Have you ever wondered why poetry doesn’t always rhyme? Or why some poems are only five lines long? Well, the short answer is that poetry can take on many different forms! Even the simplest-looking poems have been intricately crafted to convey a particular message or emotion.
There are fifteen different types of poems. Each one has its own set of characteristics. The type of poem determines its length, structure, rhyme scheme, and rhythmic patterns. The most common types are free verse, sonnets, lyrical and rhymed poetry.
If you’re anything like me, you’re already itching to know more about the ways that poets use language to express their innermost thoughts and feelings. Poetry covers a vast range of topics, so there is a genre of poetry for everyone! With that said, let’s take a look at the fifteen different types of poetry.
Blank verse was first introduced into England in the early 16th century by a poet named Henry Howard. His translation of ‘The Aeneid,’ which was initially written by the Roman poet, Publius Vergilius Maro, gave rise to the style of blank verse.
Characteristics of Blank Verse Poetry:
Blank verse is not the same as free verse. It has specific characteristics which define the style of this type of poem.
The first defining feature of blank verse is that it has no fixed number of lines. However, each regular line of the poem has ten syllables, five of which are stressed.
The rhythm usually follows a pattern in which every second syllable is stressed. This type of rhythm is commonly known as iambic pentameter.
Most often used in dramatic monologues and narrative or reflective poems, blank verse is unrhyming. It has a standard meter that is used for dramatic effect and emphasis on certain words or syllables.
William Shakespeare’s “To be or not to be” from Hamlet is an example of blank verse. This is the most commonly referenced piece of blank verse.
A rhymed poem is a poem that contains rhyming vowel sounds at specific moments throughout the poem. Repetition of vowel sounds is known as assonance.
The earliest rhyming poem in English is believed to be “The Rhyming Poem,” found in the Exeter Book, which is the most extensive remaining collection of Old English poetry.
Types of Rhymed Poetry:
Rhyming poetry takes many forms. These are identified according to their structure.
The first form is that of perfect rhyme. Also referred to as exact rhyme or true rhyme, perfect rhyme is where both rhyming words share the exact assonance and number of syllables.
Slant rhyme is another type of rhyming poetry. This type of rhyme is formed by words, assonance, and amounts of syllables that are much the same but not identical. This type of rhyme is also called imperfect rhyme.
Then, there is eye rhyme. Eye rhyme is where two words appear similar in writing but don’t rhyme in the spoken word.
There are two other forms of rhyme which represent two different aspects of the same pattern. These are masculine rhyme and feminine rhyme. Masculine rhyme is when the final stressed syllables of any two lines rhyme.
Feminine rhyme represents multi-syllable rhyme where both stressed and unstressed syllables rhyme with their respective counterparts.
End rhymes occur between the last words of any two lines of poetry. End rhymes can be either masculine or feminine.
Free verse was established in English poetry in the early 20th century. Walt Whitman is credited for his decision to write in free verse. It is speculated that the Biblical Psalms may have influenced his free verse poetry.
Free verse is open poetry that does not use a regular meter, rhyme, or rhythmic pattern. It flows very similar to natural speech patterns and is often seen as the most easy-flowing form of poetry to recite.
These poems illustrate the artistic expression of the poet without the use of any fixed rhythm or rhyme schemes. In this way, the poet is free to take creative liberty with regard to structure and shape.
Purpose of Free Verse Poetry
The purpose of this type of poetry is to allow the poet to freely express their ideas and feelings, using alliteration, rhyme, assonance, and repetition. These poems showcase the author’s writing and creative abilities, as their work is not being criticized for structure or shape but rather for the content of the poem alone.
Structure and Characteristics
Although these types of poems are free from the standard conventions of structured poetry, they have key characteristics which define their style and make them easier to identify.
These works do not follow a structured rhyme scheme and have no fixed rules. They have no regular meter or rhythmic pattern. It is based purely on the practices of natural, everyday speech, and this should be made clear through the style of the poem.
Free verse poetry is also called “vers libre,” which is the French translation of the words “free verse.” If the free verse is used correctly, it can easily create some of the most expressive and breathtaking poems.
