Terms and Definitions: L
This page is under perpetual
construction! It was last updated May 2, 2016.
This list is meant to assist,
not intimidate. Use it as a touchstone for important concepts
and vocabulary that we will cover during the term.
Vocabulary terms are listed
(plural lais, also spelled lay): A short
narrative or lyrical poem, usually in octosyllabic couplets,
intended to be sung. Helen Cooper called the genre the "mini-Romance"
since the typical theme and content deals with courtly
love and the other concerns of medieval romance.
Unlike the medieval romance, however, the lais are not
designed in an episodic
manner, i.e., they are not meant to be told in a series of short
tales that can be combined and stacked in a single sequential
narrative. The main traits individual lais have in common
with each other is a particular geographic origin and self-identification
as being a lai. Geographically, they are based on older
Celtic legends imported to northwestern France by the Bretons.
The oldest narrative lais, usually referred to as the
contes or les lais de Marie de France, were composed
by an Anglo-Norman woman named Marie. (In spite of her common
scholarly epithet, she appears to have lived in England.) Her
exact identity is a matter of much scholarly discussion. The
oldest Old French lais outside of Provençal
were written by Gautier de Dargiès (early 1200s). The
term "Breton lay" was applied to English poems in
the 1300s that were set in Brittany and were similar to those
of Marie de France. A dozen or so examples of the Breton lays
survive in English, the best known examples being Sir Orfeo,
Havelok the Dane, Sir Launfal, and Chaucer's "Franklin's
Tale" and "Wife of Bath's Tale." In the last
400 years, poets have used the term lay more generally
as a loose term for any historical ballad or any narrative poem
focusing on adventure and the supernatural. See also Bretons,
A stanzaic verse paragraph. The Song of Roland, for
instance, in written in a series of such units.
LAMENT: A formulaic expression of grief or sorrow for
the loss of a person, position, or culture. It is typically
non-narrative. Examples include The Lamentations of Jeremiah,
David's Lament for Saul and Jonathan, the 1563 Complaint
of Buckingham by Sackville, and more loosely the Anglo-Saxon
poems, the Wife's Lament and Deor. Contrast
LAMPOON: A coarse or crude satire ridiculing the appearance
or character of another person.
A particular system of signs used by members of a group
with each other. These signs can be verbal sounds, sign language
gestures, or written markings like letters.
LANGUE (French, "language"):
In Ferdinand de Saussure's theory of semiology, de Sauusure
makes a distinction between parole and langue. Parole is
the use of language--i.e., manifestations of actual speech
and writing. Parole contrasts with langue,
the invisible underlying system of language that makes parole possible.
LARYNGEAL: (1) Concerning the larynx.
(2) A theoretical sound that probably existed
in Proto-Indo-European, but which survived later only in Hittite.
MODERN ENGLISH: English as spoken from about the
year 1800 to the present.
LATERAL: Any sound made with the air blowing
out of the oral cavity on either or both sides of the tongue.
LATINO/LATINA WRITING: Twentieth-and
twenty-first-century writing and poetry by Hispanic immigrants
or their children. Most scholars use the term Latino
to refer to literature written in English with short sections
or phrases in Spanish, though a few critics use the term exclusively
in reference to original Spanish writings from the New World
that are later translated into English (such as Gabriel Garcia
Márquez's works.). More precisely, Latino writing
is often subdivided further into nationalities, such as Chicano/Chicana
(for Mexican-Americans) or Cubano/Cubana
(for Cuban-Americans), and so on. Following the grammatical
conventions for gender in Spanish, these words take an -o
suffix in reference to male authors and an -a
suffix in reference to female authors. Cf. Chicano
OF HOSPITALITY: Called xenia
in Greek, the term refers to the custom in classical Greece
and other ancient cultures that, if a traveler comes to a town,
he can ask any person there for food, shelter, and gifts to
help him on his journey. In Greek tradition, the host was considered
responsible for his guest's comfort and safety, and a breach
of those laws of hospitality was thought to anger Zeus (Roman
Jupiter), the king of the gods.
