Poetry (the term derives from a variant of the Greek term, poiesis,
"making") is a form of literature that uses aesthetic and
rhythmic qualities of language—such as phonaesthetics,
sound symbolism, and metre—to evoke meanings in addition to, or in
place of, the prosaic ostensible meaning.
Poetry has a long history, dating back to the Sumerian Epic of
Gilgamesh. Early poems evolved from folk songs such as the Chinese
Shijing, or from a need to retell oral epics, as with the Sanskrit
Vedas, Zoroastrian Gathas, and the Homeric epics, the
Iliad and the
Odyssey. Ancient attempts to define poetry, such as Aristotle's
Poetics, focused on the uses of speech in rhetoric, drama, song and
comedy. Later attempts concentrated on features such as repetition,
verse form and rhyme, and emphasized the aesthetics which distinguish
poetry from more objectively informative, prosaic forms of writing.
Poetry uses forms and conventions to suggest differential
interpretation to words, or to evoke emotive responses. Devices such
as assonance, alliteration, onomatopoeia and rhythm are sometimes used
to achieve musical or incantatory effects. The use of ambiguity,
symbolism, irony and other stylistic elements of poetic diction often
leaves a poem open to multiple interpretations. Similarly figures of
speech such as metaphor, simile and metonymy create a resonance
between otherwise disparate images—a layering of meanings, forming
connections previously not perceived. Kindred forms of resonance may
exist, between individual verses, in their patterns of rhyme or
Some poetry types are specific to particular cultures and genres and
respond to characteristics of the language in which the poet writes.
Readers accustomed to identifying poetry with Dante, Goethe,
Rumi may think of it as written in lines based on rhyme
and regular meter; there are, however, traditions, such as Biblical
poetry, that use other means to create rhythm and euphony. Much modern
poetry reflects a critique of poetic tradition, playing with and
testing, among other things, the principle of euphony itself,
sometimes altogether forgoing rhyme or set rhythm. In today's
increasingly globalized world, poets often adapt forms, styles and
techniques from diverse cultures and languages.
History and lists
Glossary of terms
Theory (critical theory)
1.1 Western traditions
1.2 20th-century and 21st-century disputes
2.1.3 Metrical patterns
2.2 Rhyme, alliteration, assonance
2.2.1 Rhyming schemes
2.3 Form in poetry
2.3.1 Lines and stanzas
2.3.2 Visual presentation
4.2 Lyric poetry
4.3 Epic poetry
4.4 Satirical poetry
4.6 Verse fable
4.7 Dramatic poetry
4.8 Speculative poetry
4.10 Light poetry
5 See also
7 Further reading
History of poetry
History of poetry and Literary theory
Some scholars believe that the art of poetry may predate literacy.
Others, however, suggest that poetry did not necessarily predate
The oldest surviving epic poem, the Epic of Gilgamesh, comes from the
3rd millennium BCE in
Sumer (in Mesopotamia, now Iraq), and was
written in cuneiform script on clay tablets and, later, on
papyrus. A tablet dating to c. 2000 BCE describes an
annual rite in which the king symbolically married and mated with the
Inanna to ensure fertility and prosperity; it is considered
the world's oldest love poem. An example of Egyptian epic
poetry is The
Story of Sinuhe
Story of Sinuhe (c. 1800 BCE).
An early Chinese poetics, the Kǒngzǐ Shīlùn (孔子詩論),
Shijing (Classic of Poetry)
Other ancient epic poetry includes the Greek epics, the
Iliad and the
Odyssey; the Avestan books, the Gathic Avesta and the Yasna; the Roman
national epic, Virgil's Aeneid; and the Indian epics, the
the Mahabharata. Epic poetry, including the Odyssey, the Gathas, and
the Indian Vedas, appears to have been composed in poetic form as an
aid to memorization and oral transmission, in prehistoric and ancient
Other forms of poetry developed directly from folk songs. The earliest
entries in the oldest extant collection of Chinese poetry, the
Shijing, were initially lyrics.
The efforts of ancient thinkers to determine what makes poetry
distinctive as a form, and what distinguishes good poetry from bad,
resulted in "poetics"—the study of the aesthetics of poetry.
Some ancient societies, such as China's through her
of Poetry), developed canons of poetic works that had ritual as well
as aesthetic importance. More recently, thinkers have struggled to
find a definition that could encompass formal differences as great as
those between Chaucer's Canterbury Tales and Matsuo Bashō's Oku no
Hosomichi, as well as differences in context spanning
poetry, love poetry, and rap.
Classical thinkers employed classification as a way to define and
assess the quality of poetry. Notably, the existing fragments of
Poetics describe three genres of poetry—the epic, the
comic, and the tragic—and develop rules to distinguish the
highest-quality poetry in each genre, based on the underlying purposes
of the genre. Later aestheticians identified three major genres:
epic poetry, lyric poetry, and dramatic poetry, treating comedy and
tragedy as subgenres of dramatic poetry.
Aristotle's work was influential throughout the Middle East during the
Islamic Golden Age, as well as in Europe during the
Renaissance. Later poets and aestheticians often distinguished
poetry from, and defined it in opposition to prose, which was
generally understood as writing with a proclivity to logical
explication and a linear narrative structure.
This does not imply that poetry is illogical or lacks narration, but
rather that poetry is an attempt to render the beautiful or sublime
without the burden of engaging the logical or narrative thought
process. English Romantic poet
John Keats termed this escape from
logic "Negative Capability". This "romantic" approach views form
as a key element of successful poetry because form is abstract and
distinct from the underlying notional logic. This approach remained
influential into the 20th century.
