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Types and Forms of Poetry

Types of Poems - Common types or forms of poetry (with definitions and examples) like acrostic, haiku, lyric, narrative, and rhyme and more. Learn rhyme schemes, structure, form, stanzas, style, rhythm, and meter, etc. for all forms of poetry.

What is "Form" in Poetry?

Poetic form can be defined in many ways, but it is essentially a type of poem that is defined by physical structure, rhythm, and other elements. It has a specific style or set of rules that must be used when writing. Even the literal shape that a poem takes on paper can matter when it comes to the type of poem. The line length, number of syllables, and subject matter are all important parts of poetic form.

See also: What is Form in Poetry? | Poetry Terminology

Poetry Forms by Letter


Popular Types

Free verse

Definition

A free verse is a type of poem that does not follow a specific meter or a specific rhyme scheme. There is no fixed form. A free verse poem does not have a specific rhyme pattern that it needs to follow and there are no set rules to writing a poem in free verse. The poem has natural pauses based on phrases. A person will pause in this poem like they would if they are speaking to another. This type of poem is also known as a vers libre. Those are the French words for free verse. There is no set length requirement to a free verse poem either. Free verse is used mostly in contemporary poetry. Free verse allows a person to express themselves through the words they are writing and not through specific meters. This will allow a person the freedom they need to chose which words to use and will focus on expressi their thoughts to the audience. 

Example

Fog
by Carl Sandburg

THE FOG comes
on little cat feet.

It sits looking
over harbor and city
on silent haunches
and then moves on.




Rhyme

Definition

A rhyme poem is a type of poem that, as the name suggests, rhymes. Rhyme poems are the most common known form of poetry. In a rhyme poem traditionally, one or more lines will rhyme. They may follow a specific meter or scheme in which to place the rhymes, which most often is placed at the end of each line.

Some poets, preferring to shake things up and make it their own, will place the rhymes sporadically throughout each line, ignoring any set meter to suit their poem and suit their taste or aim for a bigger impact. Some structured rhyme poems will have every two lines rhyme and then change for the next two and so on. Others will have a line with one rhyme, the next not matching suit, and then having the third rhyme with the first. Examples of rhyme poetry can be found in the work of Emily Dickinson. Rhyme poetry is enjoyed for the beautiful flow that they create. 

Example

Jabberwocky (First Two Stanzas)
Lewis Carroll

'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

"Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!"


Haiku

Definition

HAIKU (plural: haiku, from archaic Japanese): The term haiku is a fairly late addition to Japanese poetry. The poet Shiki coined the term in the nineteenth century from a longer, more traditional phrase, haikai renga no hokku ("the introductory lines of light linked verse"). To understand the haiku's history as a genre, peruse the vocabulary entries for its predecessors, the hokku and the haikai renga or renku.

The haiku follows several conventions:

  1. The traditional Japanese haiku consists of three lines. The first line contains five syllables, the second line contains seven, and the last line five. In Japanese, the syllables are further restricted in that each syllable must have three sound units (sound-components formed of a consonant, a vowel, and another consonant). The three unit-rule is usually ignored in English haiku since English syllables vary in size much more than in Japanese. Furthermore, in English translation, this 5/7/5 syllable count is occasionally modified to three lines containing 6/7/6 syllables respectively, since English is not as "compact" as Japanese.
  2. The traditional subject-matter is a Zen description of a location, natural phenomena, wildlife, or a common everyday occurrence. Insects and seasonal activities are particularly popular topics. If the subject-matter is something besides a scene from nature, or if it employs puns, elaborate symbols, or other forms of "cleverness," the poem is technically a senryu rather than a haiku. The point was that the imagery presents a "Zen snapshot" of the universe, setting aside logic and thought for a flash of intuitive insight. The haiku seeks to capture the qualities of experiencing the natural world uncluttered by "ideas." Often editors will talk about "the haiku moment"--that split second when we first experience something but before we begin to think about it. (In many ways, this idea might be contrasted usefully with the lyric moment in the English tradition of poetry; see lyric).
  3. The haiku is always set during a particular season or month as indicated by a kigo, or traditional season-word. This brief (and often subtle) reference to a season or an object or activity associated with that time of year establishes the predominant mood of the poem.
  4. It is striking a feature of the haiku that direct discussion of the poem's implications is forbidden, and symbolism or wordplay discouraged in a manner alien to Western poetry. The poet describes her subject in an unusual manner without making explicit commentary or explicit moral judgment. To convey such ideas, the genre often relies upon allusions to earlier haiku or implies a comparison between the natural setting and something else. Simplicity is more valued than "cleverness." Again, if the poet is being clever, using puns or symbols, the poem again is technically a senryu rather than a haiku.
  5. The poet often presents the material under a nom de plume rather than using her own name--especially in older haiku.
  6. Additionally, the haiku traditionally employ "the technique of cutting"--i.e., a division in thought between the earlier and later portions of the poem. (It is comparable to the volta of a sonnet). These two divisions must be able to stand independently from the other section, but each one must also enrich the reader's understanding of the other section. In English translation, this division is often indicated through punctuation marks such as a dash, colon, semicolon, or ellipsis.