LAX VOWEL: In linguistics, a vowel made
with mostly relaxed tongue muscles [i], [e],
[u], and [o],
in contrast to the tense vowels like [I],
LEARNED WORD (Note how the word learned
is pronounced as two syllables in this phrase): A word--often
technical in nature--used primarily in bookish contexts such
as scientific or scholarly discussion rather than in everyday
life. For instance, "x-ray crystallography" is a learned
word, while "crystal" is a conversational word.
LEGEND (Latin, legendus, "that which ought to be read"): As J. A. Cuddon puts it, a legend is "a story or narrative that which lies somewhere between myth and historical fact and which, as a rule, is about a particular figure or person" (484). It is a traditional narrative often focusing on a specific location or specific historical figure. Like the myth, a legend often provides an etiological narrative, and it often fills in gaps in historical records. Unlike myths, legends usually do not involve powerful gods or world-altering supernatural events--though they can to a small degree. Famous examples of legends are the legend of Faust, the Flying Dutchman, the Wandering Jew, King Arthur, Skandarbeg, and Pecos Bill. Often real historical figures like Salvatore Giuliano and Che Guevara attract legends in their wake. Often tales that were originally myths about deities can devolve into legends, such as might be the case with several Arthurian legends. On the other hand, narratives that start as historical legends can also eventually turn into full-fledged cultural myths themselves, as Alfred Lyall has demonstrated.
LEIT-MOTIF (also spelled leitmotiv):
From the German term for "lead motif," a leit-motif originally
was coined by Hans von Wolzuegen to designate a musical theme
associated with a particular object, character, or emotion.
For instance, the ominous music in Jaws plays whenever
the shark is approaching. That particular score is the leit-motif
for the shark. Other examples are found in musical compositions
such as "Peter and the Wolf" and many Wagnerian operas. In literature,
critics have adapted the term leit-motif to refer to
an object, animal, phrase, or other thing loosely associated
with a character, a setting, or event. For instance, the color
green is a leit-motif associated with Sir Bercilak in
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight; thus, the appearance
of the Green Chapel and a green girdle should cause the reader
to recall and connect these places and items with the Green
Knight. In Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream, the
moon is a leit-motif associated with the fairy court,
and it appears again in the stage scenery and stage discussion
of Bottom's play about Pyramis and Thisbe. The leit-motif
is not necessarily a symbol (though it can be). Rather, it is
a recurring device loosely linked with a character, setting,
or event. It gives the audience a "heads-up" by calling
attention to itself and suggesting that its appearance is somehow
connected with its appearance in other parts of the narrative.
Contrast with theme
An Athenian religious festival occurring shortly after the Dionysia.
While the Dionysia focused on tragedies, with only short interludes
of comedy, in the Lenaia, comedies were performed as
the main entertainment. Contrast with Dionysia.
Duration of a vowel sound. Vowels can be long or short in
English writing--which often uses a
single symbol to represent two or more sounds. Examples include
the vowels represented by <a> in
fate (long) and fat
(short). See lengthening below.
The change of a short vowel sound into a long one. Vowels
can be long or short in
English writing--which often uses a
single symbol to represent two or more sounds. Examples include
the vowels represented by <a> in fate (long)
and fat (short).
The softening of a consonant sound, i.e., the replacement
of a hard and
abrupt sound by a more hissing or continuous sound that makes
the syllable containing it easier to pronounce
in the midst of other surrounding sounds. See i-mutation for more information.
VERSE: Verse using internal
rhyme in which the middle and end of each line
rhyme. More specifically, in the leonine verse of medieval Latin,
hexameters (or alternate hexameters and pentameters) would have
the word before the caesura and the final word in each line
rhyme with each other, such as the ecclesiastical Stabat
mater. C. H. Holman provides the following Latin example
with slightly less grandeur than the Stabat mater:
rex Edvardus, debacchans ut Leopardus. . . .
Here, the red letters illustrate
the leonine rhyme. An English example appears in Tennyson's
the stately Spanish men to their
flagship bore him then,
Where they laid him by the mast,
old Sir Richard caught at last,
And they praised him to his face
with their courtly foreign grace.
