Poetry Boot Camp

Poetry is a large portion of the AP English Literature and Composition test. Students must be able to not only read a poem, but also be able to analyze it from several different aspects. The guides on poetry annotation, figurative language, and meter will help a student to understand poetry from an AP perspective.


When annotating a poem look at the following six elements:

  1. Speaker
    • Who is the speaker?
    • What is the speaker's point of view?
    • Who is the speaker's audience?
    • What is the speaker's topic, argument, etc.?
  2. Tone
    • What is the dominant tone in the poem?
    • Does the tone of the poem shift? Where? Why?
  3. Imagery
    • Using the five senses (feel, hear, see, smell, taste) isolate the main images
    • What is suggested by the use of the image?
    • Does the image provoke an emotion or idea? How?
  4. Figurative Language
    • Be able to find, discuss, and understand the figurative language used in the poem.
    • Use the list of literary devices that are listed below.
  5. Sound
    • What sound elements are the most prominent? Why?
    • Use the list of literary devices that are listed below.
    • How does the sound element help to reinforce the meaning of the poem.
  6. Theme
    • What is the theme of the poem?
    • What is the purpose of the poem?
    • How does the poem help to exemplify the theme?


See the information for the essay listed here.

Figurative Language

Literary Devices

  • anthropomorphism - to give human qualities to animals.
  • apostrophe - a speaker directly addresses something or someone that is not living.
  • diction - the poet's choice of words.
    • denotation - the exact meaning of the word that can be found in any dictionary.
    • connotation - the suggested meaning beyond the words exact meaning that usually deals with the emotional qualities.
  • epigram - a short quotation that precedes a piece of literature usually setting the tone, context, and setting of poem.
  • hyperbole - using exaggeration to extend reality. ("She is so dumb, she thinks Taco Bell is a Mexican phone company")
  • metaphor - a comparison of two unlike things, usually says the one thing "is" something else.
  • imagery - language that appeals to the five senses allowing the reader to form a picture in their mind.
  • metaphysical conceit - an elaborate and ingenious metaphor that shows the poets knowledge. (See John Donne and Andrew Marvell)
  • oxymoron - juxtaposing two things apparently contradictory that still reinforce one idea. (tight slacks, baggy tights, jumbo shrimp)
  • personification - to attribute human qualities or characteristics to nonliving things.
  • pun - a play on words where the meaning is ironic or humorous.
  • understatement - this is the opposite of hyperbole. Understatement is used when less is stated for the situation or meaning.
  • simile - a comparison that uses words such as "like" or "as".
  • synechdoche - the use of a part for the whole. ("all hands on deck")
  • stanza - the paragraph of a poem.
  • structure - the way the poem is built (four line stanzas, one stanza, etc.)

Sound Devices

  • alliteration - repetition of beginning sounds in close proximity to one another ("Sally sells seashells by the seashore")
  • assonance - repetition of internal vowel sounds. The words do not need to rhyme exactly, but can also mirror the vowel sound (lake, fake, break, ache)
  • cacophony - harsh, unpleasing sounds
  • consonance - repetition of consonant sounds (exact rhyme - Ireland, England, island) (internal rhyme - gamma, grammar, Santana ) (slant rhyme - will, shall, bill)
  • end rhyme - when the final words at the end of the lines rhyme with one another.
  • exact rhyme - ray, fray, bay (masculine - one syllable rhymes) / projectile, percentile (feminine - two or more syllable rhymes)
  • euphony - pleasing, pleasant sounds
  • internal rhyme - rhyme happens within the lines of poetry
  • meter - a rhythm caused by using a certain number of beats/syllables per line. It is a combination of stressed and unstressed syllables to form the metrical pattern. (see guide below)
  • rhyme - words that sound either exactly alike or merely similar.
  • slant rhyme - the words sound similar, but are not exact rhymes (begun, afternoon / came, time)

Stanza Structure

  • couplet - two-line stanza
  • tercet - three-line stanza
  • quatrain - four-line stanza
  • quintain - five-line stanza
  • sestet - six-line stanza
  • septet - seven-line stanza
  • octave - eight-line stanza

Types of Poems

  • Ballad - a short poem in a song format that tells a story
  • Elegy - a poem that is about the death of someone
  • Epic - long poem about a hero on a quest (Homer's poems The Iliad and The Odyssey)
  • Epigram - a short poem that seeks to ridicule a thought or event, usually with sarcasm
  • Haiku - traditional Japanese poem that is three lines in length. The first line has five syllables, the second line has seven syllables, and the last line has five syllables. (5/7/5)
  • Lyric - usually written in first person and is about love, inner emotions and often personal.
  • Narrative - a poem that tells a story with characters and a plot.
  • Ode - serious lyric poems that were originated with the Greeks. The English Romantic poets brought the form back.
  • Prose poem - looks more like a paragraph than a poem, but it still uses poetic elements such as imagery, diction, and figurative language
  • Sonnet - fourteen lines of iambic pentameter
    • Petrarchan/Italian - ABBAABBA CDECDE (rhyme scheme)
    • Shakespearean/English - ABAB CDCD EFEF GG
    • Spenserian - ABAB BCBC CDCD EE
  • Tanka - traditional Japanese poem that is five lines in length. (5/7/5/7/7)
  • Villanelle - nineteen lines composed of five tercets (ABA) and a concluding quatrain (ABAA). Lines one and three of the first tercet serve as refrains that are repeated through line fifteen. This is then repeated again in lines eighteen and nineteen. ("Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night" by Dylan Thomas)
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