Poetry (from the Greek 'poiesis'/ποίησις [poieo/ποιέω], a making: a forming, creating, or the art of poetry, or a poem) is a form of literary art in which language is used for its aesthetic and evocative qualities in addition to, or in lieu of, its apparent meaning. Poetry may be written independently, as discrete poems, or may occur in conjunction with other arts, as in poetic drama, hymns, lyrics, or prose poetry. It is published in dedicated magazines (the longest established being Poetry and Oxford Poetry), individual collections and wider anthologies.
Poetry has a long history, dating back to the Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh. The earliest poems evolved from folk songs, such as the Chinese Shijing, or from the need to retell oral epics, such as the Sanskrit Vedas, Zoroastrian Gathas, and the Homeric epics, the Odyssey and the Iliad. 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, such as manifestos, biographies, essays, and novels. From the mid-20th century, poetry has sometimes been more generally labeled as a fundamental creative act using language.
Poetry primarily is governed by idiosyncratic 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, 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 rhythm.
Some poetry types are specific to particular cultures and genres, responding to the characteristics of the language in which the poet writes. Readers accustomed to identifying poetry with Dante, Goethe, Mickiewicz and Rumi may think of it as being written in lines based upon rhyme and regular meter, there are traditions, such as Biblical poetry, that use other methodologies to create rhythm and euphony. Much of modern British and American poetry is to some extent a critique of poetic tradition, playing with and testing (among other things) the principle of euphony itself, to the extent that sometimes it deliberately does not rhyme or keep to set rhythms at all.   In today's globalized world poets often borrow styles, techniques and forms from diverse cultures and languages.
Poetry as an art form may predate literacy. Epic poetry, from the Indian Vedas (1700-1200 BC) and Zoroaster's Gathas (1200-900 BC) to the Odyssey (800-675 BC), appears to have been composed in poetic form to aid memorization and oral transmission, in prehistoric and ancient societies. Other forms of poetry developed directly from the recording of folk songs. The earliest entries in the Han Dynasty Shijing (1000 BC) were initially lyrics, preceding later entries intended to be read. Poetry appears among the earliest records of most literate cultures, with poetic fragments found on early monoliths, runestones, and stelae.
The oldest surviving epic poem is the Epic of Gilgamesh, from the 3rd millennium BC in Sumer (in Mesopotamia, now Iraq), which was written in cuneiform script on clay tablets and, later, papyrus. Other ancient epic poetry includes the Greek epics Iliad and Odyssey, the Old Iranian books the Gathic Avesta and Yasna, the Roman national epic, Virgil's Aeneid, and the Indian epics Ramayana and Mahabharata.
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 the Chinese through the Shi Jing, one of the Five Classics of Confucianism, 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 Tanakh religious poetry, love poetry, and rap.
Context can be critical to poetics and to the development of poetic genres and forms. Poetry that records historic events in epics, such as Gilgamesh or Ferdowsi's Shahnameh, will necessarily be lengthy and narrative, while poetry used for liturgical purposes (hymns, psalms, suras, and hadiths) is likely to have an inspirational tone, whereas elegy and tragedy are meant to evoke deep emotional responses. Other contexts include Gregorian chants, formal or diplomatic speech, political rhetoric and invective, light-hearted nursery and nonsense rhymes, and even medical texts.
The Polish historian of aesthetics, Wladyslaw Tatarkiewicz, in a paper on "The Concept of Poetry," traces the evolution of what is in fact two concepts of poetry. Tatarkiewicz points out that the term is applied to two distinct things that, as the poet Paul Valéry observed, "at a certain point find union. Poetry [...] is an art based on language. But poetry also has a more general meaning [...] that is difficult to define because it is less determinate: poetry expresses a certain state of mind."
Classical thinkers employed classification as a way to define and assess the quality of poetry. Notably, the existing fragments of Aristotle's 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.