The name leonine
traditionally comes from a 12th century poet, Leo, the Canon
of Saint Victor's in Paris, whose Latin verses used this device.
It predates him, however, appearing in the Ars Amatoria
of Ovid and in the Old English Rhyming Poem. See also
rhyme and contrast with interlaced
LETOPIS (Russian, "writing by years"): The term in Russian for the Old Russian chronicles, annals written in chronological order, describing historical events, saints' lives, and legends. The oldest such chronicles in Russia appear in compilations from around 1039 A.D., during the reign of Yaroslav the Wise; the so-called Primary Chronicle begun about that year chronicled evenuts up to 1110 A.D.(Harkins 54). The most famous surviving Russian texts in the genre are the Laurentian Chronicle of 1377 and the Hypatian Chronicles of about 1420 (54).
Also called merging, in linguistics, this process
is the loss of earlier distinctions in sounds or word forms.
Probably the most dramatic leveling in the history of English
was the loss of distinct case endings during the period of the
In an over-simplified sense, we might say lexicon is a
fancy term scholars use when most people would simply say dictionary,
i.e., a complete list of words and their definitions. To
be more accurate, we might define lexicon as all the material
found in the dictionary--i.e., a list of all the available
terms in a language's lexis.
LEXIS: Not to be confused with the popular
car, a lexis is the complete stock of morphemes, idioms, and
words possessed by a language---i.e., all the units of potential
meaning. See lexicon.
LIBELLI MISSAE: Books containing
liturgical formulae such as Eucharistic prayers.
By an order of 1581, new plays in Britain could not be performed
until the Master of Revels licensed the works. Acting companies required a separate
license (which the the Court of High Commission granted) to actually publish or print the play--though as
Greenblatt notes, in practice actors often often pirated and
plays without this license. From 1610, the Master of Revels was responsible
for licensing plays for both publication and performance
1142). In John Milton's time, a similar Licensing Act passed
under Puritan influence in 1643. It demanded that all
their works to a parliamentary body for
review. If the body disapproved, they would issue no
license and thus make it illegal to publish the material.
John Milton strongly opposed this licensing process, leading
him to write Areopagitica as an argument in favor of free
See also Areopagus. Contrast
with the Censorship
Any written symbol that involves squishing two or more letters
into each other. The symbol for
the letter ash in Old English, for instance, is an a
and an e crunched together.
The placement, type, direction, and brightness or dimness of
lights used on stage. Often lighting can establish mood, highlight
specific characters, actions, or scenes, or serve symbolic purposes.
Lilith is alternatively depicted as the first wife of Adam
before Eve's creation or a female mother of medieval demons.
The lilitu or lilitim,
the daughters of Lilith, appear in biblical texts such
Isaiah 34:14 (in the NIV, lilitim is translated
vaguely as "night creatures.") Isaiah alludes to
Lilith and her daughters as
Lord's day of vengeance. Lilith and her daughters developed
originally from Babylonian mythology, where an early version
appears in both The Epic of Gilgamesh (c. 1800
BCE) and probably in the Sumerian Terra-Cotta "Lilith
(c. 2000 BCE). In Chaldean mythology, in Jewish Midrashic
and Talmudic texts, and in the medieval Zohar,
Lilith is described as a
and women in pregnancy
and childbirth and as a seductress of virtuous men.
A number of apotropaic magical
amulets survive depicting Lilith. They date from 200 BCE
to about 1700 CE, and they
were apparently designed to ward off her destructive powers. The
Alphabet of Ben Sira, a medieval Hebrew text, draws
on much older traditions in which Lilith is Adam's first
wife. God creates her from the dust
of the earth along with Adam, but Lilith refuses to submit
to Adam's authority or to allow him to take a dominant
sexual position with her. Accordingly, she flies away from
In other medieval legends, she mates with demons in the
land of Nod, and
to the malignant lilitim or lilitu, the
evil daughters of Lilith mentioned above.