An epic poem is a lengthy and descriptive narrative poem that is centered around significant cultural figures and events. These events are usually meaningful to the poet or relevant to their cultural background. Olden English poets used epic poetry to convey tales of heroes and their achievements.
The earliest recorded examples of the epic poem are believed to be about the story of Gilgamesh, who was a Babylonian hero.
Characteristics of Epics:
Epics have five distinctive features.
· The hero of the poem is historically or culturally significant.
· The setting is not fixed to one area of the world and may span across many different parts of the world.
· The hero’s actions tell a tale of bravery, selflessness, or any other desirable quality.
· The work usually contains mentions of supernatural deities or forces.
· The author should write the poem from an objective point of view.
Commonly Practiced Conventions of Epics:
Epics usually start with the mention of a specific theme. The poem’s narrative most commonly begins with the hero at his lowest point amid a significant event or crisis. The focus on particular places, people, and objects usually pays homage to the culture of the audience members.
The main character or characters of the poem may make many formal speeches. Metaphors, idioms, and proverbs are prevalent throughout the poem, emphasizing the poem’s subject.
The earliest poetry was not written but rather spoken, recited, sung, or chanted.
Format of Narrative Poetry
A narrative poem is usually quite long. It is poetry that describes the events of a complete story. It has a beginning, middle, and end. Narrative poetry contains all the elements of a fully developed story. These elements include a set of characters, a plot, some conflict, and an eventual resolution. A precise setting is defined.
Narrative poetry does not require a set rhyming pattern. However, it is a metered poem that defines clear objectives and has a selected target audience. The purpose of these poems is to entertain the desired audience.
Defining Characteristics of Narrative Poetry
These poems are identified by at least one character, a plot, and will often resolve a conflict.
In simple terms, a narrative poem has a plot with a beginning, middle, and end. It may be short, long, complex, or straightforward. It is only necessary that the verse tells a nondramatic story and holds an objective regular scheme and meter.
The haiku is rooted in Japanese culture. It was defined during the 1600s as a way of challenging conventional poetic structures by shortening the content.
Aim of a Haiku
The haiku focuses on a short moment of bliss or enlightenment. It is commonly centered around nature and the elements. Traditional Japanese haiku will include a ‘kigo’ (seasonal reference). They attempt to establish a between mother nature and human nature.
Structure of a Haiku
Haiku is often divided into two asymmetrical parts that do not make a complete sentence. They use simple language and create vivid yet simple images with little or no more detail than is necessary. The most important element of a haiku is to capture a fleeting moment in its essence.
It is usually composed of seventeen syllables in three short lines. The first line contains five syllables, the second line has seven syllables, and the third line has five syllables. A haiku is always written in the present tense, with an emphasized pause at the end of either the first or second line. This verse usually does not rhyme.
Punctuation and capitalization in these poems do not need to follow the rigid rules of the language in which it is written. The poet may use their discretion and take artistic liberty with the use of the language.
An elegy is a poem that is a lament for the dead. The poem’s themes are usually ones of grief, mourning, and reflection. Elegies are used to the feelings and emotions of the poet.
The tone of this verse is usually somber or sorrowful. Its purpose is to express mourning or praise a deceased individual.
Elegiac poetry can be traced back to the poets of Ancient Greece and was made famous during the Renaissance era. Since then, elegies have become a commonly used type of poetry in the English language.
Characteristics of Elegies
Elegiac stanzas usually contain the following characteristics:
· The stanzas consist of four lines (quatrain)
· It is written in the rhyme scheme of ABAB
· Lines are written in iambic pentameter
While this is the typical structure of an elegy, these are not hard and fast rules. These structural conventions provide a loose guideline from which poets can draw their inspiration for the format of their work.
The most well-known elegy is “Lycidas” by John Milton. This poem mourns the death of Milton’s dear friend, Edward King.
A limerick is a five-lined verse that aims to come across as non-sensical and humorous. The limerick is a classic structure in English poetry. The earliest available examples of this verse date back to the early 11th century!
