What is poetic license with examples in poetry

Poetic licenses

Poetic licenses are a series of resources used in poetry to be able to maintain the number of syllables in each verse . These resources allow not complying with the rules of grammar in order to improve the rhythm of the work. In total, there are four licenses: synalepha, hiatus, umlaut and syneresis. In this article we will make you aware about the poetic license?

The use of these licenses is given by one of the main characteristics of poetry: its use of measurement. The writers who cultivate this genre must bear in mind aspects such as the length of the words used, their ending and how the syllables behave.

In a very summarized way, it could be said that the poems are composed of several stanzas made up of a certain number of verses according to the type of poetic piece. The metric, that is, the measure of these verses and their way of structuring are essential for the author to convey his message.

For the metric to be adequate, poets use the four poetic licenses. With them, they get the verse to have the appropriate syllables, since they allow you to subtract or add some to the total. For example, if you want to write an Alexandrian verse, which has 14 syllables, the licenses offer the possibility of adjusting the measure.

What are the poetic licenses?

To subtract or add syllables in verses, poets can use four different poetic licenses, each with a different effect: synalepha, hiatus, syneresis, and umlaut.

1- Sinalefa 

The sinalefa is the poetic license with which the author joins two or more syllables belonging to different words, as long as they are next to each other. With this, it is possible to convert those two syllables into one.

It is about joining the final vowel of the word with the vowel with which the next one begins. It is also possible to use the synalepha when the second word begins with “h”. In its use, the final or initial “y” allows the synalepha to be made.

  • An example can be seen in the sentence ” Marta was sick “.

Using the synalefa, the syllable count of this word would be the following: Mar / ta_es / ta / ba_en / fer / ma. In total, six syllables instead of the eight that would be obtained without this poetic license.

On the other hand, the sinalefa can be performed even with closed vowels, although normally two of them give rise to a hiatus.

Finally, you can also use the synalepha by joining three continuous vowels belonging to three words.

However, it is not possible to form a synalepha when the vowels to be joined are stressed, that is, they are the ones that receive the accentuation:

  • Example: I laughed out loud. Both the final “í” of the verb and the initial a of “alto” are stressed, which prevents the synalepha from being formed. Therefore, these syllables should always be counted separately.

Example in a poem

Within One Hundred Sonnets of Love , by Pablo Neruda, there is the following sonnet :

“You will know that I do not love you and that I love you

since in two ways is life,

the word is a wing of silence,

the fire is half cold ”.

The first of the verses has two synalephs, both formed with the words “I love you.” Thanks to this, the author was able to deduct two syllables from the total.

2- Hiatus

The function of the hiatus as poetic license is to avoid the formation of a synalepha, something that when reciting is natural in Spanish.

In this case, a word that ends in a vowel should not be joined with the next, even if it begins with another vowel. The author must get that you loved continuous syllables are pronounced separately, both for a rhythmic matter and to obtain the meter (the number of syllables in the verse) that is intended.

To achieve this, the author uses a word whose rhythmic accent is on the last syllable. Another method is to put a punctuation symbol or a conjunction that forces a pause when pronouncing what is written.

Example in a verse

The following verses offer a good example of a hiatus:

The only truth is love;
the rest is a mistake.

On this occasion, the author has prevented a misalignment between “the” and “unique”. The same has happened between “rest” and “is”. In both cases it has been the introduction of stressed syllables that has caused the formation of the hiatus.

Another example can be seen in the following verse:

Your gesture is written in my soul.

On this occasion, the author has allowed the formation of a synalepha between “written” and “is”. Instead, it has formed a hiatus between the words “my” and “soul”, since the latter begins with a stressed syllable. In the end, the verse has eleven syllables.

3- Syneresis

This poetic license, also called synicesis or synecphonesis, consists of forming a diphthong in a word that does not have one. The diphthong occurs when two vowels of the same word come together, for which they cannot have an orthographic accent.

An example of a diphthong is found in the word “triumph”, in which two closed vowels, the “i” and the “u” join to form the diphthong “iu”. “Mediterranean” also has a diphthong between the letters “e” and “o”, while “queen” does so with the vowels “e” and “i”.

In poetry, the diphthong is used by the author to create a single syllabic block. The objective is to reduce the number of syllables in the verse to adjust it to the metric of the poetic form that is intended to be written.

Example in a poem

In his poem Now I’m Slow, Luis de Góngora wrote the following verses:

“… they put the thimble

and I put the needle.

I loved all of them well,

I had luck with all of them… ”.

On this occasion, the author removed the check mark in the words “put” and “had”. His purpose was to create diphthongs and for the rhythm of his work to reduce its intensity when reaching those points.

4- Dieresis

The umlaut consists of intentionally breaking a diphthong, that is, a syllable formed by two joined vowels. Thus, the verse gains a syllable in its meter and a variation in its rhythm occurs.

This poetic license is not widely used. To indicate its use, a diaeresis (¨) is placed on the corresponding vowel.

Example in a poem

Eclogue II by Garcilaso de la Vega

“The sweet murmur of the ruddy

the moving of the trees to the wind

he whispered

with a meek noise

of running and clear water… ”.

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