A five-line closed-form poem in which the first two lines
of anapestic trimeter, which in turn are followed by lines
of anapestic dimeter, and a final line in trimeter. They
in an AABBA pattern. Typically,
they are used in comic or bawdy verse, making extensive use
entendre. Here is an example typical of the metrical
and linear arrangement:
student from dear old Bryn Mawr
Committed a dreadful faux pas
She loosened a stay
In her new décolleté
Exposing her je ne sais quoi.
The limerick first gained
popularity in the 18th century. The first originator is unknown,
but many give credit
to a group of poets who lived in the town of Croom in County
Limerick called the Fili na Maighe ("Gaelic poets
of the Maigue") who were renowned for their quick wit and sardonic
alternative legend is that the limerick arose from an 18th
century rivalry between the poetic publican Sean O'Tuama
and his friend Andrias MacCraith. The two had a spectacular
falling out, and wrote a series of insulting verses about each
other, which according to legend, started the tradition of
(Latin limin, "threshold"): A liminal
space is a blurry boundary zone between two established
and clear spatial areas, and a liminal moment
is a blurry boundary period between two segments of time. Most
cultures have special rituals, customs, or markers to indicate
the transitional nature of such liminal spaces or liminal
times. Examples include boundary stones, rites of passage,
school graduations, births, deaths, marriages, carrying the
bride over the threshold, etc. These special markers may involve
elaborate ceremonies (wedding vows), special wardrobe (mortarboard
caps and medieval scholar's gown), or unusual taboos (the
of not seeing the bride before the wedding). Liminal zones
feature strongly in folklore,
legend. See the Other
World for further information. For in-depth discussion, see Victor Turner's Drama, Fields, and Metaphors: Symbolic Action in Human Society.
POINT OF VIEW: See discussion under point
FRANCA (Latin, "Frankish Language"):
Any language that gains international currency as a language
of trade or business.
ANALOGY: See analogy,
(from Latin lingua, "tongue'): The study of language
as a system, as opposed to learning how to speak a foreign language.
Chaucer scholars use the word "link" or "linking
passage" to refer to the material connecting the individual
tales in the Canterbury Tales to the surrounding stories.
These links often take the form of dialogue, interruptions,
or interactions between the pilgrims. The presence of the links
allows editors to reconstruct parts of the Canterbury Tales
in a specific order, but due to the incomplete nature of the
Canterbury Tales, many of the narratives lack linking
material before or after the story. Linking material that appears
before a story in a fragment begins and which suggests what
may have come before is called a headlink.
Material that appears at the end of a story or at the end of
a fragment and suggests what will come next is an endlink.
In his linguistic textbooks, Algeo notes this phenomenon
for students. He describes it as an /r/
pronounced by otherwise r-less
speakers when the following word begins with a vowel. For
in prestigious RP British pronuncation, the /r/
is silent in the words farm
and far. However, these
British speakers will actually add an /r/
to the word far if the
next word starts with a vowel, e.g.,
far away (26).
A semi-consonant sound produced without friction and thus capable
of being sounded continuously in the manner of a vowel--or at
least made until the lungs exhaust their supply of air. The
sounds of [r] and [l]
An arena or field for chivalric combat and tournaments with
bleachers or balconies set to one side where nobility might
sit to observe. The lists would normally have pavilions (fancy
round tents) at either end to house contestants, who would fight
with each other on horseback. The most famous events held at the
lists were jousts, in which mounted knights would ride toward
each other and attempt to knock their combatants off their horses
by using a blunted lance (if training) or a hardwood lance (if
dueling or conducting a trial by combat). Sometimes, especially
during the late medieval period, the lists would have a long
fence or barrier running lengthwise, so that each contestant's
horse would be forced to keep to one side of the field, thus
reducing the risk of a knight being trampled to death. If such
a barrier was set up, the contestants were technically "tilting"
rather than "jousting," though in common speech, the
two words were used interchangeably. Rules for jousting and
tilting varied considerably from place to place and century
A literal passage, story, or text is one intended only (or primarily)
as a factual account of a real historical event rather than
a metaphorical expression, an allegorical expression of a larger
symbolic truth, or a hypothetical example. The most common mistake
students make is confusing the terms true, factual,
and literal. Some things are true but not factual.