Example

An example of classic hokku by Bashô:

an old pond—
the sound of a frog jumping
into water


Another Bashô classic:

the first cold shower;
even the monkey seems to want
a little coat of straw.


BLACKBIRD HAIKU

beautiful blackbird

chirruping the sweetest songs

morning has broken

Copyright © 


Lyric

Definition

A Lyric is a type of poem in which the expression is much more personal and tends to show more feeling or emotion throughout the piece. It is often a more formal type of poetry when it is read and written as well, typically spoken in the first person (I/me). There are also many different meters that can be used to express a lyric, or even a combination of meters as well. Even further, many will recognize a lyric within songs and music.

The art of lyric poem is actually derivative from the Ancient Greek culture, in which a lyric was often performed with some type of musical component to accompany it. Aside from Greek culture, we have also seen lyric poetry being used in Rome, China, and even during Medieval times. Of course, this type of poetry is still quite popular today, and can often be found in music in the current 21st century. 

Example

Pardon From The Storm

Take my heart and carry me to where all dreams are born. Into love's arms, oh such a place that's always safe and warm. Away from such deceitful lairs where blackened virtues swarm. into a light where peace must shine and grants us pardon from a storm. High above the mountain tops or low as low can be. Makes no difference where we are a wondrous lyric calls to me. Singing of your splendor like a miracle performed. I'll stay with you to find the port that grants us pardon from a storm.

Copyright © 


ABC

Definition

An ABC composition is the kind of poem where every word starts with a consecutive letter of the alphabet. In this type of poem, where a first word starts with A, its second word starts with B and it goes on like that. It can also depict poems where each line starts with a consecutive letter of the alphabetical order. These lines, usually 5 in number, create imagery, mood, and feeling where phrases 1 through to 4 are made of phrases, words and/ or clauses. The fifth line can begin with any letter and is usually composed as a sentence.

A variation of this type of poetry is where a writer can use any sound of the alphabet to start a phrase and follow it up with consecutive letters as described above. Each phrase is focused on building a central topic/theme of a poem.

While some ABC poems may cover all twenty-six letters of an alphabet, some may cover only five to six. 

Example

A better cat doesn't exist, four gentle hearts insist. Juggling kittens, leaping, mewing, now overturning pillows--quietly rush, sustain terror--understand: Vitality will explode yawning zzz's!

by LaVerna B. Johnson

(OR)

Although things are not perfect
Because of trial or pain
Continue in thanksgiving
Do not begin to blame
Even when the times are hard
Fierce winds are bound to blow

 




Blank verse

Definition

A blank verse poem is one which does not rhyme. However, it does have iambic pentameter, which refers to a rhythm where you have an unstressed syllable immediately followed by a stressed syllable. So, when you consider blank verse, think of it more as a 'beat', like a heart beat. For example, a heart beat rhythm goes something like this: Ba BOOM ba BOOM ba BOOM ba BOOM ba BOOM. Here, you can see that there exists an unstressed syllable, 'ba' followed by a stressed syllable, 'BOOM'. In the study of literature, this pattern of 'ba BOOM' is referred to as an iambic foot. Pentameter tells us that there are five, 'pentameter' feet to a line or as in our example five 'ba BOOM's per line. It is estimated that up to three-quarters of the world's poetry is written in blank verse.

While iambic pentameter is the most common form of blank verse, there are other types as well. These types include Trochee Blank Verse, Anapest Blank Verse, and Dactyl Blank Verse. In Trochee Blank Verse, you have a stressed/unstressed syllable rhythm. Anapest Blank Verse's rhythm is composed of unstressed/unstressed/stressed syllables, and Dactyl Blank Verse has stressed/unstressed/unstressed syllables.

If you've ever read John Milton's Paradise Lost, that is an example of a poem done in blank verse. This literary device is also used for monologues. This is where one character speaks his or her thoughts to an audience. One of the most famous monologues in history is from Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, which begins: Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears. So while blank verse usually uses iambic pentameter, it can be written in any meter, and have no exact number of lines. However, it is important to not confuse blank verse poetry with free verse poetry, as free verse follows no specific literary rules, having no meter or no set rhythm. Free verse is meant to represent freedom from literary rules, closely mirroring our natural speech patterns. 