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 such as carpentry. Yet other modernists challenge the very attempt to define poetry as misguided, as when Archibald MacLeish concludes his paradoxical poem, "Ars Poetica", with the lines: "A poem should not mean / but be." See also Wallace Stevens's comparison of poetry to music in "To the One of Fictive Music", poetry "musing the obscure" so as to "give motion to perfection more serene" than any other music.
Disputes over the definition of poetry, and over poetry's distinction from other genres of literature, have been inextricably intertwined with the debate over the role of poetic form. 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 structures.
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.
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. Thus, the meter of a line may be described as being "iambic", but a full description of the rhythm would require noting where the language causes one to pause or accelerate and how the meter interacts with other elements of the language. Prosody also may be used more specifically to refer to the scanning of poetic lines to show meter.
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 also can rely on either pitch, such as in Vedic Sanskrit or Ancient Greek, or tone. Tonal languages include Chinese, Vietnamese, Lithuanian, 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 tone. Note that other classifications may have as many as eight tones for Chinese and six for Vietnamese.
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 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 rhythm.
In the Western poetic tradition, meters are customarily grouped according to a characteristic metrical foot and the number of feet per line. 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. More recently, iambic pentameter and dactylic hexameter have been used by William Shakespeare and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, respectively.
Meter is often scanned based on the arrangement of "poetic feet" into lines. In English, each foot usually includes one syllable with a stress and one or two without a stress. In other languages, it may be a combination of the number of syllables and the length of the vowel that determines how the foot is parsed, where one syllable with a long vowel may be treated as the equivalent of two syllables with short vowels. For example, in ancient Greek poetry, meter is based solely on syllable duration rather than stress. In some languages, such as English, stressed syllables are typically pronounced with greater volume, greater length, and higher pitch, and are the basis for poetic meter. In ancient Greek, these attributes were independent of each other; long vowels and syllables including a vowel plus more than one consonant actually had longer duration, approximately double that of a short vowel, while pitch and stress (dictated by the accent) were not associated with duration and played no role in the meter. Thus, a dactylic hexameter line could be envisioned as a musical phrase with six measures, each of which contained either a half note followed by two quarter notes (i.e. a long syllable followed by two short syllables), or two half notes (i.e. two long syllables); thus, the substitution of two short syllables for one long syllable resulted in a measure of the same length. Such substitution in a stress language, such as English, would not result in the same rhythmic regularity. In Anglo-Saxon meter, the unit on which lines are built is a half-line containing two stresses rather than a foot. 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.
As an example of how a line of meter is defined, in English-language iambic pentameter, each line has five metrical feet, and each foot is an iamb, or an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable. When a particular line is scanned, there may be variations upon the basic pattern of the meter; for example, the first foot of English iambic pentameters is quite often inverted, meaning that the stress falls on the first syllable. The generally accepted names for some of the most commonly used kinds of feet include:
The number of metrical feet in a line are described in Greek terminology as follows:
There are a wide range of names for other types of feet, right up to a choriamb of 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. The dactyl, on the other hand, almost gallops along. And, in the manner of The Night Before Christmas or Dr. Seuss, the anapest is said to produce a light-hearted, comic feel.
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.
Different traditions and genres of poetry tend to use different meters, ranging from the Shakespearian 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:
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.
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 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.
In 'A Linguistic Guide to English Poetry' (Longmans, 1969) Geoffrey Leech identified six different types of sound patterns or rhyme forms. These are defined as six possible ways in which either one or two of the structural parts of the related words can vary. The unvarying parts are in upper case/bold. C symbolises a consonant cluster, not a single consonant, V a vowel.
|Type||Pattern||Example 1||Example 2|
|Alliteration||C v c||great/grow||send/sit|
|Assonance||c V c||great/fail||send/bell|
|Consonance||c v C||great/meat||send/hand|
|Reverse Rhyme||C V c||great/grazed||send/sell|
|Pararhyme||C v C||great/groat||send/sound|
|Rhyme||c V C||great/bait||send/bend|
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. Rhyme entered European poetry in the High Middle Ages, in part under the influence of the 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 rhyme schemes.