Some things are meant literally but they are not factual. And
some things are presented factually that aren't true. For instance,
in Anne Rice's Interview with a Vampire, Rice presents
her narrative as an actual biography of a vampire. The material
is presented using various trappings of factuality, and the
writing style encourages readers to suspend their disbelief
and imagine that the vampire Louis Dulac literally exists as
he dictates his story, rather than encouraging the reader to
think of Louis Dulac as an unreal symbol or some abstraction
like "sexualized death" or "commercial consumption."
It's only late in the tale that Louis turns into a symbol for
modernity. Earlier in the tale, the presentation of details
such as the tape recorder running out of tape, and other interruptions
by the reporter, and the historical reality of New Orleans and
Paris help encourage a literal mindset. However, the story is
not true in the sense we normally mean the word, even
though it is meant to be read in a literal manner.
On the other hand, contrast
this untrue-but-factually-presented story with Aesop's fable
of the tortoise and the hare. In this account, we have talking
rabbits and loquacious terapins. They engage in a race, and
the lazy rabbit ends up losing to the slower tortoise because
that turtle keeps up his pace while the rabbit naps. This story
is not meant to be read literally. Turtles and rabbits cannot
talk, nor do they engage in marathons with each other. Aesop
is not presenting the material to us in a factual manner akin
to that of biology textbook or a newspaper clipping. However,
the point to the story is indeed true. The story's symbolic
or allegorical point is a larger truth that supersedes factuality.
It's indeed true that talent is irrelevant if not put to use,
that the underdog can win if the better runner doesn't try,
and that slow-and-steady can win the race when the competition
doesn't focus on extended effort. If the reader responded to
the fable with scorn because it "wasn't factual" or
"wasn't literally real," the reader would miss the
lesson and the larger point. Being so literally minded can cripple
one's enjoyment of literature. See extended discussion
interpretation and allegory.
LITOTES (pronounced lee-TOE-tays):
A form of meiosis using a negative statement. (See more
under discussion of meiosis.)
TRANSLATION: See calque.
LOANWORD: A word borrowed or adapted from
LADY: The motif
of a ugly hag who will under set conditions transform into a
beautiful maiden, or more rarely a beautiful maiden cursed to
revert to a hideous or inhuman shape under different conditions.
This motif is found in fairy tales, folklore,
and Celtic legend. Examples include Princess Melusine in French
dynastic mythology, Dame Ragnelle, and the old woman in the
Wife of Bath's Tale from Chaucer's Canterbury Tales.
The frog-prince and the story of "Beauty and the Beast"
are two examples in which the older and more common gender roles
are reversed. The idea perhaps originates in the common psychological
longing for transformative wish
fulfillment. It might be akin to the emotional
engine driving the European legend of Cinderella, the Ovidian
myth of Pygmalion and Galatea, or the more recent play My
Fair Lady. All three involve a metamorphosis into a better
state of feminine existence--at least in the eyes of a masculine
audience. We also see a vague remnant of this ancient wish fulfillment
in American pop culture--especially films such as Pretty
Woman and She's All That, in which respectively
an uncouth prostitute transforms into a refined society lady
worthy of a millionaire husband and in which a nerdy high school
misfit transforms into an acceptable candidate for prom queen.
LOCATIVE: A grammatical case
in many Indo-European languages that indicates location.
AMOENUS (Latin, "pleasant place"): A
pleasant locale and time, traditionally a green Edenic garden
on a temperate but sunny spring day--especially in the month
of May. This is the traditional setting
for the opening of a dream
vision narrative and for romantic liaisons.
CLASSICUS (Latin, "classic place"):
A passage often cited as authoritative or illustrative on a
particular point or subject. For instance, when it comes
to explaining what a neologism
is, the opening lines of the poem "Jabberwocky" have
become the English teacher's locus classicus, and so
"word-centered"): Jacques Derrida's term for a
tendency to privilege thinking based on a desire for absolute
which he associated with Western thought since Plato.