Example

You stars that reign'd at my nativity,
Whose influence hath alloted death and hell,
Now draw up Faustus like a foggy mist
Into the entrails of yon labouring clouds,
That when they vomit forth into the air,
My limbs may issue from their smoky mouths,
So that my soul may but ascend to Heaven.


Narrative

Definition

A narrative is story-telling, in this case in the form of a poem, where events or accounts are chronicled throughout the tale and to an audience. The dialogue between the narrator and characters within the story is often spoke in various combinations of metered verse but does not necessarily always have a rhyming aspect to it. There can be many different forms of narratives within poetry, both long and short, and they often will fall under the category of one of the following: ballads, lays, idylls, or epics.

The tradition and basis of narrative poetry can be traced back thousands and thousands of years, often being told through oral tales and legends. Some of the most popular examples that we have seen stand the test of time include Beowulf, which is the oldest poem in known English history, The Tales of Robin Hood, The Canterbury Tales, and many more. Often more than not, these narrative poems are written and told to tell a story that portrays a lesson or a specific theme for the readers and audience to learn and comprehend.

Example

The Raven

by Edgar Allan Poe

Limerick

Definition

A limerick is a five-line, often humorous and ribald poem with a strict meter. Lines 1, 2, and 5 of have seven to ten syllables (three metrical feet) and rhyme with one another. Lines 3 and 4 have five to seven (two metrical feet) syllables and also rhyme with each other. The rhyme scheme is usually "A-A-B-B-A".

Limerick Rhythm

Limericks have a distinct rhythm. The rhythm is as follows:

da DUM da da DUM da da DUM   7-10 syllables   A
da DUM da da DUM da da DUM   7-10 syllables   A
da DUM da da DUM                       5-7 syllables    B
da DUM da da DUM                       5-7 syllables    B
da DUM da da DUM da da DUM    7-10 syllables  A

Example

There once was a man from Nantucket
Who kept all his cash in a bucket.
      But his daughter, named Nan,
      Ran away with a man
And as for the bucket, Nantucket.


Acrostic

Definition

An Acrostic is a type of poem that does not need to rhyme and does not follow a line pattern. A person picks a word to write about and many people use their first names. They write the letter vertically down the page and each letter of the word is capitalized. A person then has to come up with ideas of phrases that decrease the word beginning with the same letter. A person starts at the top and uses each letter to write new phrases to create a poem.

This poem can be about any topic that a person wants. It can be about fun topics such as ice cream or video games. It can also be about serious topics such as emotions. It is up to the person that is writing the poem. There is no set word count as long as a person has a phrase for every letter in the word that they are using. 

Example

Here is an example in English, an Edgar Allan Poe poem titled simply An Acrostic:

Elizabeth it is in vain you say
"Love not" — thou sayest it in so sweet a way:
In vain those words from thee or L.E.L.
Zantippe's talents had enforced so well:
Ah! if that language from thy heart arise,
Breath it less gently forth — and veil thine eyes.
Endymion, recollect, when Luna tried
To cure his love — was cured of all beside —
His follie — pride — and passion — for he died.
 


Concrete

Definition

A concrete poem, also called pattern or shape poetry, has a visual appearance that matches the subject matter of the poem. There is a strong attention to the form of the poem when it comes to concrete poetry in comparison to other poems. When you select the object that will be the focal point of your poetry, you will be able to write a concrete poem.

 

When writing a concrete poem decide what you want to write about. The shape can be something that will represent your writing well. It could be a star, heart, or an animal shape, etc. Now draw your shape onto a piece of paper with your pencil.As you think about your picture or shape, begin to think about a list of words that describe your picture. Write them down on your paper. Now, as you begin to think about words that describe your picture, think about the poem that you will use with these words to compose your concrete poem. As your poem is developed, you should begin to see a story that is happening right in front of your eyes, about the shape that you have drawn. The Concrete poem is simply a shape that you have imagined and then created a poem around the words that describe your shape. 

Example

Triangle

I
am
a very
special
shape I have
three points and
three lines straight.
Look through my words
and you will see, the shape
that I am meant to be. I'm just
not words caught in a tangle. Look
close to see a small triangle. My angles
add to one hundred and eighty degrees, you
learn this at school with your abc's. Practice your
maths and you will see, some other fine examples of me.

Name

Definition

A name poem is a type of poem that starts each line with the letters of a name. A name poem can also be known as an acrostic poem. The beauty of the name poem is in its simplicity and ability to create a more personal connection to the poem. If you are writing for a person with the name poem you can create a more intimate meaning. A name poem does not have any rule other than to use the letters of the name to start each line. It is a commonly used as one of the first forms of poetry to teach young students.

Example

John

John is an athlete
On Saturdays he likes to sleep in
His favorite food is pizza
Never call him Johnny