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 main article.
Ottava Rima ⇑
Ottava rima is a rhyming scheme using a stanza of eight lines with an alternating a-b rhyming scheme for the first six lines followed by a closing couplet. First used by Boccaccio, it was developed for heroic epics but has also been used for mock-heroic poetry.
Terza Rima ⇑
Dante's Divine Comedy is written in terza rima, where each stanza has three lines, with the first and third rhyming, and the second line rhyming with the first and third lines of the next stanza (thus, a-b-a / b-c-b / c-d-c, et cetera.) in a chain rhyme. The terza rima provides a flowing, progressive sense to the poem, and used skilfully it can evoke a sense of motion, both forward and backward. Terza rima is appropriately used in lengthy poems in languages with rich rhyming structures (such as Italian, with its many common word endings).
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 or effect.
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.
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.
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, five lines a quintain (or cinquain), six lines a sestet, and eight lines an octet. 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 meter alone. Stanzas often have related couplets or triplets within them.
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 were used.
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 such cases, or where structures are meant to be highly formal, a stanza will usually form a complete thought, consisting of full sentences and cohesive thoughts.
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 dróttkvætt followed far less rigid rules than the construction of the individual dróttkvætt.
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.
Poetic diction treats of 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 and aureate uses of language by such as the medieval and renaissance makars.
Poetic diction can include rhetorical devices such as simile and metaphor, as well as tones of voice, such as irony. Aristotle wrote in the 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 catachresis.
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. 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 allegory.
Another strong 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, as well, endowed with symbolism and 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 somber tone to a poem, as in many odes, or can be laced with irony as the context of the words changes. For example, in Antony's famous eulogy of Caesar in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, Antony's repetition of the words, "For Brutus is an honorable man," moves from a sincere tone to one that exudes irony.
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.
Among the most common forms of poetry through the ages is the sonnet, which by the 13th century was a poem of fourteen lines following a set rhyme scheme and logical structure. By the 14th century, the form further crystallized under the pen of Petrarch, whose sonnets were later translated in the 16th century by Sir Thomas Wyatt, who is credited with introducing the sonnet form into English literature. A sonnet's first four lines typically introduce the topic. A sonnet usually follows an a-b-a-b rhyme pattern. The sonnet's conventions have changed over its history, and so there are several different sonnet forms. Traditionally, in sonnets English poets use iambic pentameter, the Spenserian and Shakespearean sonnets being especially notable. In the Romance languages, the hendecasyllable and Alexandrine are the most widely used meters, though the Petrarchan sonnet has been used in Italy since the 14th century. Sonnets are particularly associated with love poetry, and often use a poetic diction heavily based on vivid imagery, but the twists and turns associated with the move from octave to sestet and to final couplet make them a useful and dynamic form for many subjects. Shakespeare's sonnets are among the most famous in English poetry, with 20 being included in the Oxford Book of English Verse. The relative prominence of a poet or set of works is often measured by reference to inclusion in the Oxford Book of English Verse or the Norton Anthology of Poetry.
The jintishi (近體詩) is a formal type of Classical Chinese poetry, based on a set of fixed rules. These include the use of set patterns using the four tones of Middle Chinese in each couplet: the level, rising, departing and entering tones. The basic form of the jintishi has eight lines in four couplets, with parallelism between the lines in the second and third couplets. The couplets with parallel lines contain contrasting content but an identical grammatical relationship between words. Jintishi often have a rich poetic diction, full of allusion, and can have a wide range of subject, including history and politics. One of the masters of the form was Du Fu, who wrote during the Tang Dynasty (8th century). There are several variations on the basic form of the jintishi.
The sestina has six stanzas, each comprising six unrhymed lines, in which the words at the end of the first stanza's lines reappear in a rolling pattern in the other stanzas. The poem then ends with a three-line stanza in which the words again appear, two on each line.
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 Elizabeth Bishop. It is a form that has gained increased use at a time when the use of received forms of poetry has generally been declining.
