Literary Glossary: A–B

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Aisling

(The Irish word for “dream-vision”) A traditional Irish poetic genre that flourished in Ireland in the 17th and 18th centuries. These poems were allegorical and frequently recounted a visit by a supernatural female figure to a poet in a dream-vision. These early aislings were political where the female apparition or spéirbhean (“sky-woman”) often served as a metaphor for the poet’s dispossessed Irish homeland or for the Irish people. William Butler Yeats and subsequent modern Irish poets adopted aspects of the aisling into their poetry.

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Allegory

An extended metaphor, whether in prose or verse, in which characters and objects hold both a literal meaning as well as a secondary, implied meaning through the careful use of specific symbols. Usually this secondary meaning offers relevant commentary on contemporary social, political, or religious issues.

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Alliteration

A repetition of the initial consonant sounds in a series, as in the following example from "Those Winter Sundays" by Robert Hayden. Note that the repetition of consonant sounds in other places in a sequence of words is called consonance and is often used in conjunction with alliteration, as with the hard "c" sound in "blueblack" and "ached."

Sundays too my father got up early
and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,
then with cracked hands that ached

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Allusion

A reference to a person, place or thing or to another literary work, often brief or indirect.  Allusions are often used to contain complex emotions and ideas in a single powerful image.

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Apostrophe

A direct address to an absent person, inanimate object, or abstract ideal as though expecting a reply.

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Assonance

A repetition of vowel sounds, initially and/or within a word, as in the following example from Wilfred Owen's "The Things That Make a Soldier Great" (note the repetition of the "u" sounds within the first few lines, including the endings of lines 2 and 4).

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks, Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge, Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
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Autobiography

An account of a life written by the individual detailed in the account. A self-authored biography.

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