National Endowment for the Arts - The Big Read
The Poetry of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

The Poetry of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Nationality is a good thing to a certain extent, but universality is better. All that is best in the great poets of all countries is not what is national in them, but what is universal.


Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, 1855 (Photo courtesy the Longfellow National Historic Site)

A glossary of some of the poetic terms used in the lessons is listed below. Most literary definitions, both here and in the lessons, are taken from An Introduction to Poetry (11th edition), edited by X. J. Kennedy and Dana Gioia, or Handbook of Literary Terms, edited by X. J. Kennedy, Dana Gioia, and Mark Bauerlein (2005).

Allusion: A brief, sometimes indirect reference in a text to a person, place, or thing.

Antagonist: A character or force in a work of fiction that opposes the protagonist and tries to bar or complicate his or her progress.

Ballad: Narrative poem that may be sung. Originally an oral verse form, ballads were traditionally passed from performer to performer without being written down.

Dactyl: A metrical foot of verse in which one stressed is followed by two unstressed syllables (e.g., tur-bu-lent or Ga-bri-el). It often appears in children's songs and nursery rhymes, as in "Hickory dickory dock." Evangeline is an example of a poem written in dactylic hexameter.

Fixed forms: A traditional verse form that requires certain predetermined structural elements of meter, rhythm, and rhyme, such as a sonnet or a ballad.

Foot: The basic unit of measurement in poetry. Different meters are identified by the pattern and order of stressed and unstressed syllables in its foot. A foot can be two or three syllables, depending on the meter.

Hexameter: A verse meter consisting of six metrical feet, or six primary stresses, per line.

Meter: A systemic rhythmic pattern of stresses in verse.

Persona: Latin for "mask." A fictitious speaker created by the poet.

Protagonist: The central character in a work of fiction who usually initiates the main action of the story and often overcomes a flaw such as weakness or ignorance to achieve new understanding by the work's end.

Quatrain: A stanza consisting of four lines of verse.

Rhythm: The pattern of stresses and pauses in a poem.

Rhyme scheme: The pattern of rhyme in an individual poem or a fixed form, a rhyme scheme is transcribed with small letters representing each end rhyme—a for the first time, b for the second, and so on.

Scansion: A method of studying verse that measures rhythms in a poem, scansion separates the metrical feet, counts the syllables, marks the accented ones, and indicates the pauses. Scansion helps the reader understand the poet's handling of rhythm, verse length, and sound.

Stanza: A unit of two or more lines of verse with space breaks before and after, the stanza is poetry's equivalent to a paragraph in prose.

Stress (or accent): A greater amount of force given to one syllable in speaking than is given to another.

Tetrameter: A verse meter consisting of four metrical feet, or four primary stresses, per line. The Song of Hiawatha is an example of a poem written in trochaic tetrameter.

Trochee: A metrical foot of verse in which one stressed syllable is followed by one unstressed syllable.

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