Poems help you to express your thoughts, feelings and actions. Narrative poems are a special type of poem that tells a story. From rhythmic ballads to long epics to short narrative poems for kids, dive into all the forms a narrative poem can take through these examples.
What Is a Narrative Poem?
If you've ever heard a poem that tells a story, then you are listening to a narrative poem. One of the oldest poetic formats, narrative poems can be identified through various elements. They will include at least one character, a plot with a beginning, middle and end, and sometimes a conflict and resolution. Older forms of narrative poems are also written in a specific meter, like iambic meters, which adds rhythm and beat to the poem.
Famous Narrative Poems
As with most poems, narrative poems come in several types, including epic, ballad, Arthurian and dramatic. Explore the differences between these types through some famous narrative poem examples.
The Iliad by Homer
Sing, Goddess, Achilles' rage,
Black and murderous, that cost the Greeks
Incalculable pain, pitched countless souls
Of heroes into Hades' dark,
And left their bodies to rot as feasts
For dogs and birds, as Zeus' will was done.
Begin with the clash between Agamemnon-
The Greek warlord - and godlike Achilles.
The Iliad is one of the most quintessential examples of an epic narrative poem. Not only does it tell a story through its several books, but it becomes epic through story elements such as the noble heroes, Achilles and Hector, and the doomed love story of Paris and Helena. There is also magic and a smattering of Greek gods like Zeus to create twists and turns in this poem told in dactylic hexameter.
Ballad of the Harp Weaver by Edna St. Vincent Millay
"Son," said my mother,
When I was knee-high,
"You've need of clothes to cover you,
And not a rag have I.
"There's nothing in the house
To make a boy breeches,
Nor shears to cut a cloth with
Nor thread to take stitches.
"There's nothing in the house
But a loaf-end of rye,
And a harp with a woman's head
Nobody will buy,"
And she began to cry.
That was in the early fall.
When came the late fall,
"Son," she said, "the sight of you
Makes your mother's blood crawl,-
Another form of narrative poetry is a ballad, like the Ballad of the Harp Weaver. In addition to telling a story and having characters, ballad poems have a song-like quality to them and could easily be sung to a tune. A rhyme scheme or a chorus are also common. For example, in the "Ballad of the Harp Weaver," you can see the ABCB rhyme scheme where the second and fourth lines rhyme throughout the stanzas.
Idylls of the King: The Passing of Arthur by Alfred, Lord Tennyson
Then spake King Arthur to Sir Bedivere,
And whiter than the mist that all day long
Had held the field of battle was the King:
"Hearest thou this great voice that shakes the world,
And wastes the narrow realm whereon we move,
And beats upon the faces of the dead,
My dead, as tho' they had not died for me?-
O Bedivere, for on my heart hath fall'n
Confusion, till I know not what I am,
Nor whence I am, nor whether I be King.
Behold, I seem but King among the dead."
Another famous narrative poem type is the Arthurian narrative poems like Idylls of the King. A poetic tale of Arthur and his round table, "Idylls of the King: the Passing of Arthur" uses blank verse to tell the death of Arthur through his fatal wound from Mordred. Love, intrigue, mystery, magic, and of course Arthurian heroes, are required to weave a great Arthurian narrative poem.
The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe
Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore-
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
"'Tis some visitor," I muttered, "tapping at my chamber door-
Only this and nothing more."
Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December;
And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.
Eagerly I wished the morrow;-vainly I had sought to borrow
From my books surcease of sorrow-sorrow for the lost Lenore-
For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore-
Nameless here for evermore.
You can feel the dark story that is about to be told as you read the first few lines of the famous narrative poem The Raven. Through dramatic storytelling and the ABCBBB rhyming scheme, Poe uses the supernatural to take you through the character's descent into possible madness as he pines for his lost love Lenore. The musical style of the wording and dark mood created by words such as 'fantastic terrors' and 'dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared,' make you feel the somber mood that Poe was working to create.
Short Narrative Poems
Narrative poems don't need to be dozens of stanzas long. A short narrative poem can still weave a tale and get the point across just as easily. Rather than sweating details, get right into the middle of the action and display the mood through descriptive words, as in "The Kill," a poem about a child's first deer hunt.
The Kill by Jennifer L. Betts
He could smell the forest around him.
"Do you think it's time?"
"Wait a bit longer, Tim"
His pappy said with a smile.
Aiming a little higher.
His Pappy excitedly muttered, "now."
Anticipation set him on fire.
Sweat fell down his brow.
The shot rang true and neat.
"Yes," he squealed with delight.
And it was a buck that he had beat.
Tonight, had been a good night.
Narrative Poems for Kids
Whimsy, fantasy, and ridiculousness can take center stage in narrative poems for kids. To write your own, try using fun themes like princesses, knights, superheroes or pet crocodiles. Once you have your topic, delight the imagination through simple language, fun emotions and themes kids can enjoy, as seen below in "No Prince Needed."
No Prince Needed by Jennifer L. Betts
Princess Eva waited so long.
She wondered if the fairy had been wrong.
Trapped in the castle was she.
How could this be?
The witch cackled he'll never come.
That prince is a bum.
Princess Eva just sighed sadly.
Maybe she didn't want this so badly.
Looking out the window.
She was tired of being in limbo.
When the witch went to sleep
The princess decided to creep
Right down the stairs.
She thought with a smile.
"I'm leaving this castle, princess style."
"Who needs a prince?" thought she.
I've just got to rely on me.
Othe Popular Narrative Poems
Many poets over the ages have tried their hand at these detailed story poems. Here is a list of 19 more narrative poems - from ancient to modern, short to book-length - for you to seek out and enjoy.
- "Aurora Leigh" by Elizabeth Barrett Browning
- "Autobiography of Red" by Anne Carson
- "Beowulf" (unknown author)
- "Brown Girl Dreaming" by Jacqueline Woodson
- "Don Juan" by Lord Byron
- "Eugene Onegin" by Alexander Pushkin
- "Gentle Alice Brown" by W.S. Gilbert
- "On Dinosaur Island" by Kenn Nesbitt
- "Out, Out" by Robert Frost
- "Paul Revere's Ride" by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
- "The Ballad of Reading Gaol" by Oscar Wilde
- "The Canterbury Tales" by Geoffrey Chaucer
- "The Charge of the Light Brigade" by Alfred Tennyson
- "The Crossover" by Kwame Alexander
- "The Eve of St. Agnes" by John Keats
- "The Rape of Lucrece" by William Shakespeare
- "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" by Samuel Taylor Coleridge
- "The Ring and the Book" by Robert Browning
- "We are Seven" by William Wordsworth
Narrative Poetry Fun
Narrative poems have a long history. One of the earliest forms of storytelling and writing, they have since evolved into several poetic categories. Explore these examples, drink in the details, and then try your hand at writing a narrative poem of your own.