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Common Poetic Forms

by Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Historically, very specific and formalized poetic forms have been developed by many cultures. In more developed, closed or "received" forms, rhyming scheme, meter and other elements of a poem are based on sets of rules, ranging from the relatively loose rules that govern the construction of an elegy to the highly formalized structure of the ghazal or villanelle. Below are described some common forms of poetry widely used across several languages. Additional forms of poetry can be found in the discussions of poetry of particular cultures or periods or in the glossary.


Among the most common form of poetry through the ages is the sonnet, which, by the thirteenth century, was a poem of fourteen lines following a strict rhyme scheme and logical structure. The conventions associated with the sonnet have changed during its history, and so there are several different sonnet forms. Traditionally, English poets use iambic pentameter when writing sonnets, with the Spenserian and Shakespearean sonnets being especially notable. In the Romance languages, the hendecasyllable and Alexandrines are the most widely used meters, although the Petrarchan sonnet has been used in Italy since the 14th century. Sonnets are particularly associated with love poetry, and often use a poetic diction heavily based on vivid imagery, but the twists and turns associated with the move from octave to sestet and to final couplet make them a useful and dynamic form for many subjects. Shakespeare's sonnets are among the most famous in English poetry, with 20 being included in the Oxford Book of English Verse.[59]


The jintishi (???) is a Chinese poetic form based on a series of set tonal patterns using the four tones of the classical Chinese language in each couplet: the level, rising, falling and entering tones. The basic form of the jintishi has eight lines in four couplets, with parallelism between the lines in the second and third couplets. The couplets with parallel lines contain contrasting content but an identical grammatical relationship between words. Jintishi often have a rich poetic diction, full of allusion, and can have a wide range of subject, including history and politics. One of the masters of the form was Du Fu, who wrote during the Tang Dynasty in the 8th century. There are several variations on the basic form of the jintishi.



The Villanelle is a nineteen-line poem made up of five triplets with a closing quatrain; the poem is characterized by having two refrains, initially used in the first and third lines of the first stanza, and then alternately used at the close of each subsequent stanza until the final quatrain, which is concluded by the two refrains. The remaining lines of the poem have an a-b alternating rhyme. The villanelle has been used regularly in the English language since the late nineteenth century by such poets as Dylan Thomas, W.H. Auden, and Elizabeth Bishop. It is a form that has gained heavier use at a time when the use of received forms of poetry has generally been declining.


The Tanka is a form of Japanese poetry, generally not possessing rhyme, with five lines structured in a 5-7-5 7-7 patterns. The 5-7-5 phrase (the "upper phrase") and the 7-7 phrase (the "lower phrase") generally show a shift in tone and subject matter. Tanka were written as early as the Nara period by such poets as Kakinomoto no Hitomaro, at a time when Japan was emerging from a period where much of its poetry followed Chinese form. Tanka was originally the shorter form of Japanese formal poetry, and was used more heavily to explore personal rather than public themes. It thus had a more informal poetic diction. By the 13th century, Tanka had become the dominant form of Japanese poetry, and it is still widely written today.



Odes were first developed by poets writing in ancient Greek, such as Pindar,[63] and Latin, such as Horace, and forms of odes appear in many of the cultures influenced by the Greeks and Latins.[64] The ode generally has three parts: a strophe, an antistrophe, and an epode. The antistrophes of the ode possess similar metrical structures and, depending on the tradition, similar rhyme structures. In contrast, the epode is written with a different scheme and structure. Odes have a formal poetic diction, and general dealing with a serious subject. The strophe and antistrophe look at the subject from different, often conflicting, perspectives, with the epode moving to a higher level to either view or resolve the underlying issues. Odes are often intended to be recited or sung by two choruses (or individuals), with the first reciting the strophe, the second the antistrophe, and both together the epode. Over time, differing forms for odes have developed with considerable variations in form and structure, but generally showing the original influence of the Pindaric or Horatian ode. One non-Western form which resemble the ode is the qasida in Arabic and Persian poetry.



The ghazal (Arabic: ???) is a form of poetry common in Arabic, Persian and Urdu poetry, among others. In classic form, the ghazal has from five to fifteen rhyming couplets that share a refrain at the end of the second line (which need be of only a few syllables). Each line has an identical meter, and there is a set pattern of rhymes in the first couplet and among the refrains. Each couplet forms a complete thought and stands alone, and the overall ghazal often reflects on a theme of unattainable love or divinity. The last couplet generally includes the signature of the author. Like other forms with a long history in many languages, many variations have been developed, including forms with a quasi-musical poetic diction in Urdu. Ghazals have a classical affinity with Sufism, and a number of major Sufi religious works are written in ghazal form. The relatively steady meter and the use of the refrain produce an incantatory effect, which complements Sufi mystical themes well. Among the masters of the form is the Persian poet Rumi.


Acrostic Poetry

Acrostic Poetry is where the first letter of each line spells a word, usually using the same words as in the title. For example, a poem titled "Diction" would most likely have the first line beginning with D, the second beginning with I, and so on.



The Alliterisen (Complex and Rhyming), a form created by Udit Bhatia, is a simple seven-lined poem with a specific syllable pattern and two alliterations per line. For example: Glorious Graves, and wonderful waves. Alliteration is the succession of similar consonant sounds. They are not recognized by spelling, but rather by sounds. The syllable structure for the Complex Alliterisen is as follows:

1st line- x syllables 2nd line- x+2 syllables 3rd line- x-1 syllables 4th line- (x+2)-1 syllables 5th line- x-2 syllables 6th line- (x+2)-2 syllables 7th line- x syllables which allows for infinite syllable sequences. Listed below are examples of some easy syllable sequences.

Sequence #1: 1st line- 8 syllables 2nd line- 10 syllables 3rd line- 7 syllables 4th line- 9 syllables 5th line- 6 syllables 6th line- 8 syllables 7th line- 8 syllables (same as first)

Sequence #2: 1st line- 9 syllables 2nd line- 11 syllables 3rd line- 8 syllables 4th line- 10 syllables 5th line- 7 syllables 6th line- 9 syllables 7th line- 9 syllables (same as first)

Sequence #3: 1st line- 10 syllables 2nd line- 12 syllables 3rd line- 9 syllables 4th line- 11 syllables 5th line- 8 syllables 6th line- 10 syllables 7th line- 10 syllables (same as first)

Sequence #4: 1st line- 11 syllables 2nd line- 13 syllables 3rd line- 10 syllables 4th line- 12 syllables 5th line- 9 syllables 6th line- 11 syllables 7th line- 11 syllables (same as first)

Sequence #5: 1st line- 12 syllables 2nd line- 14 syllables 3rd line- 11 syllables 4th line- 13 syllables 5th line- 10 syllables 6th line- 12 syllables 7th line- 12 syllables (same as first)

Sequence #6: 1st line- 13 syllables 2nd line- 15 syllables 3rd line- 12 syllables 4th line- 14 syllables 5th line- 11 syllables 6th line- 13 syllables 7th line- 13 syllables (same as first)

Wystan Hugh (W H) Auden