Poems are collections of words that express an idea or emotion that often use imagery and metaphor. As you are studying literature, you will likely notice that poems come in many, many different forms. As you read and perhaps write your own poems, it is helpful to know the different kinds of poems.
There are many different types of poems. The difference between each type is based on the format, rhyme scheme and subject matter.
Are you familiar with the term "ballad"? You probably are, because people sometimes refer to songs - particularly romantic ones - as ballads. In fact, ballad poems are frequently sung - or at least they are intended to be sung - and are often about love.
Usually, these ballads tell a story, often of a mystical nature. Just as a song does, ballads tend to have a refrain that repeats at various intervals throughout.
Guido Cavalcanti's "Ballad" and Sir Walter Raleigh's "As You Came from the Holy Land" both demonstrate the musical quality of the ballad. As an excerpt from Raleigh's poem demonstrates:
As you came from the holy land
Met you not with my true love
By the way as you came ?
How shall I know your true love,
That have met many one,
As I went to the holy land,
That have come, that have gone?
Because poems can express a wide variety of emotions, there are sad forms of poetry as well as happy ones. One of these sad forms is known as an elegy.
Elegies express a lament, often over the death of a loved one. This makes elegies especially popular for funerals. Some elegies are written not only to be read out loud; they can be put to music and sung.
Alfred Tennyson's "In Memoriam" is an elegy to a close friend, Arthur Henry Hallam, and was written over 20 years:
Strong Son of God, immortal Love,
Whom we, that have not seen thy face,
By faith, and faith alone, embrace,
Believing where we cannot prove;
Thine are these orbs of light and shade;
Thou madest Life in man and brute;
Thou madest Death; and lo, thy foot
Is on the skull which thou hast made.
One of the longest types of poems is known as the epic poem, which has been around for thousands of years.
Technically a type of narrative poem, which tells a story, epic poems usually tell the story of a mythical warrior and the great things that he accomplished in of his journeys, such as The Odyssey and The Iliad.
Epic poetry began as folk stories that were passed down from generation to generation, which were then later written into long form.
One of the oldest epic poems is actually one of the oldest pieces of written literature in the world. This ancient Mesopotamian poem is called the Epic of Gilgamesh and dates back to 1800 BC. The start of this epic (with the translator's (?) notes) reads:
He who has seen everything, I will make known (?) to the lands.
I will teach (?) about him who experienced all things,
Anu granted him the totality of knowledge of all.
He saw the Secret, discovered the Hidden,
he brought information of (the time) before the Flood.
He went on a distant journey, pushing himself to exhaustion,
but then was brought to peace.
He carved on a stone stela all of his toils,
and built the wall of Uruk-Haven,
the wall of the sacred Eanna Temple, the holy sanctuary.
While it is easy to think that poems have to rhyme, free verse is a type of poetry that does not require any rhyme scheme or meter. Poems written in free verse, however, do tend to employ other types of creative language such as alliteration, words that begin with the same sound, or assonance, the repetition of vowel sounds.
Some people find free verse to be a less restrictive type of poetry to write since it doesn't have to employ the form or the rhyming schemes of other types of poetry.
The free verse form of poetry became popular in the 1800s and continues to be popular among poets even to this day. TS Eliot was one of the masters of the form, as best seen in his poems "The Waste Land" and "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock," which begins:
Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherized upon a table;
Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,
The muttering retreats
Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels
And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells:
Streets that follow like a tedious argument
Of insidious intent
To lead you to an overwhelming question.
Oh, do not ask, "What is it?"
Let us go and make our visit.
Many people have heard about haiku. In fact, most of us are instructed at one point or another - usually in middle school or high school - to write one of our very own. Even if you did that, do you remember what this type of poem actually is?
Haiku is a Japanese form of poetry which is composed of three non-rhyming lines. The first and third lines have five syllables each and the second line has seven syllables. They often express feelings and thoughts about nature; however, you could write a poem about any subject that you would like to in this form. Perhaps the most famous haiku is Basho's "Old Pond:"
mizu no oto
Translated, this poem reads:
The old pond--
a frog jumps in,
sound of water.