During this period, there was also substantially more interaction
among the various poetic traditions, in part due to the spread of
European colonialism and the attendant rise in global trade. In
addition to a boom in translation, during the Romantic period numerous
ancient works were rediscovered.
20th-century and 21st-century disputes
Some 20th-century literary theorists, relying less on the opposition
of prose and poetry, focused on the poet as simply one who creates
using language, and poetry as what the poet creates. The
underlying concept of the poet as creator is not uncommon, and some
modernist poets essentially do not distinguish between the creation of
a poem with words, and creative acts in other media. Yet other
modernists challenge the very attempt to define poetry as
The rejection of traditional forms and structures for poetry that
began in the first half of the 20th century coincided with a
questioning of the purpose and meaning of traditional definitions of
poetry and of distinctions between poetry and prose, particularly
given examples of poetic prose and prosaic poetry. Numerous modernist
poets have written in non-traditional forms or in what traditionally
would have been considered prose, although their writing was generally
infused with poetic diction and often with rhythm and tone established
by non-metrical means. While there was a substantial formalist
reaction within the modernist schools to the breakdown of structure,
this reaction focused as much on the development of new formal
structures and syntheses as on the revival of older forms and
Recently, postmodernism has come to convey more completely prose and
poetry as distinct entities, and also among genres of poetry, as
having meaning only as cultural artifacts.
Postmodernism goes beyond
modernism's emphasis on the creative role of the poet, to emphasize
the role of the reader of a text (Hermeneutics), and to highlight the
complex cultural web within which a poem is read. Today,
throughout the world, poetry often incorporates poetic form and
diction from other cultures and from the past, further confounding
attempts at definition and classification that were once sensible
within a tradition such as the Western canon.
The early 21st century poetic tradition appears to continue to
strongly orient itself to earlier precursor poetic traditions such as
those initiated by Whitman, Emerson, and Wordsworth. The literary
Geoffrey Hartman has used the phrase "the anxiety of demand" to
describe contemporary response to older poetic traditions as "being
fearful that the fact no longer has a form", building on a trope
introduced by Emerson. Emerson had maintained that in the debate
concerning poetic structure where either "form" or "fact" could
predominate, that one need simply "Ask the fact for the form." This
has been challenged at various levels by other literary scholars such
as Bloom who has stated in summary form concerning the early 21st
century that: "The generation of poets who stand together now, mature
and ready to write the major American verse of the twenty-first
century, may yet be seen as what Stevens called 'a great shadow's last
embellishment,' the shadow being Emerson's."
Main article: Meter (poetry)
Prosody is the study of the meter, rhythm, and intonation of a poem.
Rhythm and meter are different, although closely related. Meter is
the definitive pattern established for a verse (such as iambic
pentameter), while rhythm is the actual sound that results from a line
of poetry. Prosody also may be used more specifically to refer to the
scanning of poetic lines to show meter.
Main articles: Timing (linguistics), tone (linguistics), and Pitch
The methods for creating poetic rhythm vary across languages and
between poetic traditions. Languages are often described as having
timing set primarily by accents, syllables, or moras, depending on how
rhythm is established, though a language can be influenced by multiple
approaches. Japanese is a mora-timed language. Syllable-timed
languages include Latin, Catalan, French, Leonese, Galician and
Spanish. English, Russian and, generally, German are stress-timed
languages. Varying intonation also affects how rhythm is
perceived. Languages can rely on either pitch, such as in Vedic
Sanskrit or Ancient Greek, or tone. Tonal languages include Chinese,
Vietnamese and most Subsaharan languages.
Metrical rhythm generally involves precise arrangements of stresses or
syllables into repeated patterns called feet within a line. In Modern
English verse the pattern of stresses primarily differentiate feet, so
rhythm based on meter in Modern English is most often founded on the
pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables (alone or elided). In
the classical languages, on the other hand, while the metrical units
are similar, vowel length rather than stresses define the meter.
Old English poetry used a metrical pattern involving varied numbers of
syllables but a fixed number of strong stresses in each line.
The chief device of ancient Hebrew Biblical poetry, including many of
the psalms, was parallelism, a rhetorical structure in which
successive lines reflected each other in grammatical structure, sound
structure, notional content, or all three. Parallelism lent itself to
antiphonal or call-and-response performance, which could also be
reinforced by intonation. Thus,
Biblical poetry relies much less on
metrical feet to create rhythm, but instead creates rhythm based on
much larger sound units of lines, phrases and sentences. Some
classical poetry forms, such as
Venpa of the Tamil language, had rigid
grammars (to the point that they could be expressed as a context-free
grammar) which ensured a rhythm. In Chinese poetry, tones as well
as stresses create rhythm. Classical Chinese poetics identifies four
tones: the level tone, rising tone, departing tone, and entering
The formal patterns of meter used in Modern English verse to create
rhythm no longer dominate contemporary English poetry. In the case of
free verse, rhythm is often organized based on looser units of cadence
rather than a regular meter. Robinson Jeffers, Marianne Moore, and
William Carlos Williams
William Carlos Williams are three notable poets who reject the idea
that regular accentual meter is critical to English poetry.
