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Poetry Forms | Common Types of Poems with Examples

Poetry forms, examples, or common types of poems. Poetic form can be defined in different ways, but it is essentially a type of poem defined by the poem's physical structure. Additionally, it defines a specific style or set of rules that must be used for writing that form (Quatrain, couplet, ballad, haiku, sonnet, elegy, and ode are all popular poetry forms). Even the literal shape that a poem takes on a paper can matter when it comes to poetry forms. The line length, number of syllables in a given line, content, the rhyme scheme, the meter, and the rhythm of the lines in a poem are all important parts of poetic form. See the article, What is Form in Poetry?

See also Poetry Terms

Poetry Forms by Letter


Popular Types of Poetry

ABC

Definition

See note below: Poetry in which every word begins with a successive letter of the alphabet. The first word begins with A, the second with B, etc. (OR) A poem that has 5 lines that create a mood, picture, or feeling. Lines 1 through 4 are made up of words, phrases or clauses - and the first word of each line is in alphabetical order from the first word. Line 5 is one sentence, beginning with any letter.

Note: ABC as a form has been used to describe anything from an Abecedarian poem (above), to an Acrostic poem, and other things. ABC typically has been used as a catch-all for sequential alphabet poems that may not necessarily use the entire alphabet like an Abecedarian poem. So, in reality, "ABC" is just an acrostic poem using successive letters of the alphabet per line or stanza.

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




Acrostic

Definition

A poem, usually in verse, in which the first or the last letters of the lines, or certain other letters, taken in order, form a name, word, phrase, or motto.

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.


Ballad

Definition

A story in a song, usually a narrative song or poem. Any form of story may be told as a ballad (not to be confused with a ballade), ranging from accounts of historical events to fairy tales in verse form. It is usually with foreshortened alternating four- and three-stress lines ('ballad meter') and simple repeating rhymes, and often with a refrain.

A popular kind of narrative poem, adapted for recitation or singing; esp., a sentimental or romantic poem in short stanzas.

Example

ANNABEL LEE

by Edgar Allan Poe
(1849)

It was many and many a year ago,
In a kingdom by the sea,
That a maiden there lived whom you may know
By the name of ANNABEL LEE;--
And this maiden she lived with no other thought
Than to love and be loved by me.
She was a child and I was a child,
In this kingdom by the sea,
But we loved with a love that was more than love--
I and my Annabel Lee--
With a love that the winged seraphs of heaven
Coveted her and me.

And this was the reason that, long ago,
In this kingdom by the sea,
A wind blew out of a cloud by night
Chilling my Annabel Lee;
So that her high-born kinsman came
And bore her away from me,
To shut her up in a sepulchre
In this kingdom by the sea.

The angels, not half so happy in Heaven,
Went envying her and me:--
Yes! that was the reason (as all men know,
In this kingdom by the sea)
That the wind came out of a cloud, chilling
And killing my Annabel Lee.

But our love it was stronger by far than the love
Of those who were older than we--
Of many far wiser than we-
And neither the angels in Heaven above,
Nor the demons down under the sea,
Can ever dissever my soul from the soul
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee:--

For the moon never beams without bringing me dreams
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And the stars never rise but I see the bright eyes
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And so, all the night-tide, I lie down by the side
Of my darling, my darling, my life and my bride,
In her sepulchre there by the sea--
In her tomb by the side of the sea.

Bio

Definition

A poem written about one self's life, personality traits, and ambitions.

Example

Line 1: First name
Line 2: Four traits that describe you
Line 3: Brother/ Sister of ... (may substitute son/daughter of)
Line 4: Lover of ... (Give names of three people or ideas)
Line 5: Who feels ... (Give three feelings)
Line 6: Who fears ... (Give three items)
Line 7: Who would like to see ... (Give three items)
Line 8: Resident of ... (Give city and state)
Line 9: Last name only

Example: Devin Dusseau

Devin
Mother, daughter, friend, teacher
Sister of Deanna, Denise, and Danny
Lover of Grace, flowers, and Michigan Football
Who feels pain, love, and excitement
Who fears failure, loss, and large spiders
Who would like to see Florence, Hawaii, and Brazil
Resident of Adrian, Michigan
Dusseau


Blank verse

Definition

A type of poetry, distinguished by having a regular meter, but no rhyme. In English, the meter most commonly used with blank verse has been iambic pentameter. The iambic pentameter form often resembles the rhythms of speech. Verse that does not employ a rhyme scheme. Blank verse, however, is not the same as free verse because it employs a meter e.g. Paradise Lost by John Milton which is written in iambic pentameters.