Limericks can be rude or ribald in nature, which is usually where the humor lies.
Format and Structure of a Limerick:
It is important to follow a specific format when writing limericks. The first, second, and fifth lines must have seven to ten syllables. These lines should rhyme and follow the same verbal rhythm. The third and fourth lines should contain five to seven syllables.
These, too, should rhyme and follow a predetermined vocal rhythm. The rhyme scheme is usually AABBA.
The fifth line, being the last line of the poem, should contain the punch line. The last line holds the essence of a limerick. Although limericks are traditionally humorous, they can be used to bring light to a political or social issue through satire or sarcasm.
A lyric poem is a short, song-like verse that conveys intense emotion. Lyrical poetry is a personal expression of emotion by a single speaker.
Lyric is the most familiar verse form, but ironically, it is also the hardest to classify. Any event which may evoke an emotional reaction can serve as inspiration for this verse.
Structure of Lyric Poetry
Lyric poetry does not have any predetermined form. Compared to other poetry, which uses literary devices for emphasis or rhyme, lyric poetry uses these devices to convey emotion and achieve musicality. This verse is commonly written in free verse, as it does not have a prescribed structure or rhyme scheme.
Sonnets are a perfect example of lyrical poetry and gave rise to this elegant style. Reading sonnets with this knowledge will help you interpret them more effectively. We will discuss the types of sonnets and their structures further on.
A piece that perfectly encapsulates the essence of this unique type of verse is Sonnet 18, by William Shakespeare.
Ballad poems are poems that are intended to be read aloud. They have a traditional rhyming structure, which follows a form of rhymed quatrains—the lines of the stanzas alternate between four-stress and three-stress lines.
A ballad was initially a tale, sung or recited as part of an oral tradition among rural societies and often involved retellings of local folk legends. Literary ballads are deliberate creations by poets that take after conventional ballads in both form and spirit.
“Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” written by Samuel Coleridge, is an excellent example of a ballad. The poem is very rigidly structured in meter and rhyme, increasing its dramatic effect when read aloud.
Characteristics of a Ballad
Several defining characteristics form a ballad.
Firstly, it combines elements from both lyric and narrative poetry. A ballad should read like a song that tells a story.
Ballad poetry usually begins with a surprising element and uses simple language. It concentrates on a single event or story. The theme of this verse is often tragic or sad. Specific detail is not usually mentioned. Instead, the story is described through dialogue and attention to the choice of words.
It is also common for ballads to have consistent repetition.
Structure of a Ballad
The physical structure consists of four-line stanzas with four stresses in the first and third lines and three in the last line. This poem will contain a conflict and a resolution.
The villanelle is a strictly structured poem composed of nineteen lines. These lines are divided into five tercets (three rhyming lines) followed by a quatrain (four lines) with two repeated rhymes and two refrains.
Common Themes Mentioned in Villanelle Poetry
Villanelles frequently deal with obsessions, and their repetition prevents them from being conventional in tone. A villanelle’s defining characteristic is its appeal to outsiders. Common themes explored in villanelle poetry include love, loss, and challenge.
Structure of Villanelle Poems:
The first and third lines of the introductory tercet are alternately repeated in the final lines of the successive stanzas. One can express this structure as A2 b A3 / a b A2 / a b A2 / a b A2 / a b A2 / a b A2 A3.
As outlandish as it may seem for such a rigidly structured poem, the villanelle did not begin as with a fixed form. The French poets who wrote villanelle poetry did not follow any structure or set of rules.
Dylan Thomas’s “Do not go gentle into that good night.” is a brilliant example of this structure in action.
Traditionally, the sonnet contains fourteen lines which are written in iambic pentameter. It follows a tightly structured format and has a strict set of rules. There are two types of sonnets—namely, the Petrarchan Sonnet and the Shakespearean Sonnet.
The most common sonnet is the Petrarchan or Italian sonnet. The Petrarchan sonnet is split into two stanzas, the octave and answering sestet. The octet follows the rhyme scheme ABBA, while the sestet follows either the CDECDE or CDCDCD rhyming pattern. This structure is best suited for the Italian language, which is naturally rhythmic and full of rhymes.