Jeffers experimented with sprung rhythm as an alternative to accentual
Attic red-figure kathalos painting of
Sappho from circa 470 BC
Main article: Systems of scansion
In the Western poetic tradition, meters are customarily grouped
according to a characteristic metrical foot and the number of feet per
line. The number of metrical feet in a line are described using
Greek terminology: tetrameter for four feet and hexameter for six
feet, for example. Thus, "iambic pentameter" is a meter comprising
five feet per line, in which the predominant kind of foot is the
"iamb". This metric system originated in ancient Greek poetry, and was
used by poets such as
Pindar and Sappho, and by the great tragedians
of Athens. Similarly, "dactylic hexameter", comprises six feet per
line, of which the dominant kind of foot is the "dactyl". Dactylic
hexameter was the traditional meter of Greek epic poetry, the earliest
extant examples of which are the works of
Homer and Hesiod. Iambic
pentameter and dactylic hexameter were later used by a number of
William Shakespeare and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow,
respectively. The most common metrical feet in English are:
Homer: Roman bust, based on Greek original
iamb – one unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable (e.g.
des-cribe, in-clude, re-tract)
trochee – one stressed syllable followed by an unstressed syllable
(e.g. pic-ture, flow-er)
dactyl – one stressed syllable followed by two unstressed syllables
(e.g. an-no-tate, sim-i-lar)
anapest – two unstressed syllables followed by one stressed syllable
spondee – two stressed syllables together (e.g. heart-beat,
pyrrhic – two unstressed syllables together (rare, usually used to
end dactylic hexameter)
There are a wide range of names for other types of feet, right up to a
choriamb, a four syllable metric foot with a stressed syllable
followed by two unstressed syllables and closing with a stressed
syllable. The choriamb is derived from some ancient Greek and Latin
poetry. Languages which utilize vowel length or intonation rather
than or in addition to syllabic accents in determining meter, such as
Ottoman Turkish or Vedic, often have concepts similar to the iamb and
dactyl to describe common combinations of long and short sounds.
Each of these types of feet has a certain "feel," whether alone or in
combination with other feet. The iamb, for example, is the most
natural form of rhythm in the English language, and generally produces
a subtle but stable verse. Scanning meter can often show the basic
or fundamental pattern underlying a verse, but does not show the
varying degrees of stress, as well as the differing pitches and
lengths of syllables.
There is debate over how useful a multiplicity of different "feet" is
in describing meter. For example,
Robert Pinsky has argued that while
dactyls are important in classical verse, English dactylic verse uses
dactyls very irregularly and can be better described based on patterns
of iambs and anapests, feet which he considers natural to the
language. Actual rhythm is significantly more complex than the
basic scanned meter described above, and many scholars have sought to
develop systems that would scan such complexity. Vladimir Nabokov
noted that overlaid on top of the regular pattern of stressed and
unstressed syllables in a line of verse was a separate pattern of
accents resulting from the natural pitch of the spoken words, and
suggested that the term "scud" be used to distinguish an unaccented
stress from an accented stress.
Carroll's "Hunting of the Snark" is mainly in anapestic tetrameter.
Main article: Meter (poetry)
Different traditions and genres of poetry tend to use different
meters, ranging from the Shakespearean iambic pentameter and the
Homeric dactylic hexameter to the anapestic tetrameter used in many
nursery rhymes. However, a number of variations to the established
meter are common, both to provide emphasis or attention to a given
foot or line and to avoid boring repetition. For example, the stress
in a foot may be inverted, a caesura (or pause) may be added
(sometimes in place of a foot or stress), or the final foot in a line
may be given a feminine ending to soften it or be replaced by a
spondee to emphasize it and create a hard stop. Some patterns (such as
iambic pentameter) tend to be fairly regular, while other patterns,
such as dactylic hexameter, tend to be highly irregular.
Regularity can vary between language. In addition, different patterns
often develop distinctively in different languages, so that, for
example, iambic tetrameter in Russian will generally reflect a
regularity in the use of accents to reinforce the meter, which does
not occur, or occurs to a much lesser extent, in English.
Some common metrical patterns, with notable examples of poets and
poems who use them, include:
Iambic pentameter (John Milton, Paradise Lost; William Shakespeare,
Dactylic hexameter (Homer, Iliad; Virgil, Aeneid)
Iambic tetrameter (Andrew Marvell, "To His Coy Mistress"; Alexander
Pushkin, Eugene Onegin; Robert Frost, Stopping by Woods on a Snowy
Trochaic octameter (Edgar Allan Poe, "The Raven")
Trochaic tetrameter (Henry Wadsworth Longfellow) "The
Hiawatha"; the Finnish national epic "Kalevala" is also in trochaic
tetrameter, the natural rhythm of Finnish and Estonian.
Alexandrine (Jean Racine, Phèdre)
Rhyme, alliteration, assonance
Old English epic poem
Beowulf is in alliterative verse.
Main articles: Rhyme,
Alliterative verse, and Assonance
Rhyme, alliteration, assonance and consonance are ways of creating
repetitive patterns of sound. They may be used as an independent
structural element in a poem, to reinforce rhythmic patterns, or as an
ornamental element. They can also carry a meaning separate from
the repetitive sound patterns created. For example,
Chaucer used heavy
alliteration to mock
Old English verse and to paint a character as
Rhyme consists of identical ("hard-rhyme") or similar ("soft-rhyme")
sounds placed at the ends of lines or at predictable locations within
lines ("internal rhyme"). Languages vary in the richness of their
rhyming structures; Italian, for example, has a rich rhyming structure
permitting maintenance of a limited set of rhymes throughout a lengthy
poem. The richness results from word endings that follow regular
forms. English, with its irregular word endings adopted from other
languages, is less rich in rhyme. The degree of richness of a
language's rhyming structures plays a substantial role in determining
what poetic forms are commonly used in that language.