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.


Couplet

Definition

Rhyming stanzas made up of two lines. A pair of lines of a verse that form a unit. Some couplets rhyme aa, but this is not a requirement.


COUPLET, a pair of lines of verse, which are welded together by an identity of rhyme. The New English Dict. derives the use of the word from the French couplet, signifying two pieces of iron riveted or hinged together. In rhymed verse two lines which complete a meaning in themselves are particularly known as a couplet. Thus, in Pope’s Eloisa to Abelard:—

“Speed the soft intercourse from soul to soul,

And waft a sigh from Indus to the Pole.”

In much of old English dramatic literature, when the mass of the composition is in blank verse or even in prose, particular emphasis is given by closing the scene in a couplet. Thus, in the last act of Beaumont and Fletcher’s Thierry and Theodoret the action culminates in an unexpected rhyme:—

“And now lead on; they that shall read this story

Shall find that virtue lives in good, not glory.”

In French literature, the term couplet is not confined to a pair of lines, but is commonly used for a stanza. A “square” couplet, in French, for instance, is a strophe of eight lines, each composed of eight syllables. In this sense it is employed to distinguish the more emphatic parts of a species of verse which is essentially gay, graceful and frivolous, such as the songs in a vaudeville or a comic opera. In the 18th century, Le Sage, Piron and even Voltaire did not hesitate to engage their talents on the production of couplets, which were often witty, if they had no other merit, and were well fitted to catch the popular ear. This signification of the word couplet is not unknown in England, but it is not customary; it is probably used in a stricter and a more technical sense to describe a pair of rhymed lines, whether serious or merry. The normal type, as it may almost be called, of English versification is the metre of ten-syllabled rhymed lines designated as heroic couplet. This form of iambic verse, with five beats to each line, is believed to have been invented by Chaucer, who employs it first in the Prologue The Legend of Good Women the composition of which is attributed to the year 1385. That poem opens with the couplet:—

“A thousand times have I heard man tell

That there is joy in heaven and pain in hell.”

This is an absolutely correct example of the heroic couplet, which ultimately reached such majesty in the hands of Dryden and such brilliancy in those of Pope. It has been considered proper for didactic, descriptive and satirical poetry, although in the course of the 19th century blank verse largely took its place. Epigram often selects the couplet as the vehicle of its sharpened arrows, as in Sir John Harington’s

“Treason doth never prosper: what’s the reason?

Why, if it prosper, none dare call it treason.”

Example

Example (J. Kilmer - Trees):

I THINK that I shall never see (a)
A poem lovely as a tree. (a)

A tree whose hungry mouth is prest (b)
Against the sweet earth's flowing breast; (b)


Dramatic monologue

Definition

A type of long lyric poem, developed during the Victorian period, in which a character in fiction or in history delivers a lengthy speech explaining his or her feelings, actions, or motives.

Example

Ulysses
Alfred Lord Tennyson

It little profits that an idle king,
By this still hearth, among these barren crags,
Matched with an aged wife, I mete and dole
Unequal laws unto a savage race,
That hoard, and sleep, and feed, and know not me.

I cannot rest from travel: I will drink
Life to the lees: all times I have enjoyed
Greatly, have suffered greatly, both with those
That loved me, and alone; on shore, and when
Through scudding drifts the rainy Hyades
Vest the dim sea: I am become a name;
For always roaming with a hungry heart
Much have I seen and known; cities of men
And manners, climates, councils, governments,
Myself not least, but honoured of them all;
And drunk delight of battle with my peers;
Far on the ringing plains of windy Troy.
I am part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethrough
Gleams that untravelled world, whose margin fades
For ever and for ever when I move.
How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnished, not to shine in use!
As though to breath were life. Life piled on life
Were all to little, and of one to me
Little remains: but every hour is saved
From that eternal silence, something more,
A bringer of new things; and vile it were
For some three suns to store and hoard myself,
And this gray spirit yearning in desire
To follow knowledge like a sinking star,
Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.

This is my son, mine own Telemachus,
To whom I leave the scepter and the isle
Well-loved of me, discerning to fulfill
This labour, by slow prudence to make mild
A rugged people, and through soft degrees
Subdue them to the useful and the good.
Most blameless is he, centered in the sphere
Of common duties, decent not to fail
In offices of tenderness, and pay
Meet adoration to my household gods,
When I am gone. He works his work, I mine.