He saw this tendency as inherently hierarchical and one
which privileged the "real" over spoken words about
the real, and which in turn privileged all spoken language
written language--cf. Plato's idea of platonic forms. However,
since the language we
use to talk about reality is not the same thing as reality
we have no other means of communicating/thinking about reality
than flawed language, Derrida saw logocentricism as inherently
doomed to failure,
an inescapable prison-house of words. Cf. deconstruction and
LOGOGRAPH: See discussion under ideograph.
LOGOPOEIA: Ezra Pound's term for one of the three techniques he would use to create "charged" language. According to Pound, you can charge any particular word by "using the word in some special relation to 'usage,' that is, to the kind of context in which the reader expects, or is accustomed, to finding it" (Pound 37). Basically, if a poet takes a word and uses it in a strange or unusual manner, or alters its normal relationship to expected grammar or its most common semantic field, that word will then stand out from the rest of the line and be poetically energized. That technique is logopoeia. See also phanopoeia and melopoeia.
(possibly from Dutch, "mumbler"): Lollards were heretics
in the 1300s and 1400s associated with a variety of causes
(1) translation of the scripture into English,
(2) the right of women to preach and/or teach
scripture, (3) denial of special priestly
monopoly on scriptural interpretation, and (4) John
Wycliff's doctrines regarding consubstantiation versus transubstantiation.
Accusations of Lollardy, especially under Arundel's Constitutions,
typically resulted in the heretic being burnt at the stake.
In particular, women were vulnerable to charges of Lollardy
if they spoke up concerning religious matters, preached,
taught, since orthodox medieval doctrine took the verses in
1 Timothy 2:11 quite seriously regarding female subordination.
Several female medieval writers such as Margery Kempe were
accused of this heresy--though interestingly her contemporary
spiritual advisor, Julian of Norwich, was not. Chaucer's Harry
Bailey states that he "smells a Lollard" when the Parson rebukes
him for cursing. In more recent literature, T. H.
White adapts Lollardy as an anachronism in The Once and
where he associates them with discontent social groups like
the fictional "thrashers" and with the real-world
proto-communist doctrines of the revolutionary John Ball.
for extended discussion.
LONG S: One Old English variation for writing
the letter s that continued
to be used in Shakespeare's day--even up through the 1790s.
The long s
looked much like the lower-case letter f
without a horizontal crossbar.
Any syllable with (1) a long vowel or (2)
any syllable with a short vowel and two or more consonants following
it. Such syllables typically take twice as long to sound as
a short syllable--and thus become an important component of
classical Latin poetry. In English poetry, meter traditionally relies on heavy and light stress
rather than long and short syllables.
VOWEL: See description under length.
ROOMS: During the Renaissance, the most prestigious
and costly seating in public playhouses were the lords' rooms.
These rooms were partitioned sections of the gallery
near the "above."
(The cost was three pennies to sit in the lords' room, two pennies
for a seat in the second-floor galleries, and one penny to watch
as a groundling
standing in the yard.)
Interestingly, Greenblatt notes that the lords' rooms were not
positioned or intended to provide the best view of the action
taking place on stage below. Instead, the rooms were designed
to make "their privileged occupants conspicuous to the
rest of the audience" (1140).
GENERATION: A group
of twentieth-century authors who grew disillusioned after World
War I and lived in Europe as expatriates. Ernest Hemingway is
one of the more famous members of the Lost Generation. The designation, according to an apocryphal tale, was the brain-child of Gertrude Stein, who once declared to a group of various writers including Hemingway, "You are all a lost generation."
COMEDY: In contrast with high
comedy, low comedy consists of silly, slapstick physicality,
crude pratfalls, violence, scatology,
and bodily humor rather than clever dialogue
or banter. See comedy.
VOWEL: A vowel made with the jaw stretched open
and the tongue lowered from the top of the oral cavity.