Alliteration is the repetition of letters or letter-sounds at the
beginning of two or more words immediately succeeding each other, or
at short intervals; or the recurrence of the same letter in accented
parts of words.
Alliteration and assonance played a key role in
structuring early Germanic, Norse and
Old English forms of poetry. The
alliterative patterns of early Germanic poetry interweave meter and
alliteration as a key part of their structure, so that the metrical
pattern determines when the listener expects instances of alliteration
to occur. This can be compared to an ornamental use of alliteration in
most Modern European poetry, where alliterative patterns are not
formal or carried through full stanzas.
Alliteration is particularly
useful in languages with less rich rhyming structures.
Assonance, where the use of similar vowel sounds within a word rather
than similar sounds at the beginning or end of a word, was widely used
in skaldic poetry, but goes back to the Homeric epic. Because
verbs carry much of the pitch in the English language, assonance can
loosely evoke the tonal elements of
Chinese poetry and so is useful in
translating Chinese poetry. Consonance occurs where a consonant
sound is repeated throughout a sentence without putting the sound only
at the front of a word. Consonance provokes a more subtle effect than
alliteration and so is less useful as a structural element.
Dante and Beatrice see God as a point of light.
In many languages, including modern European languages and Arabic,
poets use rhyme in set patterns as a structural element for specific
poetic forms, such as ballads, sonnets and rhyming couplets. However,
the use of structural rhyme is not universal even within the European
tradition. Much modern poetry avoids traditional rhyme schemes.
Classical Greek and
Latin poetry did not use rhyme.
European poetry in the High Middle Ages, in part under the influence
Arabic language in
Al Andalus (modern Spain). Arabic
language poets used rhyme extensively from the first development of
literary Arabic in the sixth century, as in their long, rhyming
qasidas. Some rhyming schemes have become associated with a
specific language, culture or period, while other rhyming schemes have
achieved use across languages, cultures or time periods. Some forms of
poetry carry a consistent and well-defined rhyming scheme, such as the
chant royal or the rubaiyat, while other poetic forms have variable
Most rhyme schemes are described using letters that correspond to sets
of rhymes, so if the first, second and fourth lines of a quatrain
rhyme with each other and the third line does not rhyme, the quatrain
is said to have an "a-a-b-a" rhyme scheme. This rhyme scheme is the
one used, for example, in the rubaiyat form. Similarly, an
"a-b-b-a" quatrain (what is known as "enclosed rhyme") is used in such
forms as the Petrarchan sonnet. Some types of more complicated
rhyming schemes have developed names of their own, separate from the
"a-b-c" convention, such as the ottava rima and terza rima. The
types and use of differing rhyming schemes is discussed further in the
Form in poetry
Poetic form is more flexible in modernist and post-modernist poetry,
and continues to be less structured than in previous literary eras.
Many modern poets eschew recognisable structures or forms, and write
in free verse. But poetry remains distinguished from prose by its
form; some regard for basic formal structures of poetry will be found
in even the best free verse, however much such structures may appear
to have been ignored. Similarly, in the best poetry written in
classic styles there will be departures from strict form for emphasis
Among major structural elements used in poetry are the line, the
stanza or verse paragraph, and larger combinations of stanzas or lines
such as cantos. Also sometimes used are broader visual presentations
of words and calligraphy. These basic units of poetic form are often
combined into larger structures, called poetic forms or poetic modes
(see following section), as in the sonnet or haiku.
Lines and stanzas
Poetry is often separated into lines on a page. These lines may be
based on the number of metrical feet, or may emphasize a rhyming
pattern at the ends of lines. Lines may serve other functions,
particularly where the poem is not written in a formal metrical
pattern. Lines can separate, compare or contrast thoughts expressed in
different units, or can highlight a change in tone. See the
article on line breaks for information about the division between
Lines of poems are often organized into stanzas, which are denominated
by the number of lines included. Thus a collection of two lines is a
couplet (or distich), three lines a triplet (or tercet), four lines a
quatrain, and so on. These lines may or may not relate to each other
by rhyme or rhythm. For example, a couplet may be two lines with
identical meters which rhyme or two lines held together by a common
Blok's Russian poem, "Noch, ulitsa, fonar, apteka" ("Night, street,
lamp, drugstore"), on a wall in Leiden
Other poems may be organized into verse paragraphs, in which regular
rhymes with established rhythms are not used, but the poetic tone is
instead established by a collection of rhythms, alliterations, and
rhymes established in paragraph form. Many medieval poems were
written in verse paragraphs, even where regular rhymes and rhythms
In many forms of poetry, stanzas are interlocking, so that the rhyming
scheme or other structural elements of one stanza determine those of
succeeding stanzas. Examples of such interlocking stanzas include, for
example, the ghazal and the villanelle, where a refrain (or, in the
case of the villanelle, refrains) is established in the first stanza
which then repeats in subsequent stanzas. Related to the use of
interlocking stanzas is their use to separate thematic parts of a
poem. For example, the strophe, antistrophe and epode of the ode form
are often separated into one or more stanzas.