We decided to place a focus on imagery poems because of the immense power that they possess. Many, many poems can be classified as imagery poems; however, some are better at the task than others.
Individuals who often write imagery-based poems are known as Imagists. William Carlos Williams' short poem "The Red Wheelbarrow" is a famous example of a short imagist poem:
so much depends
a red wheel
glazed with rain
beside the white
These types of poems work to draw a picture in the mind of the reader, in order to give an extremely powerful image of what the writer is talking about. They work to intensify the senses of the reader.
A limerick is a poem that is often silly or whimsical, written in five lines with an AABBA rhyme scheme. Often, limericks tell a short, humorous story.
These types of poems have been popular for hundreds of years, particularly in the English language. When limericks first became popular, they often expressed ideas that were crude and off-color but today, limericks express all sorts of ideas.
The form of the limerick was made popular by a British poet named Edward Lear in the 1800s, whose limericks often started off: "There once was..." or "There was...".
Some of his limericks include "There was an Old Man with a Nose" and "There was a Young Lady of Dorking," which goes like this:
There was a Young Lady of Dorking,
Who bought a large bonnet for walking;
But its colour and size,
So bedazzled her eyes,
That she very soon went back to Dorking.
One of the poetic favorites is pastoral poetry because it elicits such wonderful senses of peace and harmony. Examples of this form include Keats' "Ode on a Grecian Urn," which is also a type of ode. A stanza of this poem reads:
Thou still unravish'd bride of quietness,
Thou foster-child of Silence and slow Time,
Sylvan historian, who canst thus express
A flowery tale more sweetly than our rhyme:
What leaf-fringed legend haunts about thy shape
Of deities or mortals, or of both,
In Tempe or the dales of Arcady?
What men or gods are these? What maidens loth?
What mad pursuit? What struggle to escape?
What pipes and timbrels? What wild ecstasy?
Like the haiku, nature is often at the center of these types of poems as well. In general, pastoral poetry will focus on describing a rural place, but the terms will be peaceful and endearing. You will feel at ease after reading these types of poems.
Many pastoral poems are written about shepherds. They are written as a series of rhyming couplets.
One of the most famous types of poetry, the sonnet, has been popular with writers from Dante to Shakespeare.
A sonnet contains 14 lines, typically with two rhyming stanzas known as a rhyming couplet at the end.
There are several types of sonnets, including:
William Shakespeare, famous for writing more than 150 sonnets (including his popular "Sonnet 138") is credited with creating for a form of the sonnet that enjoyed widespread popularity throughout England for hundreds of years. "Sonnet 138" reads:
When my love swears that she is made of truth
I do believe her, though I know she lies,
That she might think me some untutor'd youth,
Unlearned in the world's false subtleties.
Thus vainly thinking that she thinks me young,
Although she knows my days are past the best,
Simply I credit her false speaking tongue:
On both sides thus is simple truth suppress'd.
But wherefore says she not she is unjust?
And wherefore say not I that I am old?
O, love's best habit is in seeming trust,
And age in love loves not to have years told:
Therefore I lie with her and she with me,
And in our faults by lies we flatter'd be.
You might be able to get some sort of sense of what this poetry encompasses just by looking at the name of it. The lines in these types of poems are arranged in what are called "tercets." What this means is the lines come in groups of threes.
That does not mean that the poem is only three lines long. There can be multiple groups of three lines. Like the haiku, there are certain syllable requirements, as most poems written in terza rima have lines of 10 or 11 syllables.
The Italian poet Dante created this form, and his Divine Comedy is one of the best-known examples of the form. A stanza of this poem reads:
His glory, by whose might all things are mov'd,
Pierces the universe, and in one part
Sheds more resplendence, elsewhere less. In heav'n,
That largeliest of his light partakes, was I,
Witness of things, which to relate again
Surpasseth power of him who comes from thence;
For that, so near approaching its desire
Our intellect is to such depth absorb'd,
That memory cannot follow. Nathless all,
That in my thoughts I of that sacred realm
Could store, shall now be matter of my song.
Reading and understanding these types of poems should help you better analyze the poetry that you come across, as will some essential poetry terms. They may even inspire you to write your own.