There lies the port; the vessel puffs her sail:
There gloom the dark broad seas. My mariners,
Souls that have toiled, and wrought, and thought with me
That ever with a frolic welcome took
The thunder and the sunshine, and opposed
Free hearts, free foreheads you and I are old;
Old age had yet his honour and his toil;
Death closes all: but something ere the end,
Some work of noble note, may yet be done,
Not unbecoming men that strove with Gods.
The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks:
The long day wanes: the slow moon climbs: the deep
Moans round with many voices. Come, my friends,
'Tis not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.
Though much is taken, much abides; and though
We are not now that strength which in the old days
Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are,
One equal-temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

Ulysses
Alfred Lord Tennyson

Dramatic Verse

Definition

Any drama written as verse to be spoken; another possible general term is poetic drama.

Epic

Definition

An extensive, serious poem that tells the story about a heroic figure. A broadly defined genre of poetry, and one of the major forms of narrative literature. It retells in a continuous narrative the life and works of a heroic or mythological person or group of persons.

Example

  • The Iliad, ascribed to Homer (Greek mythology)
  • The Odyssey, ascribed to Homer (Greek mythology)

  • Free verse

    Definition

    A term describing various styles of poetry that are not written using strict meter or rhyme, but that still are recognizable as 'poetry' by virtue of complex patterns of one sort or another that readers can perceive to be part of a coherent whole.

    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.


    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 phenomona, 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.

    Here is an example of a haiku by a Western writer, James Kirkup:

    In the amber dusk
    Each island dreams its own night--
    The sea swarms with gold
    .

    The following poem serves as an example very loosely translated from Japanese:

    Yagate shinu
    Keshiki wa miezu
    Semi no koe
    [O cricket, from your cheery cry
    No one could ever guess
    How quickly you must die.]

    This example illustrates the haiku's lack of authorial commentary or explanation--the desire merely to present the experience of nature:

    Samidare wo
    Atsumete hayashi
    Mogami-gawa
    [Gathering all
    The rains of May
    The swift Mogami River.]

    Many Japanese poets have used the form, the two acknowledged masters being Bashó (a nom de plume for Matsuo Munefusa, 1644-94); and Kobayashi Issa (a nom de plume for Kobayashi Nobuyuki). The Imagist Movement in 20th century English literature has been profoundly influenced by haiku. The list of poets who attempted the haiku or admired the genre includes Ezra Pound, Amy Lowell, Robert Frost, Conrad Aiken, and W. B. Yeats. Contrast haiku with the tanka and the senryu. See also hokku, below, and haikai, above. See also kigo and imagism. You can click here to download a PDF handout summarizing this discussion of haiku, or you can click here to download PDF samples of haiku.

    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.

    Light Poetry

    Definition

    Light poetry, also called light verse, is poetry that attempts to be humorous. Poems considered "light" are usually brief, and can be on a frivolous or serious subject, and often feature wordplay, including puns, adventurous rhyme and heavy alliteration.

    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.


    Lyric

    Definition

    A poem that expresses the thoughts and feelings of the poet.

    Monoku

    Definition

    A haiku in a single horizontal line.

    Example

    an icicle the moon drifting through it

    Matsuo Allard (Bird Day Afternoon, High/Coo Press, 1978)

    Narrative

    Definition

    Narrative poetry is poetry that tells a story. In its broadest sense, it includes epic poetry; some would reserve the name narrative poetry for works on a smaller scale and generally with more direct appeal to human interest than the epic.

    Example

    The Raven

    by Edgar Allan Poe

    Personification

    Definition

    A form of poetry in which human characteristics are attributed to nonhuman things. Personification offers the poet a way to give the world life and motion by assigning familiar human behaviors and emotions to animals, inanimate objects, and abstract ideas.

    Example

    Fog
    Carl Sandburg (1878–1967).

    THE FOG comes
    on little cat feet.

    It sits looking
    over harbor and city
    on silent haunches 5
    and then moves on.


    Prose Poetry

    Definition

    Prose is writing distinguished from poetry by its greater variety of rhythm and its closer resemblance to the patterns of everyday speech. The word prose comes from the Latin prosa, meaning straightforward. This describes the type of writing that prose embodies, unadorned with obvious stylistic devices. Prose writing is usually adopted for the description of facts or the discussion of ideas. Thus, it may be used for newspapers, magazines, novels, encyclopedias, screenplays, films, philosophy, letters, essays, history, biography and many other forms of media.