In some cases, particularly lengthier formal poetry such as some forms
of epic poetry, stanzas themselves are constructed according to strict
rules and then combined. In skaldic poetry, the dróttkvætt stanza
had eight lines, each having three "lifts" produced with alliteration
or assonance. In addition to two or three alliterations, the odd
numbered lines had partial rhyme of consonants with dissimilar vowels,
not necessarily at the beginning of the word; the even lines contained
internal rhyme in set syllables (not necessarily at the end of the
word). Each half-line had exactly six syllables, and each line ended
in a trochee. The arrangement of dróttkvætts followed far less rigid
rules than the construction of the individual dróttkvætts.
Main article: Visual poetry
Even before the advent of printing, the visual appearance of poetry
often added meaning or depth.
Acrostic poems conveyed meanings in the
initial letters of lines or in letters at other specific places in a
poem. In Arabic, Hebrew and Chinese poetry, the visual
presentation of finely calligraphed poems has played an important part
in the overall effect of many poems.
With the advent of printing, poets gained greater control over the
mass-produced visual presentations of their work. Visual elements have
become an important part of the poet's toolbox, and many poets have
sought to use visual presentation for a wide range of purposes. Some
Modernist poets have made the placement of individual lines or groups
of lines on the page an integral part of the poem's composition. At
times, this complements the poem's rhythm through visual caesuras of
various lengths, or creates juxtapositions so as to accentuate
meaning, ambiguity or irony, or simply to create an aesthetically
pleasing form. In its most extreme form, this can lead to concrete
poetry or asemic writing.
Main article: Poetic diction
Poetic diction treats the manner in which language is used, and refers
not only to the sound but also to the underlying meaning and its
interaction with sound and form. Many languages and poetic forms
have very specific poetic dictions, to the point where distinct
grammars and dialects are used specifically for poetry.
Registers in poetry can range from strict employment of ordinary
speech patterns, as favoured in much late-20th-century prosody,
through to highly ornate uses of language, as in medieval and
Poetic diction can include rhetorical devices such as simile and
metaphor, as well as tones of voice, such as irony.
Aristotle wrote in
Poetics that "the greatest thing by far is to be a master of
metaphor." Since the rise of Modernism, some poets have opted for
a poetic diction that de-emphasizes rhetorical devices, attempting
instead the direct presentation of things and experiences and the
exploration of tone. On the other hand, Surrealists have pushed
rhetorical devices to their limits, making frequent use of
Allegorical stories are central to the poetic diction of many
cultures, and were prominent in the West during classical times, the
late Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Aesop's Fables, repeatedly
rendered in both verse and prose since first being recorded about 500
B.C., are perhaps the richest single source of allegorical poetry
through the ages. Other notables examples include the Roman de la
Rose, a 13th-century French poem, William Langland's Piers Ploughman
in the 14th century, and Jean de la Fontaine's Fables (influenced by
Aesop's) in the 17th century. Rather than being fully allegorical,
however, a poem may contain symbols or allusions that deepen the
meaning or effect of its words without constructing a full
Another element of poetic diction can be the use of vivid imagery for
effect. The juxtaposition of unexpected or impossible images is, for
example, a particularly strong element in surrealist poetry and
haiku. Vivid images are often endowed with symbolism or metaphor.
Many poetic dictions use repetitive phrases for effect, either a short
phrase (such as Homer's "rosy-fingered dawn" or "the wine-dark sea")
or a longer refrain. Such repetition can add a sombre tone to a poem,
or can be laced with irony as the context of the words changes.
See also: Category:Poetic form
Specific poetic forms have been developed by many cultures. In more
developed, closed or "received" poetic forms, the 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. Described below are some common forms of poetry
widely used across a number of languages. Additional forms of poetry
may be found in the discussions of poetry of particular cultures or
periods and in the glossary.
Main article: Sonnet
Among the most common forms of poetry, popular from the Late Middle
Ages on, is the sonnet, which by the 13th century had become
standardized as fourteen lines following a set rhyme scheme and
logical structure. By the 14th century and the Italian Renaissance,
the form had further crystallized under the pen of Petrarch, whose
sonnets were translated in the 16th century by Sir Thomas Wyatt, who
is credited with introducing the sonnet form into English
literature. A traditional Italian or
Petrarchan sonnet follows
the rhyme scheme abba, abba, cdecde, though some variation, especially
within the final six lines (or sestet), is common. The English
(or Shakespearean) sonnet follows the rhyme scheme abab, cdcd, efef,
gg, introducing a third quatrain (grouping of four lines), a final
couplet, and a greater amount of variety with regard to rhyme than is
usually found in its Italian predecessors. By convention, sonnets in
English typically use iambic pentameter, while in the Romance
languages, the hendecasyllable and
Alexandrine are the most widely
Sonnets of all types often make use of a volta, or "turn," a point in
the poem at which an idea is turned on its head, a question is
answered (or introduced), or the subject matter is further
complicated. This volta can often take the form of a "but" statement
contradicting or complicating the content of the earlier lines. In the
Petrarchan sonnet, the turn tends to fall around the division between
the first two quatrains and the sestet, while English sonnets usually
place it at or near the beginning of the closing couplet.
Carol Ann Duffy
Sonnets are particularly associated with high poetic diction, vivid
imagery, and romantic love, largely due to the influence of Petrarch
as well as of early English practitioners such as
Edmund Spenser (who
gave his name to the Spenserian sonnet), Michael Drayton, and
Shakespeare, whose sonnets are among the most famous in English
poetry, with twenty being included in the Oxford
Book of English
Verse. However, the twists and turns associated with the volta
allow for a logical flexibility applicable to many subjects.