The pantoum is a rare form of poetry similar to a villanelle. It is composed of a series of quatrains; the second and fourth lines of each stanza are repeated as the first and third lines of the next.
The rondeau was originally a French form, written on two rhymes with fifteen lines, using the first part of the first line as a refrain.
The roundel form, said to have been devised by Swinburne, consists of nine lines plus a refrain after the third line and after the last line, the refrain being identical with the beginning of the first line.
The rondelet is a poem usually having seven lines and always two rhymes, with the first line containing four syllabes repeated as lines three and seven and the other lines having eight syllabes each. The rhyme scheme is AbAabbA where A is the refrain.
A triolet is an eight line poem or stanza with a set rhyme scheme. Line four and line seven are the same as line one, and line eight is the same as line two. The rhyme scheme is ABaAabAB. The French poet Théodore de Banville has written several triolets.
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 phrase. Tanka were written as early as the Nara period by such poets as Kakinomoto no Hitomaro, at a time when Japan was emerging from a period where much of its poetry followed Chinese form. Tanka was originally the shorter form of Japanese formal poetry, and was used more heavily to explore personal rather than public themes. It thus had a more informal poetic diction. By the 13th century, tanka had become the dominant form of Japanese poetry, and it is still widely written today. The 31-mora rule is generally ignored by poets writing literary tanka in languages other than Japanese.
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 (see above, at Tanka), 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 17-mora rule is generally ignored by poets writing literary haiku in languages other than Japanese. The most famous exponent of the haiku was Matsuo Bashō (1644-1694). 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
Ruba'i is a four-line verse (quatrain) practiced by Arabian, Persian, Urdu, Azerbaijani (Azeri) poets. Famous for his rubaiyat (collection of quatrains) is the Persian poet Omar Khayyam. The most celebrated English renderings of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam were produced by Edward Fitzgerald; an example is given below:
They say the Lion and the Lizard keep
The Courts where Jamshyd gloried and drank deep:
And Bahram, that great Hunter—the Wild Ass
Stamps o'er his Head, and he lies fast asleep.
Sijo is a short musical lyric practiced by Korean poets. It is usually written as three lines, each averaging 14-16 syllables, for a total of 44-46 syllables. There is a pause in the middle of each line and so, in English, a sijo is sometimes printed in six lines rather than three. An example is given below:
You ask how many friends I have? Water and stone, bamboo and pine.
The moon rising over the eastern hill is a joyful comrade.
Besides these five companions, what other pleasure should I ask?
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 poetry.
The ghazal (Arabic: ghazal, Persian: ghazel, Turkish/Azerbaijani: gazel, Urdu: gazal, Bengali/Sylheti: 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. Each couplet forms a complete thought and stands alone, and the overall ghazal often reflects on a theme of unattainable love or divinity. The last couplet generally includes the signature of the author.
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 who lived in Konya, in present-day Turkey.
An acrostic (from the late Greek akróstichon, from ´kros, "top", and stíchos, "verse") is a poem or other form of writing in an alphabetic script, in which the first letter, syllable or word of each line, paragraph or other recurring feature in the text spells out another message. A form of constrained writing, an acrostic can be used as a mnemonic device to aid memory retrieval.
A famous acrostic comes from the acclamation, "Jesus Christ, God's son, savior," which in Greek is: "Ἰησοῦς Χριστός, Θεοῦ ͑Υιός, Σωτήρ", Iēsous Christos, Theou Huios, Sōtēr. The initial letters of each word spell ichthys, the Greek word for fish; hence the frequent use of the fish as a symbol for Jesus Christ.
The Jewish devotional prayer Ashrei has lines beginning with each of the letters of the Hebrew alphabet in turn, implying that Jews ought to praise God with each letter of the alphabet. Likewise, the prayer Ashamnu, recited on Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement), lists sins beginning with each letter of the alphabet, emphasizing the breadth and universality of wrongdoing.
