An Introductory Guide to Poem Formats

The origin of the word poetry is taken from the Greek word poiesis, which translates literally to mean ‘making’. Poetry is a type of literary work that calls upon the aesthetic and rhythmic elements of language – like sound symbolism, metre and phonaesthetics – in order to arouse meaning or to create imagery through words.

Simply put, poems are a means to evoke emotions or ideas through literary devices like metaphors or symbolism. As you become more familiar with literature, you will discover that poems can take many forms. There are many different variations of poetry, each with its own unique format, rhyming scheme and subject matter.

Here are a few of the types of poetry that you might encounter in your studies.

  • Allegory
  • Ballad
  • Blank Verse
  • Burlesque
  • Cacophony
  • Canzone
  • Conceit
  • Dactyl
  • Elegy
  • Epic
  • Epitaph
  • Free Verse
  • Haiku
  • Imagery
  • Limerick
  • Lyric
  • Name
  • Narrative
  • Ode
  • Pastoral
  • Petrarchan Sonnet
  • Quatrain
  • Refrain
  • Senryu
  • Shakespearean Sonnet
  • Sonnet
  • Tanka
  • Terza Rima

Many people get their first taste of poetry in infancy, when their mothers can caregivers read or recite nursery rhymes or even when they are sung lullabies.

Even if you aren’t able to call to memory any of the famous Mother Goose nursery rhymes, it is likely that you had some exposure to poetry early on in grade school. Most of us can recall learning about the haiku. And, the chances are good that you’ve even written one of your very own.

Do you remember what a haiku is?

Originally seen in early Japan, a haiku is form of poetry that is comprised of three non-rhyming lines. The first and last lines each contain five syllables and the middle line has seven syllables. Haikus can be written about anything, but they are most often written about thoughts and nature.

Here is an example of a haiku written by a master haiku poet and painter named Yosa Buson (1716 – 1784)

A summer river being crossed
how pleasing
with sandals in mine hands!

Light of the moon
moves west, flowers’ shadows
Creep eastward.

In the moonlight,
the color and scent of the wisteria
Seems far away.

Another commonly seen type of poetry is the ballad. Even if you’ve never read a ballad, you’ve likely heard one. This is because nearly all love songs you hear on the radio can be considered ballads. Why is this? Ballad poems are intended to be sung and they are almost always written about love.

Similar to the way a song has a chorus, a ballad has a refrain which is intended to be repeated at various intervals.

Here is an excerpt of a ballad, Free Fallin by Tom Petty

She’s a good girl, loves her mama
Loves Jesus and America too
She’s a good girl, crazy ‘bout Elvis
Loves horses and her boyfriend too
It’s a long day living in Reseda
There’s a freeway runnin’ through the yard
And I’m a bad boy ‘cause I don’t even miss her
I’m a bad boy for breakin’ her heart
And I’m free, free fallin’
Yeah I’m free, free fallin’.

Styles and Forms Used in Poem Formats

There are different styles and forms found in poetry, at the root of these – chaos and control. Every great piece of poetry ever written has, in one way or another, elements of chaos and control.

Poetry calls upon the formal aspects of language in a bid to control the chaotic aspects of language. Formals aspects of language can be defined as being sound and visual, where chaotic aspects of language can be defined as being meaning and expression. Poetic form is used to control and restrain language in order to make it more digestible and powerful for the audience.

There is a value in injecting a certain amount of chaos into poetry, however, given that poems are structured it is impossible to control the chaotic aspect in any manner other than by imposing structure on it.

As you begin to write your own poetry, you will learn that pattern is the single most important way to build form and structure, yet interestingly enough, it is also the most difficult to master. In historical verse, poets established pattern through the use of a traditional form and meter – That is to say, by ensuring that lines had a specific number of beats and rhythms and that alliteration was seen in predictable locations within in the line (normally at the end of the line.) Most modern poetry (at least in English language) are what are known as free verse. This is problematic for a number of reasons.

Before we discuss the problems associated with free verse poetry, let’s examine an example of free verse.

After the Sea – Ship by Walt Whitman

After the Sea – Ship – after the whistling winds;

After the white – gray sails; taut to their spars and ropes,

Below, a myriad, myriad waves, hastening, lifting up their necks,

Tending in ceaseless flow towards the track of the ship:

Waves of the ocean, bubbling and gurgling, blithely prying,

Waves, undulating waves – liquid, uneven, emulous waves,

Toward that whirling current, laughing and buoyant, with curves,

Where the great Vessel, sailing and tacking, displaced the surface;

The Problems Associated with Free Verse Poetry

Given that writers of free verse poetry are not able to rely on the authority of classical poetic forms, they are tasked with developing their own level of authority through elements like patterns, variance and consistency.

The average reader feels authority in great poetry they more they reflect upon it, and a great writer is capable of building a poem based on its respective needs. Authority comes only after a poet has uncovered the poem’s form. If, as readers, we view poetry in the same manner that the person writing it did, we must give consideration to how a poem stems authority. What this refers to is the study of pattern and variation in poetry.

