Introduction to Poetry
All you ever wanted to know about poetry—and then some.
Roses are red,
Violets are blue,
This is a poem.
And this is one,
Okay, so maybe we're not the most profound poets on the block, but that doesn't mean we can't teach you a thing or two about the trade. This course will introduce you to everything poetry: from the fancy terms (enjambment! iamb! villanelle!) to the stuff you think you know but really don't (lines! rhymes! rhythm!). And along the way, you may even become a poet yourself. Yeah, we said it.
Unit 1. Poetry: A Scoop
This unit will help you get your feet wet in poetry, giving you a handy dandy guide to How to Read a Poem and bringing you face to face with a few fun poetic forms.
Unit 2. Look Who's Talking
Just like prose fiction, poetry has characters. This unit is all about sussing out who those characters are.
Unit 3. Where It's At
Every poem has a setting, whether or not it's obvious. This unit will help you find the setting and figure out why it matters.
Unit 4. Poetic Devices
What's a course on poetry with talk of poetic devices? This unit will tackle metaphor, simile, imagery, rhyme, and sound. You know, just the basics.
Unit 5. It's All in the Music
Music is everywhere in poetry, and this unit will help you find it by keeping your ears peeled for alliteration, assonance, consonance, and all sorts of rhymes.
Unit 6. Iambs and Trochees and Spondees, Oh My: Measuring Meter in Poetry
Meter is more than just a bunch of ba-DUMs on the page. In this unit, we'll introduce you to almost every kind of meter on the planet. And on other planets, too.
Unit 7. Sonnet? We Hardly Know It
An entire unit on sonnets? You betcha.
Unit 8. Poetic Forms and Traditions
Sonnets aren't the only important poetic form. This unit will help you distinguish between lyric, epic, and narrative poetry, while introducing you to everything from the haiku to the ghazal (gesundheit!). And of course, we'll top things off with some fancy free verse.
Unit 9. Only the Good Notes: Music as Poetry
Bruce Springsteen and Billie Holiday—and a bunch of other goodies—comin' at ya in this unit on music as poetry.
Sample Lesson - Introduction
Lesson 2: Vehicles Singing Tenor
Now that we're cooking with metaphors, we've got to figure out exactly what ingredients go into the recipe. In this lesson, we'll learn about vehicles and tenors, which are the stuff of metaphor. Often overlooked, these parts make up the whole, and they're a handy way to break down a metaphor when you're having trouble uncovering its meaning.
We'd say more, but we think that would spoil the fun. So head on into the lesson, and let's get started. It'll be a day at the beach, we promise.
Sample Lesson - Reading
Reading 4.2: Vehicle and Tenor
Let's review. Take a second to look back at Shmoop's definition of a metaphor. Remember those pesky terms vehicle and tenor that seemed to come out of nowhere? Well, as it turns out, they're kinda key.
- The tenor is the subject of the metaphor. It's the thing you're trying to describe.
- The vehicle is what you use to transform the subject into something else. It's the thing you use to describe the other thing.
So, for example, if you say, Hate is poison, hate is the tenor, and poison is the vehicle. This sentence is all about hate, but it uses the idea of poison to understand something about hate—that it's harmful, even lethal.
As a general rule, every metaphor has these two things. It's just that in some metaphors, they're tough to spot. That's cool. We'll start slow with some classics, and work our way up to the sneakier metaphors.
Picking One Apart
Take, for example, the famous adage Hate corrodes the vessel that carries it.
We can go ahead and guess that the tenor of this metaphor is still hate. But what's the vehicle—the vessel? Corrodes? Carries?
Wouldn't you know? It's none of the above. The vehicle here is never mentioned. In this metaphor, hate is being compared to something that corrodes—but that something is never named. We've got a missing vehicle. But rest assured, it still exists. This vehicle's a shy guy.
But wait! There's more! We've got a whole 'nother metaphor here. A sneak attack metaphor that deepens and enhances the whole hate-as-corrosive idea. We don't know about you, but we don't know of any literal vessels around that literally carry hate. Nah, we're thinking that vessel's a metaphor—but for what?
In this case, the vessel is the vehicle. But what is it describing, exactly? Something that carries hate it seems. Hmm. What could that be? Oh gee, let us guess...maybe...a human being? Yep—a person is definitely our tenor. But notice how that word never pops up in the sentence? In this case, it's the tenor, not the vehicle, that's got a bad case of stage fright. It's AWOL, but its presence is still felt.
Let's take a step back here and assess the sentence as a whole. With its two metaphors cooking, this sucker's a veritable stew of figurative language. But what does it all mean? What's it literally saying?
Well, if hate is corrosive, and we are vessels who are corrodible, that means that if we hate, we can do some serious damage to ourselves. So in other words, we really shouldn't bother, unless we want to be riddled with rust spots and holes. That's the literal meaning behind the figurative language.
Sample Lesson - Activity
Activity 4.2a: Identifying Vehicle and Tenor
Now for a little practice. For each of the following quotes, write down the vehicle and the tenor. We'll start off easy, and then get sneaky. Stick with Shmoop and you'll get there. Just remember that some of these might have hidden tenors and vehicles, and some of these might have more than one of each. And some of these might require a bit of imagination and explanation. If you need a hint, click the link for more context.
Sample Lesson - Activity
Activity 4.2b: Making Meaning with Metaphor
Metaphors are more than just vehicles and tenors, though. They use vehicles and tenors to make meaning—to convey an idea in a way that allows you to understand it on a deeper level. To see what we mean, let's revisit the metaphors from before.
For each metaphor, jot down a few sentences about what you think the metaphor means. To help you out, use these questions as a guide:
- What's the subject matter of the metaphor?
- What are the vehicle and tenor (cheat by looking at your answers for the previous activity)?
- Why do you think the writer chose these particular vehicles and tenors?
- How does the comparison being made help us understand the subject matter in a new way?
- What's the metaphor saying about the subject matter?
Quick tip: if you need some guidance, click on the link to check out the metaphor in its original context—that should give you some clues.
Sample Lesson - Activity
Quiz 4.2c: Are You a Metaphor Master yet?
- Course Length: 18 weeks
- Grade Levels: 9, 10
- Course Type: Elective
Just what the heck is a Shmoop Online Course?
Common Core Standards
The following Common Core Standards are covered in this course:CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.9-10.1