Literally "song" in Italian, a canzone (plural: canzoni) (cognate with English to chant) is an Italian or Provençal song or ballad. It is also used to describe a type of lyric which resembles a madrigal. Sometimes a composition which is simple and songlike is designated as a canzone, especially if it is by a non-Italian; a good example is the aria "Voi che sapete" from Mozart's Marriage of Figaro.
While "cinquain" is the general term for a class of poetic forms that employ a 5-line pattern, there are specific forms within that category that are defined by specific rules and guidelines. The term "cinquain" as used by modern poets usually refers to a form invented by American poet Adelaide Crapsey. The first examples of these were published in 1915 in The Complete Poems, roughly a year after her death. Her cinquain form was inspired by Japanese haiku and tanka).
Other forms of poetry include:
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.
Epic poetry is one commonly identified genre, often defined as lengthy poems concerning events of a heroic or important nature to the culture of the time. Lyric poetry, which tends to be shorter, melodic, and contemplative, is another commonly identified genre. Some commentators may organize bodies of poetry into further subgenres, and individual poems may be seen as a part of many different genres. In many cases, poetic genres show common features as a result of a common tradition, even across cultures.
Described below are some common genres, but the classification of genres, the description of their characteristics, and even the reasons for undertaking a classification into genres can take many forms.
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 interest.
Narrative poetry may be the oldest type of poetry. Many scholars of Homer have concluded that his Iliad and Odyssey were composed from compilations of shorter narrative poems that related individual episodes and were more suitable for an evening's entertainment. Much narrative poetry—such as Scots 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, Chaucer, William Langland, Luís de Camões, Shakespeare, Alexander Pope, Robert Burns, Fernando de Rojas, Adam Mickiewicz, Alexander Pushkin, Edgar Allan Poe and Alfred Tennyson.
Epic poetry is a genre of poetry, and a major form of narrative literature. It recounts, in a continuous narrative, the life and works of a heroic or mythological person or group of persons. Examples of epic poems are Homer's 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.
Dramatic poetry is drama written in verse to be spoken or sung, and appears in varying, sometimes related forms in many cultures. Verse drama may have developed out of earlier oral epics, such as the Sanskrit and Greek epics.
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 poetry in Persian literature include Nizami's two famous dramatic works, 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.
Poetry can be a powerful vehicle for satire. The punch of an insult delivered in verse can be many times more powerful and memorable than that of the same insult, spoken or written in prose. The Romans had a strong tradition of satirical poetry, often written for political purposes. A notable example is the Roman poet Juvenal's satires, whose insults stung the entire spectrum of society.
The same is true of the English satirical tradition. Embroiled in the feverish politics of the time and stung by an attack on him by his former friend, Thomas Shadwell (a Whig), John Dryden (a Tory), the first Poet Laureate, produced in 1682 Mac Flecknoe, one of the greatest pieces of sustained invective in the English language, subtitled "A Satire on the True Blue Protestant Poet, T.S." In this, the late, notably mediocre poet, Richard Flecknoe, was imagined to be contemplating who should succeed him as ruler "of all the realms of Nonsense absolute" to "reign and wage immortal war on wit."
Another master of 17th-century English satirical poetry was John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester. He was known for ruthless satires such as "A Satyr Against Mankind" (1675) and a "A Satyr on Charles II."
Another exemplar of English satirical poetry was Alexander Pope, who famously chided critics in his Essay on Criticism (1709). Dryden and Pope were writers of epic poetry, and their satirical style was accordingly epic; but there is no prescribed form for satirical poetry.
The greatest satirical poets outside England include Poland's Ignacy Krasicki, Azerbaijan's Sabir and Portugal's Manuel Maria Barbosa du Bocage, commonly known as Bocage.
Lyric poetry is a genre that, unlike epic poetry and dramatic poetry, does not attempt to tell a story but instead is of a more personal nature. Rather than depicting characters and actions, it portrays the poet's own feelings, states of mind, and perceptions. While the genre's name, derived from "lyre", implies that it is intended to be sung, much lyric poetry is meant purely for reading.