Poets from the earliest centuries of the sonnet to the present have
utilized the form to address topics related to politics (John Milton,
Percy Bysshe Shelley, Claude McKay), theology (John Donne, Gerard
Manley Hopkins), war (Wilfred Owen, e. e. cummings), and gender and
sexuality (Carol Ann Duffy). Further, postmodern authors such as Ted
John Berryman have challenged the traditional definitions
of the sonnet form, rendering entire sequences of "sonnets" that often
lack rhyme, a clear logical progression, or even a consistent count of
Du Fu, "On Visiting the Temple of Laozi"
Main article: Shi (poetry)
Shi (simplified Chinese: 诗; traditional Chinese: 詩; pinyin: shī;
Wade–Giles: shih) Is the main type of Classical Chinese poetry.
Within this form of poetry the most important variations are "folk
song" styled verse (yuefu), "old style" verse (gushi), "modern style"
verse (jintishi). In all cases, rhyming is obligatory. The
Yuefu is a
folk ballad or a poem written in the folk ballad style, and the number
of lines and the length of the lines could be irregular. For the other
variations of shi poetry, generally either a four line (quatrain, or
jueju) or else an eight line poem is normal; either way with the even
numbered lines rhyming. The line length is scanned by according number
of characters (according to the convention that one character equals
one syllable), and are predominantly either five or seven characters
long, with a caesura before the final three syllables. The lines are
generally end-stopped, considered as a series of couplets, and exhibit
verbal parallelism as a key poetic device. The "old style" verse
(gushi) is less formally strict than the jintishi, or regulated verse,
which, despite the name "new style" verse actually had its theoretical
basis laid as far back as
Shen Yue (441–513 CE), although not
considered to have reached its full development until the time of Chen
Zi'ang (661–702 CE). A good example of a poet known for his
gushi poems is
Li Bai (701–762 CE). Among its other rules, the
jintishi rules regulate the tonal variations within a poem, including
the use of set patterns of the four tones of Middle Chinese. The basic
form of jintishi (lushi) 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 (712–770 CE), who wrote during the Tang
Dynasty (8th century).
W. H. Auden
Main article: Villanelle
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 19th
century by such poets as Dylan Thomas, W. H. Auden, and
Main article: Limerick (poetry)
A limerick is a poem that consists of five lines and is often
Rhythm is very important in limericks for the first, second
and fifth lines must have seven to ten syllables. However, the third
and fourth lines only need five to seven. All of the lines must rhyme
and have the same rhythm.
Kakinomoto no Hitomaro
Main article: Tanka
Tanka is a form of unrhymed Japanese poetry, with five sections
totalling 31 onji (phonological units identical to morae), structured
in a 5-7-5-7-7 pattern. There is generally a shift in tone and
subject matter between the upper 5-7-5 phrase and the lower 7-7
Tanka were written as early as the
Asuka period by such poets
Kakinomoto no Hitomaro
Kakinomoto no Hitomaro (fl. late 7th century), at a time when Japan
was emerging from a period where much of its poetry followed Chinese
Tanka was originally the shorter form of Japanese formal
poetry (which was generally referred to as "waka"), and was used more
heavily to explore personal rather than public themes. By the tenth
century, tanka had become the dominant form of Japanese poetry, to the
point where the originally general term waka ("Japanese poetry") came
to be used exclusively for tanka.
Tanka are still widely written
Main article: Haiku
Haiku is a popular form of unrhymed Japanese poetry, which evolved in
the 17th century from the hokku, or opening verse of a renku.
Generally written in a single vertical line, the haiku contains three
sections totalling 17 onji, structured in a 5-7-5 pattern.
Traditionally, haiku contain a kireji, or cutting word, usually placed
at the end of one of the poem's three sections, and a kigo, or
season-word. The most famous exponent of the haiku was Matsuo
Bashō (1644–94). An example of his writing:
fuji no kaze ya oogi ni nosete Edo miyage
the wind of Mt. Fuji
I've brought on my fan!
a gift from Edo
Main article: Ode
Odes were first developed by poets writing in ancient Greek, such as
Pindar, and Latin, such as Horace. Forms of odes appear in many of the
cultures that were influenced by the Greeks and Latins. 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 generally deal 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 resembles the ode is the qasida in Persian
Main article: Ghazal
The ghazal (also ghazel, gazel, gazal, or gozol) is a form of poetry
common in Arabic, Persian, Turkish, Azerbaijani,
Urdu and Bengali
poetry. In classic form, the ghazal has from five to fifteen rhyming
couplets that share a refrain at the end of the second line. This
refrain may be of one or several syllables, and is preceded by a
rhyme. Each line has an identical meter. The ghazal often reflects on
a theme of unattainable love or divinity.
As with 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 Rumi, a 13th-century
Persian poet. One of the most famous poet in this type of poetry
is Hafez. Themes of his
Ghazal is exposing hypocrisy. His life and
poems have been the subject of much analysis, commentary and
interpretation, influencing post-fourteenth century Persian writing
more than any other author.
West-östlicher Diwan of Johann
Goethe that is a collection of lyrical poems, has been
inspired by the Persian poet Hafez.
In addition to specific forms of poems, poetry is often thought of in
terms of different genres and subgenres. A poetic genre is generally a
tradition or classification of poetry based on the subject matter,
style, or other broader literary characteristics. Some
commentators view genres as natural forms of literature. Others view
the study of genres as the study of how different works relate and
refer to other works.