If a person writing a poem intends to create a poem that has a sturdy structure – without relying on consistent form such as metered and rhymed form. Free verse poets aren’t able to rely on conventions in order to establish authority. They need to continually be asking themselves what the best vehicle to relay their poetry might be.

Use of Repetition in Poetry

Another powerful literary tool that poets often use is repetition. What exactly is repetition? We hear repetition everywhere we go – consider how marketers use repetition in commercials to repeat slogans and sales in order to force information to memory. Song lyrics also use repetition by repeating specific lines or using catchy refrains so that listeners can easily sing along and recall the song later. Throughout history, religious songs and sayings often used repetition.

Poetry is no different. Repetition is simply the process of repeating words, phrases, lines or stanzas in order to emphasizes emotions, create rhythm or develop a connection between the reader and the poem.

Here are two examples of poems that use repetition.

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening by Robert Frost

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep
And miles to go before I sleep.

The Bells by Edgar Allen Poe

Hear the sledges with the bells—

Silver bells!

What a world of merriment their melody foretells!

How they tinkle, tinkle, tinkle,

In the icy air of night!

While the stars that oversprinkle

All the heavens, seem to twinkle

With a crystalline delight;

Keeping time, time, time,

In a sort of Runic rhyme,

To the tintinabulation that so musically wells

From the bells, bells, bells, bells,

Bells, bells, bells—

From the jingling and the tinkling of the bells.

II.

Hear the mellow wedding bells,

Golden bells!

What a world of happiness their harmony foretells!

Through the balmy air of night

How they ring out their delight!

From the molten-golden notes,

And all in tune,

What a liquid ditty floats

To the turtle-dove that listens, while she gloats

On the moon!

Oh, from out the sounding cells,

What a gush of euphony voluminously wells!

How it swells!

How it dwells

On the Future! how it tells

Of the rapture that impels

To the swinging and the ringing

Of the bells, bells, bells,

Of the bells, bells, bells, bells,

Bells, bells, bells—

To the rhyming and the chiming of the bells!

III.

Hear the loud alarum bells—

Brazen bells!

What tale of terror, now, their turbulency tells!

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In the startled ear of night

How they scream out their affright!

Too much horrified to speak,

They can only shriek, shriek,

Out of tune,

In a clamorous appealing to the mercy of the fire,

In a mad expostulation with the deaf and frantic fire,

Leaping higher, higher, higher,

With a desperate desire,

And a resolute endeavor

Now—now to sit or never,

By the side of the pale-faced moon.

Oh, the bells, bells, bells!

What a tale their terror tells

Of Despair!

How they clang, and clash, and roar!

What a horror they outpour

On the bosom of the palpitating air!

Yet the ear it fully knows,

By the twanging,

And the clanging,

How the danger ebbs and flows;

Yet the ear distinctly tells,

In the jangling,

And the wrangling.

How the danger sinks and swells,

By the sinking or the swelling in the anger of the bells—

Of the bells—

Of the bells, bells, bells, bells,

Bells, bells, bells—

In the clamor and the clangor of the bells!

IV.

Hear the tolling of the bells—

Iron bells!

What a world of solemn thought their monody compels!

In the silence of the night,

How we shiver with affright

At the melancholy menace of their tone!

For every sound that floats

From the rust within their throats

Is a groan.

And the people—ah, the people—

They that dwell up in the steeple,

All alone,

And who tolling, tolling, tolling,

In that muffled monotone,

Feel a glory in so rolling

On the human heart a stone—

They are neither man nor woman—

They are neither brute nor human—

They are Ghouls:

And their king it is who tolls;

And he rolls, rolls, rolls,

Rolls

A pæan from the bells!

And his merry bosom swells

With the pæan of the bells!

And he dances, and he yells;

Keeping time, time, time,

In a sort of Runic rhyme,

To the pæan of the bells—

Of the bells:

Keeping time, time, time,

In a sort of Runic rhyme,

To the throbbing of the bells—

Of the bells, bells, bells—

To the sobbing of the bells;

Keeping time, time, time,

As he knells, knells, knells,

In a happy Runic rhyme,

To the rolling of the bells—

Of the bells, bells, bells—

To the tolling of the bells,

Of the bells, bells, bells, bells—

Bells, bells, bells—

To the moaning and the groaning of the bells.

The reason for repetition in poetry varies depending on the poet. In the example above, Poe uses repetition of the word ‘bells’ in order to establish rhythm and to increase enthusiasm in his readers.

Other writers might use repeating words or lines to create emphasis, to set a rhyme or to make it easier for a reader to remember their poems – the later tying in closely with our original example of nursery rhymes.

Repetition has the power to add elements of emphasis, it can also create rhythm or musicality. That said, using repetition too frequently in a poem can make it seem disjointed or awkward.