Though lyric poetry has long celebrated love, many courtly-love poets also wrote lyric poems about war and peace, nature and nostalgia, grief and loss. Notable among these are the 15th century French lyric poets, Christine de Pizan and Charles, Duke of Orléans. Spiritual and religious themes were addressed by such mystic lyric poets as St. John of the Cross and Teresa of Ávila. The tradition of lyric poetry based on spiritual experience was continued by later poets such as John Donne, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Antonio Machado and T. S. Eliot.
Though the most popular form for western lyric poetry to take may be the 14-line sonnet, as practiced by Petrarch and Shakespeare, lyric poetry shows a bewildering variety of forms, including increasingly, in the 20th century, unrhymed ones. Lyric poetry is the most common type of poetry, as it deals intricately with an author's own emotions and views.
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. In a related sense that harks back to ancient poetic traditions of sung poetry, the word "elegy" may also denote a type of musical work, usually of a sad or somber nature.
Elegiac poetry has been written since antiquity. Perhaps the first example of the form is II Samuel, Chapter 1, in which David laments the fall of King Saul and of Saul's son and heir Jonathan. Notable practitioners have included Propertius (lived ca. 50 BCE - ca. 15 BCE), Jorge Manrique (1476), Jan Kochanowski (1580), Chidiock Tichborne (1586), Edmund Spenser (1595), Ben Jonson (1616), John Milton (1637), Thomas Gray (1750), Charlotte Turner Smith (1784), William Cullen Bryant (1817), Percy Bysshe Shelley (1821), Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1823), Evgeny Baratynsky (1837), Alfred Tennyson (1849), Walt Whitman (1865), Louis Gallet (lived 1835-98), Antonio Machado (1903), Juan Ramón Jiménez (1914), William Butler Yeats (1916), Rainer Maria Rilke (1922), Virginia Woolf (1927), Federico García Lorca (1935), Kamau Brathwaite (born 1930).
The fable is an ancient, near-ubiquitous 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; Ignacy Krasicki, for example, in his Fables and Parables, used 13-syllable lines in rhyming couplets.
Notable verse fabulists have included Aesop (mid-6th century BCE), Vishnu Sarma (ca. 200 BCE), Phaedrus (15 BCE-50 CE), Marie de France (12th century), Robert Henryson (fl.1470-1500), Biernat of Lublin (1465?-fter 1529), Jean de La Fontaine (1621-95), Ignacy Krasicki (1735-1801), Félix María de Samaniego (1745-1801), Tomás de Iriarte (1750-1791), Ivan Krylov (1769-1844) and Ambrose Bierce (1842-1914). All of Aesop's translators and successors owe a debt to that semi-legendary fabulist.
An example of a verse fable is Krasicki's "The Lamb and the Wolves":
Aggression ever finds cause if sufficiently pressed.
Two wolves on the prowl had trapped a lamb in the forest
And were about to pounce. Quoth the lamb: "What right have you?"
"You're toothsome, weak, in the wood." — The wolves dined sans ado.
Prose poetry is a hybrid genre that shows attributes of both prose and poetry. It may be indistinguishable from the micro-story (aka the "short short story", "flash fiction"). It qualifies as poetry because of its conciseness, use of metaphor, and special attention to language.
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.
The genre has subsequently found notable exemplars in various languages:
Since the late 1980s especially, prose poetry has gained increasing popularity, with entire journals devoted solely to that genre.
Speculative poetry, also known as fantastic poetry, (of which weird or macabre poetry is a major subclassification), 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 and there are many exponents of this form within the wider fantastic fiction community. Critic John Clute considers that fantastic poetry falls into four main classes – science fiction; science fact; macabre, and speculative (which crosses over into the surreal).
Relaxation Through Poetry is just that, the use of poetry by a person/group of people to relax and help relieve stress. It is commonly seen in visualization sessions where a speaker is trying to get the audience to forget about all of the stress in their lives. There are many different types of poems that can help someone relieve stress.
This page was last modified on September 29, 2011 at 10:05 AM EST