Narrative poetry is a genre of poetry that tells a story. Broadly it
subsumes epic poetry, but the term "narrative poetry" is often
reserved for smaller works, generally with more appeal to human
Narrative poetry may be the oldest type of poetry. Many
Homer have concluded that his
composed from compilations of shorter narrative poems that related
individual episodes. Much narrative poetry—such as Scottish and
English ballads, and Baltic and Slavic heroic poems—is performance
poetry with roots in a preliterate oral tradition. It has been
speculated that some features that distinguish poetry from prose, such
as meter, alliteration and kennings, once served as memory aids for
bards who recited traditional tales.
Notable narrative poets have included Ovid, Dante, Juan Ruiz, William
Langland, Chaucer, Fernando de Rojas, Luís de Camões, Shakespeare,
Alexander Pope, Robert Burns, Adam Mickiewicz, Alexander Pushkin,
Edgar Allan Poe, Alfred Tennyson, and Anne Carson.
Christine de Pizan
Christine de Pizan (left)
Main article: Lyric poetry
Lyric poetry is a genre that, unlike epic and dramatic poetry, does
not attempt to tell a story but instead is of a more personal nature.
Poems in this genre tend to be shorter, melodic, and contemplative.
Rather than depicting characters and actions, it portrays the poet's
own feelings, states of mind, and perceptions. Notable poets in
this genre include Christine de Pizan, John Donne, Gerard Manley
Hopkins, Antonio Machado, and Edna St. Vincent Millay.
Main article: Epic poetry
Epic poetry is a genre of poetry, and a major form of narrative
literature. This genre is often defined as lengthy poems concerning
events of a heroic or important nature to the culture of the time. It
recounts, in a continuous narrative, the life and works of a heroic or
mythological person or group of persons. Examples of epic poems
Iliad and Odyssey, Virgil's Aeneid, the Nibelungenlied,
Luís de Camões' Os Lusíadas, the Cantar de Mio Cid, the Epic of
Gilgamesh, the Mahabharata, Valmiki's Ramayana, Ferdowsi's Shahnama,
Nizami (or Nezami)'s Khamse (Five Books), and the Epic of King Gesar.
While the composition of epic poetry, and of long poems generally,
became less common in the west after the early 20th century, some
notable epics have continued to be written.
Derek Walcott won a Nobel
prize to a great extent on the basis of his epic, Omeros.
Poetry can be a powerful vehicle for satire. The Romans had a strong
tradition of satirical poetry, often written for political purposes. A
notable example is the Roman poet Juvenal's satires.
The same is true of the English satirical tradition.
John Dryden (a
Tory), the first Poet Laureate, produced in 1682 Mac Flecknoe,
Satire on the True Blue Protestant Poet, T.S." (a
reference to Thomas Shadwell). Another master of 17th-century
English satirical poetry was John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester.
Satirical poets outside England include Poland's Ignacy Krasicki,
Azerbaijan's Sabir and Portugal's Manuel Maria Barbosa du Bocage.
Main article: Elegy
An elegy is a mournful, melancholy or plaintive poem, especially a
lament for the dead or a funeral song. The term "elegy," which
originally denoted a type of poetic meter (elegiac meter), commonly
describes a poem of mourning. An elegy may also reflect something that
seems to the author to be strange or mysterious. The elegy, as a
reflection on a death, on a sorrow more generally, or on something
mysterious, may be classified as a form of lyric poetry.
Notable practitioners of elegiac poetry have included Propertius,
Jorge Manrique, Jan Kochanowski, Chidiock Tichborne, Edmund Spenser,
Ben Jonson, John Milton, Thomas Gray, Charlotte Turner Smith, William
Cullen Bryant, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe,
Evgeny Baratynsky, Alfred Tennyson, Walt Whitman, Louis Gallet,
Antonio Machado, Juan Ramón Jiménez, Giannina Braschi, William
Butler Yeats, Rainer Maria Rilke, and Virginia Woolf.
Main article: Fable
The fable is an ancient literary genre, often (though not invariably)
set in verse. It is a succinct story that features anthropomorphized
animals, plants, inanimate objects, or forces of nature that
illustrate a moral lesson (a "moral"). Verse fables have used a
variety of meter and rhyme patterns.
Notable verse fabulists have included Aesop, Vishnu Sarma, Phaedrus,
Marie de France, Robert Henryson, Biernat of Lublin, Jean de La
Fontaine, Ignacy Krasicki, Félix María de Samaniego, Tomás de
Ivan Krylov and Ambrose Bierce.
Main articles: Verse drama and dramatic verse, Theatre of ancient
Greece, Sanskrit drama, Chinese Opera, and Noh
Dramatic poetry is drama written in verse to be spoken or sung, and
appears in varying, sometimes related forms in many cultures. Greek
tragedy in verse dates to the 6th century B.C., and may have been an
influence on the development of Sanskrit drama, just as Indian
drama in turn appears to have influenced the development of the
bianwen verse dramas in China, forerunners of Chinese Opera. East
Asian verse dramas also include Japanese Noh. Examples of dramatic
Persian literature include Nizami's two famous dramatic
Layla and Majnun
Layla and Majnun and Khosrow and Shirin, Ferdowsi's tragedies
such as Rostam and Sohrab, Rumi's Masnavi, Gorgani's tragedy of Vis
and Ramin, and Vahshi's tragedy of Farhad.
Main article: Speculative poetry
Speculative poetry, also known as fantastic poetry (of which weird or
macabre poetry is a major sub-classification), is a poetic genre which
deals thematically with subjects which are "beyond reality", whether
via extrapolation as in science fiction or via weird and horrific
themes as in horror fiction. Such poetry appears regularly in modern
science fiction and horror fiction magazines.