Order and Characteristics of the Petrarchan Sonnet
The Petrarchan presents an answerable charge in the octave. An apparent turn or conclusion occurs between the eighth and ninth lines. Consequently, a shift is experienced, preparing the reader for the counterargument or answer in the sestet.
The first quatrain introduces the problem, while the second quatrain develops it. The beginning of the sestet, known as the volta, introduces a pronounced change in tone. The purpose of the sestet is to comment on the problem or offer a solution.
Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, whose own translations of Petrarch are considered more faithful to the original though less fine to the ear, modified the Petrarchan. This established the structure that is now known as the Shakespearean sonnet. This structure is better adapted to the English language.
The second significant type of sonnet, the Shakespearean, or English sonnet, follows different rules. The primary difference between the English and Italian sonnet is how the poem’s 14 lines are grouped.
Themes explored in Shakespearean Sonnets
Various themes exist in Shakespeare’s sonnets. Love is the most common theme throughout his work. Shakespeare’s sonnets also emphasize the way that physical beauty fades over time. Shakespeare focuses on the value of eternalizing beauty through reproduction.
Regarding the theme of time, Shakespeare asserts that works of literature are the only things that can counter time.
Using a sonnet structure developed by Sydenham and Wyatt, Shakespeare employed the sonnet in his love poetry.
Structure of Shakespearean Sonnets
Shakespeare’s sonnet is composed of three quatrains and a couplet. The rhyme scheme follows a simple ABAB CDCD EFEF GG format. The couplet (GG) plays a pivotal role, often bringing together, amplifying, or even refuting the previous three stanzas and giving the poem an epiphanic feel.
The placement of the volta is flexible, in contrast to the Petrarchan sonnet, where the volta has a fixed position.
The last type of sonnet, and the least popular among modern poets, is the Spenserian sonnet. It was established by the writer Edmund Spenser. Although he is best known for his books titled ‘The Faerie Queene,’ he also wrote many sonnets.
Structure Compared to Other Sonnets
The sonnets are fourteen lines long, which adheres to the general structure of a sonnet. Similar to the Shakespearean sonnet, the poem contains three quatrains and a final couplet. The rhyme scheme of Spenserian sonnets is ABAB BCBC CDCD EE.
Spenser chose to structure the sonnet in a way that would place less emphasis on the problem-solution format.
In pastoral poetry, the author imagines a paradise where one can escape the stresses of modern life. All pastoral poetry originates from the word of the Greek poet Theocritus, who focused his work on shepherds who lived peaceful and fulfilling lives in the quiet haven of their land.
Imagery in Pastoral Poetry
Pastoral poetry often uses shepherds as the poem’s focus, as they represent religious or political figures. This metaphor is aided by the connection between Christianity, as well as the shepherd and their sheep. The symbolism portrayed in the poem romanticizes a time where people lived in total harmony with nature.
These poems do not need to be based in reality, as the imagery created is an idealized version of the world, which is essentially unattainable.
There are four subgenres of pastoral poetry. These are the country house poem, pastoral elegy, a pastoral romance, and pastoral drama. Each subgenre focuses on a different aspect of the life of those who live in this idealized reality.
Structure of a Pastoral Poem
There is no fixed rhyme scheme or structure for these poems, as the focus is on the content, and the poem itself may be identified as any of the other types of poems such as elegies, rhyming poetry, etc.
To fully appreciate poetry as delicate art, it is helpful to have some background knowledge as to what each type of poetry encompasses. This knowledge proves that poetry is not only about rules and structures. It is up to the writer to establish their style and choose a type of poetry that effectively portrays their message.
Poetry uses language to express emotions and opinions, which may be difficult to communicate without using literary devices such as rhyme, assonance, alliteration, and onomatopoeia. You can also interpret it according to your personal opinions and experiences.
Poetry can portray cultural knowledge, which can help to educate others about cultural diversity.
Now you can fully appreciate poetry and experience it from a fresh perspective. Perhaps this has inspired you to write your poetry!