    Prose poetry is usually considered a form of poetry written in prose that breaks some of the normal rules associated with prose discourse, for heightened imagery or emotional effect, among other purposes. Arguments continue about whether prose poetry is actually a form of poetry or a form of prose (or a separate genre altogether). Like poetry (intense, sculpted) but without line breaks.

    Example

    The Port
    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------
    A Port is a delightful place of rest for a soul weary of life's battles. The vastness of the sky, the mobile architecture of the clouds, the changing coloration of the sea, the twinkling of the lights, are a prism marvellously fit to amuse the eyes without ever tiring them. The slender shapes of the ships with their complicated rigging, to which the surge lends harmonious oscillations, serve to sustain within the soul the taste for rhythm and beauty. Also, and above all, for the man who of mysterious and aristocratic pleasure in contemplating, while lying on the belvedere or resting his elbows on the jetty-head, all these movements of men who are leaving and men who are returning, of those who still have the strength to will, the desire to travel or to enrich themselves.

    --Charles Baudelaire--

    Quatrain

    Definition

    A stanza or poem consisting of four lines. In the basic form, Lines 2 and 4 must rhyme while having a similar number of syllables.

    Example

    The wind doth blow today, my love
    And a few small drops of rain;
    I never had but one true-love
    In cold grave she was lain.


    Rhyme

    Definition

    A rhyming poem has the repetition of the same or similar sounds of two or more words, often at the end of the line.

    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!"


    Romanticism

    Definition

    A poem about nature and love while having emphasis on the personal experience.

    Example

    Silvia
    by William Shakespeare

    Who is Silvia? What is she?
    That all our swains commend her?
    Holy, fair, and wise is she;
    The heaven such grace did lend her,
    That she might admired be.

    Is she kind as she is fair?
    For beauty lives with kindness:
    Love doth to her eyes repair,
    To help him of his blindness;
    And, being help'd, inhabits there.

    Then to Silvia let us sing,
    That Silvia is excelling;
    She excels each mortal thing
    Upon the dull earth dwelling:
    To her let us garlands bring.

    Senryu

    Definition

    A short Japanese style poem, similar to haiku in structure, however, senryû tend to be about human foibles while haiku tend to be about nature, and senryû are often cynical or darkly humorous and satiric while haiku are serious.

    Example

    The robber,
    if I catch,
    my own son

    Sonnet

    Definition

    Lyric poems that are 14 lines that usually have one or more conventional rhyme schemes.

    Example

    Into My Own
    by Robert Frost

    ONE of my wishes is that those dark trees,
    So old and firm they scarcely show the breeze,
    Were not, as ’twere, the merest mask of gloom,
    But stretched away unto the edge of doom.

    I should not be withheld but that some day 5
    Into their vastness I should steal away,
    Fearless of ever finding open land,
    Or highway where the slow wheel pours the sand.

    I do not see why I should e’er turn back,
    Or those should not set forth upon my track 10
    To overtake me, who should miss me here
    And long to know if still I held them dear.

    They would not find me changed from him they knew—
    Only more sure of all I thought was true.

    Tanka

    Definition

    A Japanese poem of five lines, the first and third composed of five syllables and the others seven. In Japanese, tanka is often written in one straight line, but in English and other languages, we usually divide the lines into the five syllabic units: 5-7-5-7-7.

    Each tanka is divided into two segments. The first three lines are the upper phrase, and the last two lines are the lower phrase. The upper phrase typically contains an image, and the lower phrase exposes the poet's ideas about that image. 

    Tanka poems are similar to a haiku but have two additional lines and usually feature as its subject very strong emotion or love. Conversely, Haikus are typically about nature. 

    Example

    Since the nightingale
    kept soundless, its song’s echo 
    renders mestone deaf.
    If it would know my sorrow
    would it  maybe sing again?

     

     

    Vasile Moldovan

     

     


    Saying Goodbye

     

    Carefully I walk
    Trying so hard to be brave
    They all see my fear
    Dark glasses cover their eyes
    As mine flow over with tears

     

    Author Unknown


    Mother's silent pain
    carved with her dead son in arms
    Cold and timeless pain
    like the Carrara marble
    like our always current sins
    Ruben O.
     

     


    Verse

    Definition

    Verse is a single metrical line of poetry, or poetry in general (as opposed to prose which uses grammatical units like sentences and paragraphs). "Verse" is also used as a general term for metrical composition. Not all verse is poetry and sacred books such as the Holy Bible are divided into small verses.