Poetry, in its own way, is a form of artistic expression. But, did you know there are over 50 different types of poetry? Outside of upper-level poetry seminars or in-depth studies, we mostly tend to focus on seven common types of poetry.
Popular poetry types include haiku, free verse, sonnets, and acrostic poems. It's one thing to define each type; it's another to enjoy a sample platter. Ready to open the doors to a world of verbal artistry? Let's dive into some of the more prominent forms of poetry while we savor a few samples.
Traditionally, haiku poems are three-line stanzas with a 5/7/5 syllable count. This form of poetry also focuses on the beauty and simplicity found in nature. As its popularity grew, the 5/7/5 formula has often been broken. However, the focus remains the same - simple moments in life. For more, take a look at these rules for writing haiku. Now, let's enjoy two short samples.
First, "Sick on a Journey" by Basho is a great example of a haiku:
Sick on a journey -
Over parched field
Dreams wander on
night train whistles stars
over a nation under
mad temporal czars
round lumps of cells grow
up to love porridge later
become The Supremes
lady I lost my
subway token we must part
it's faster by air
Free verse poems are the least defined. In fact, they're deliberately irregular, taking on an improvisational bent. There's no formula, no pattern. Rather, the writer and reader must work together to set the speed, intonation, and emotional pull. Here are two samples.
"This is Marriage" by Marianne Moore is a great example of free verse poetry:
This institution, perhaps one should say enterprise out of respect for which one says one need not change one's mind about a thing one has believed in, requiring public promises of one's intention to fulfil a private obligation: I wonder what Adam and Eve think of it by this time, this fire-gilt steel alive with goldenness;
The format of "Little Father" by Li-Young Lee contrasts "This is Marriage" considerably:
I buried my father in my heart.
Now he grows in me, my strange son,
My little root who won't drink milk,
Little pale foot sunk in unheard-of night,
Little clock spring newly wet
In the fire,little grape, parent to the future
Wine, a son the fruit of his own son,
Little father I ransom with my life.
A cinquain is a five-line poem inspired by the Japanese haiku. There are many different variations of cinquain including American cinquains, didactic cinquains, reverse cinquains, butterfly cinquains and crown cinquains. Let's enjoy a sampling from the ever-popular Edgar Allan Poe, as well as a snippet from George Herbert.
"To Helen" by Edgar Allan Poe is our first five-line poem:
Helen, thy beauty is to me
Like those Nicean barks of yore,
That gently, o'er a perfumed sea,
The weary, way-worn wanderer bore
To his own native shore.
And here we have "The World" by George Herbert:
Love built a stately house, where Fortune came,
And spinning fancies, she was heard to say
That her fine cobwebs did support the frame,
Whereas they were supported by the same;
But Wisdom quickly swept them all away.
An epic is a long and narrative poem that normally tells a story about a hero or an adventure. Epics can be presented as oral or written stories. "The Iliad" and "The Odyssey" are probably the most renowned epic poems. But, let's take a different direction and check out a sampling from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, as well as Ezra Pound.
Here's an excerpt from the epic poem, "The Song of Hiawatha" by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow:
By the shore of Gitchie Gumee,
By the shining Big-Sea-Water,
At the doorway of his wigwam,
In the pleasant Summer morning,
Hiawatha stood and waited.
And here's another sampling of epic poetry, this time from "Canto I" by Ezra Pound:
And then went down to the ship,
Set keel to breakers, forth on the godly sea, and
We set up mast and sail on that swart ship,
Bore sheep aboard her, and our bodies also
Heavy with weeping, so winds from sternward
Bore us out onward with bellying canvas,
Circe's this craft, the trim-coifed goddess.
Then sat we amidships, wind jamming the tiller,
Thus with stretched sail, we went over sea till day's end.
Sun to his slumber, shadows o'er all the ocean,
Came we then to the bounds of deepest water,
To the Kimmerian lands, and peopled cities
Covered with close-webbed mist, unpierced ever
With glitter of sun-rays
Nor with stars stretched, nor looking back from heaven
Swartest night stretched over wretched men there.
The ocean flowing backward, came we then to the place
Aforesaid by Circe.
Ballad poems also tell a story, like epic poems do. However, ballad poetry is often based on a legend or a folk tale. These poems may take the form of songs, or they may contain a moral or a lesson. Let's enjoy some beautiful imagery in the samples below.
"The Mermaid," written by an unknown author, has its roots in folklore:
Oh the ocean waves may roll,
And the stormy winds may blow,
While we poor sailors go skipping aloft
And the land lubbers lay down below, below, below
And the land lubbers lay down below.
"The Ballad of Reading Gaol" by Oscar Wilde is another great ballad poem:
He did not wear his scarlet coat,
For blood and wine are red,
And blood and wine were on his hands
When they found him with the dead,
The poor dead woman whom he loved,
And murdered in her bed.
He walked amongst the Trial Men
In a suit of shabby grey;
A cricket cap was on his head,
And his step seemed light and gay;
But I never saw a man who looked
So wistfully at the day.
I never saw a man who looked
With such a wistful eye
Upon that little tent of blue
Which prisoners call the sky,
And at every drifting cloud that went
With sails of silver by.
Acrostic poems, also known as name poems, spell out names or words with the first letter in each line. While the author is doing this, they're describing someone or something they deem important. Here are two examples to illustrate the poetic form.
"Alexis" by Nicholas Gordon focuses on an intriguing woman he may or may not know:
Alexis seems quite shy and somewhat frail,
Leaning, like a tree averse to light,
Evasively away from her delight.
X-rays, though, reveal a sylvan sprite,
Intense as a bright bird behind her veil,
Singing to the moon throughout the night.
"A Cry For Help" by 12-year-old Samar Alkhudairi is an example of an acrostic poem that tackles the tough issue of bullying:
Brutal beatings beyond the feeling of pain
Understanding this hurt might get me closer to being sane
Love is a myth
Life has become like a work of Stephen King
You don't know what it's like
I am treated like just some "thing"
Never to be kissed, comforted, or loved
Going the rest of my life never to be hugged
Although William Shakespeare sensationalized sonnets, the word, "sonetto" is actually Italian for "a little sound or song." This form has grabbed poets by the heart for centuries. It began as a 14-line poem written in iambic pentameter. Although flourishes have been made over time, the general principle remains the same. Read up on Sonnet Examples to learn more about the different types of sonnets. In the meantime, let's enjoy two great samples:
This is a sample, "Sonnet 116," from the master himself, William Shakespeare.
Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove.
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wand'ring bark,
Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken.
Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle's compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me prov'd,
I never writ, nor no man ever lov'd.
"Ever" by Meghan O'Rourke is a more modern sample, published in 2015:
Never, never, never, never, never.
- King Lear
Even now I can't grasp "nothing" or "never."
They're unholdable, unglobable, no map to nothing.
Never? Never ever again to see you?
An error, I aver. You're never nothing,
because nothing's not a thing.
I know death is absolute, forever,
the guillotine-gutting-never to which we never say goodbye.
But even as I think "forever" it goes "ever"
and "ever" and "ever." Ever after.
I'm a thing that keeps on thinking. So I never see you
is not a thing or think my mouth can ever. Aver:
You're not "nothing." But neither are you something.
Will I ever really get never?
You're gone. Nothing, never-ever.
That's all poetry is. Some people paint with paint brushes. Others fill pages with words that evoke colorful images. If you suspect you have a knack for poetic storytelling, then the gift is already inside you.
Study each of these seven types. See which one feels closest to your heart. Then, when you're ready to start writing, review these tips and go on out there and paint your canvas.