The Luddites of the early 1800s were part of an anti-technological,
grassroots movement in Britain. They protested specifically
the introduction of textile machines as a threat to their
jobs and more generally protested the jarring social changes
from the Industrial Revolution, producing much propaganda for
their cause. By 1813, they had demolished or burnt down severa;
textile factories. Government intervention
in their imprisonment or forced deportation to colonies in
America and Australia. The Luddite movement is partly the
result of economic stress in a time of rapid social change,
and partly it corresponds more generally to the Romantic
movement, which tended to criticize man's alienation
from nature and condemned urbanized and industrial life of
19th century as spiritually and ethically sterile. William
Blake went so far as to dub modern textile factories the
"satanic mill." In many cases, Luddites and neo-Luddites
have broadened their horizon of concern to embrace technology
more generally and science more specifically as de-humanizing
intellectual endeavors, frequently embracing the Frankenstein motif (which
also dates from the early 1800s).
A song written for children, especially a calming one designed
to help an infant go to sleep. The genre
is often marked by trimeter
or duple meter in its metrical line, repetition, soothing euphony,
and simple diction.
Many of William Blake's poems in Songs of Innocence
have qualities of the lullaby--perhaps because of thematic
connections in that work, or perhaps because of the Romantic
fascination with innocence and its loss.
SHIH (Chinese, "regulated song"): A verse
form popular in China in the T'ang and Sung dynasties. It was
also referred to as the chin-t'i shih to keep the term
distinct from the ku-shih or "old songs." The
verse was characterized by extensive parallelism
and an elaborate tonal pattern. This formal structure also influenced
the fu or "prose poem" of later centuries.
(from Greek lyra "song"): The lyric form is
as old as Egypt (surviving examples date back to 2600 BCE),
and examples exist in early Hebrew, Greek, Latin, and other
sources. If literature from every culture through the ages were
lumped into a single stack, it is likely that the largest number
of writings would be these short verse poems. There are
three general meanings for lyric:
(1) A short poem
(usually no more than 50-60 lines, and often only a dozen
lines long) written in a repeating stanzaic form, often designed
to be set to music. Unlike a ballad,
the lyric usually does not have a plot (i.e., it might not
tell a complete story), but it rather expresses the feelings,
perceptions, and thoughts of a single poetic speaker (not
necessarily the poet) in an intensely personal, emotional,
or subjective manner. Often, there is no chronology of events
in the lyrics, but rather objects, situations, or the subject
is written about in a "lyric moment." Sometimes,
the reader can infer an implicit narrative element in lyrics,
but it is rare for the lyric to proceed in the straightforward,
chronological "telling" common in fictional prose.
For instance, in William Wordsworth's "The Solitary Reaper,"
the reader can guess from the speaker's words that the speaker
has come unexpectedly upon a girl reaping and singing in the
Scottish Highlands, and that he stops, listens, and thinks
awhile before continuing on his way. However, this chain of
events is not explicitly a center of plot or extended conflict
between protagonist and antagonist. Instead it triggers a
moment of contemplation and appreciation. Thus it is not a
in the normal sense of the word.
(2) Any poem having
the form and musical quality of a song
(3) As an adjective,
lyric can also be applied to any prose or verse characterized
by direct, spontaneous outpouring of intense feeling. Often,
the lyric is subdivided into various genres, including the
monologue, the elegy,
and the sonnet.
Contrast with ballad,
MOMENT (from Greek lyra
"song"): A timeless period of introspection or memory
in which a poetic speaker describes or recounts his or her feelings,
impressions, and thoughts. This moment contrasts with the flow
of events in a narrative poem. Some poems, such as Beowulf
or the Iliad, are driven by the interactions of characters
within a plotline of specific events occuring in a specific
order. In contrast with these narrative poems, non-narrative
poems, which seem to take place outside of time without a clearly
established sequence of events, are said to take place in the
"lyric moment." Such poems are often called lyric
See discussion under lyric
(1) The words to a song. (2)
Samples of lyric poetry; see discussion under lyric.
I consulted the following works
while preparing this list. I have tried to give credit to specific sources when
feasible, but in many cases multiple reference works use the same examples or
provide the same dates for common information. Students should examine these
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