). Lines that rhyme in pairs or groups are called couplets (2 lines), triplets (3
lines), or tercets (4 lines). A distinct group of four lines in which a pattern is repeated is called a quatrain; often quatrains
may be separated into stanzas.
Repetition is one means that writers use to signal importance. While we often talk of repetition of ideas being indicative of
theme, reoccurring elements also contribute to form and “feel.” In the case of sounds in poetry, repetition may take the form of
alliteration, assonance, and consonance.
Alliteration is the repetition of initial sounds in words and syllables.
Ex. Whereat with blade, with bleedy, blameful blade,
He bravely broach’d his boiling, bloody breast.
--Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Assonance is the repetition of similar vowel sounds.
Ex. Open here I flung the shutter, with many a flirt and flutter,
In there stepped a stately Raven of the saintly days of yore . . .
--Poe’s “The Raven”
Consonance is the repetition of consonant sounds.
Ex. All is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil.
--Hopkins’ “God’s Grandeur”
Meter refers to “measure” and the poetic foot is the one part of the standard means of measuring a line of poetry. A foot is
designated by a number and stress pattern of syllables. The number of feet in a line indicates its meter.
The Poetic Foot
The following are designations for the most common poetic feet. Note that the vast majority of poetry written in English use the
first noted, the iamb. Stress patterns are noted in parentheses. Examples of each are listed with breaks between feet. The
descriptive term for a line of each pattern is provided below each in brackets.
iamb (unaccented/accented): To be/ or not/ to be. . .
trochee (accented/unaccented): Johnny/Jones is/ laid to/ rest . . .
spondee (two syllables, equal stress): High on/ the shore/ sat the/ great god/ Pan. . .
dactyl (accented/unaccented/unaccented): Red were her/lips as the/ berry that/ grows. .
anapest (unaccented/unaccented/accented): At the top/ of the mount/ ain were ap/ ples
*A Mnemonic Device for Poetic Feet:
Irene is an iamb.
Tanya is a trochee.
Sue-Anne is a spondee.
Deborah is a dactyl.
Antoinette is an anapest.
The second component of meter is the designation for the number of feet in a line. Monometer (one); Dimeter (two); Trimeter
(three); Tetrameter (four); Pentameter (five); Hexameter (six); Heptameter (seven); Octameter (eight).
Free Verse and Blank Verse
Free verse refers to poetry that does not possess regular rhyme or meter. Blank verses incorporate meter, but do not rhyme.
Rhythm and Pace
Rhythm is a general term that refers to how certain repeated patters or sounds recur at regular intervals. Pace involves the
perceived “speed” at which a poem should be read. There are a few other terms that are related to how we view rhythm and
pace, as they give us means for discussing how pauses, or the lack of pauses, dictate how we read verse.
A caesura is an internal pause in a line of poetry that is usually indicated by punctuation (comma, semicolon, dash, or period).
End-stopped lines are those that have such pauses/punctuation at the end of the lines.
Enjambment indicates an absence of punctuation at the end of lines and an elimination of the need for pause.
III. Poetic Forms
Included here are some terms related to some of the many forms that poems may take. Generally poems may be classified as
narrative (tell a story), dramatic (as in a dramatic monologues or plays), or lyric (express thoughts, emotions; present an
image). Poems may also follow highly specialized forms:
Sonnet—Fourteen-line iambic pentameter poem. The Italian or Petrarchan sonnet consists of an “octave” (abbaabba) and a
“sestet” (often either cdcdcd or cdecde); The English or Shakespearian sonnet consists of three quatrains (ababcdcdefef) and
a climactic couplet (gg)
Haiku—A form of Japanese poetry that states in three lines of five, seven, and five syllables a clear picture designed to arouse
emotion or suggest a spiritual insight
Sestina—A poem that consists of six six-line stanzas and a three-line “envoy”; while unrhymed, it consists of a complicated
pattern of six fixed end-words
Villanelle—Nineteen-line poem with five three-line stanzas and a concluding quatrain; it usually is based around only two
Poems may also embody certain characteristics that lead to other sorts of designations:
Ode—An ancient form of poetic song, this poem celebrates a dear person, object, place, or idea
Elegy—Also known as a “dirge,” this poem meditates or mourns a loss
Apostrophe—A poem or portion of a poem in which a non-person or person not present or alive is addressed
Ballad—Usually associated with folk culture, these poems are usually narrative, telling stories of life, death, or heroism
Epic—Usually a long poem that celebrates the exploits of a hero who. An epic often includes an invocation to a muse, begins in
medias res, provides a cataloguing of arms of battling opponents, involves great adventures, features intervention of
gods/goddesses, and includes a trip to the underworld.
Mock-Heroic Epic—This poetic form, popular among neoclassical satirists, generally included long poems that used elevated
diction to recount a trivial event or portray a less than lofty subject in a comically heroic manner. This form turns inside-out the
traditional characteristics of the epic form noted above.