Edgar Allan Poe
Edgar Allan Poe is
sometimes seen as the "father of speculative poetry". Poe's most
remarkable achievement in the genre was his anticipation, by
three-quarters of a century, of the
Big Bang theory
Big Bang theory of the universe's
origin, in his then much-derided 1848 essay (which, due to its very
speculative nature, he termed a "prose poem"), Eureka: A Prose
Prose poetry is a hybrid genre that shows attributes of both prose and
poetry. It may be indistinguishable from the micro-story (a.k.a. the
"short short story", "flash fiction"). While some examples of earlier
prose strike modern readers as poetic, prose poetry is commonly
regarded as having originated in 19th-century France, where its
practitioners included Aloysius Bertrand, Charles Baudelaire, Arthur
Rimbaud and Stéphane Mallarmé. Since the late 1980s especially,
prose poetry has gained increasing popularity, with entire journals,
such as The
Prose Poem: An International Journal, Contemporary
Haibun Online, and Haibun Today devoted to that genre and
its hybrids. Latin American poets of the 20th century who wrote prose
Octavio Paz and Giannina Braschi
Main article: Light poetry
Light poetry, or 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 word play, including puns,
adventurous rhyme and heavy alliteration. Although a few free verse
poets have excelled at light verse outside the formal verse tradition,
light verse in English is usually formal. Common forms include the
limerick, the clerihew, and the double dactyl.
While light poetry is sometimes condemned as doggerel, or thought of
as poetry composed casually, humor often makes a serious point in a
subtle or subversive way. Many of the most renowned "serious" poets
have also excelled at light verse. Notable writers of light poetry
include Lewis Carroll, Ogden Nash, X. J. Kennedy, Willard R. Espy, and
Glossary of poetry terms
List of poetry groups and movements
Outline of poetry
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Brooks, Cleanth (1947). The Well Wrought Urn: Studies in the Structure
of Poetry. Harcourt Brace & Company.
Finch, Annie (2011). A Poet's Ear: A Handbook of Meter and Form.
University of Michigan Press. ISBN 978-0-472-05066-6.
Fry, Stephen (2007). The
Ode Less Travelled: Unlocking the Poet
Within. Arrow Books. ISBN 978-0-09-950934-9.
Pound, Ezra (1951). ABC of Reading. Faber.
Preminger, Alex; Brogan, Terry VF; Warnke, Frank J (eds.). The New
Princeton Encyclopedia of
Poetics (3rd ed.). Princeton
University Press. ISBN 0-691-02123-6. CS1 maint: Uses
editors parameter (link)
Tatarkiewicz, Władysław, "The
Concept of Poetry", translated by
Christopher Kasparek, Dialectics and Humanism: The Polish
Philosophical Quarterly, vol. II, no. 2 (spring 1975), published in
Warsaw under the auspices of the
Polish Academy of Sciences
Polish Academy of Sciences by Polish
Scientific Publishers, pp. 13–24. (The text contains some
typographical errors.) A revised Polish-language version of this
article appears as "Dwa pojęcia poezji" ("Two Concepts of Poetry") in
the author's Parerga, Warsaw, Państwowe Wydawnictwo Naukowe, 1978,
pp. 20–38. Tatarkiewicz identifies two distinct concepts
subsumed within the term "poetry": traditional poetic form (rhymed,
rhythmic verse), now no longer deemed obligatory; and poetic
content—a certain state of mind—which can be evoked not only by
verbal arts but also by other arts—painting, sculpture, especially
music—as well as by nature, scenery, history, and everyday life.
Main article: List of poetry anthologies
Isobel Armstrong, Joseph Bristow, and Cath Sharrock (1996)
Nineteenth-Century Women Poets. An Oxford Anthology
Ferguson, Margaret; Salter, Mary Jo; Stallworthy, Jon, eds. (1996).
The Norton Anthology of Poetry (4th ed.). W. W. Norton & Co.
ISBN 0-393-96820-0. CS1 maint: Uses editors parameter (link)
Gardner, Helen, ed. (1972). New Oxford
Book of English Verse
1250–1950. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-812136-9.
Larkin, Philip, ed. (1973). The Oxford
Book of Twentieth Century
English Verse. Oxford University Press.
Lonsdale, Roger, ed. (1990). Eighteenth Century Women Poets by Roger
Lonsdale. Oxford University Press.
Mosley, Ivo, ed. (1994). The Green
Book of Poetry. Frontier
Publishing. ISBN 978-1872914060.
Mosley, Ivo, ed. (1996). Earth Poems: Poems from Around the World to
Honor The Earth. Harpercollins. ISBN 978-0062512833.
Ricks, Christopher, ed. (1999). The Oxford
Book of English Verse.
Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-214182-1.
Yeats, WB, ed. (1936). Oxford
Book of Modern Verse 1892–1935. Oxford
Poetry of different cultures and languages
Schools of poetry
Black Arts Movement
Black Mountain poets
Dolce Stil Novo
The poets of Elan
Generation of '27
Generation of the '30s
Generation of '98
New American Poetry
New York School
San Francisco Renaissance
Sons of Ben
Lists of poets
Early-modern women (UK)
Deus ex machina
In medias res
Figure of speech
Suspension of disbelief
Types of fiction with multiple endings
List of writing genres
Stream of consciousness
Stream of unconsciousness