Poetry Structure and Its Usage in Poems

All writing has a specific structure. A text message, for example, is concise and may contain slang, an email often follows the same format as a conventional letter, and an essay is written in paragraphs. These structures contribute to the overall message or meaning of the writing.

Poetry is no different.

Poems are a collection of literary work that is written in stanzas and lines that make use of rhythm in order to emphasize or express emotions and ideas. Those who write poetry pay careful attention to elements like sentence length, word placement and even how lines are grouped together. This is what is known as ‘form’. Lines or entire stanzas can be arranged in a way that creates or evokes a specific emotion in the reader.

One example of this is a sonnet. Sonnets are 14-line poems that adhere to a specific rhyme scheme. The key to a great sonnet is that it must end with a pair of lines that are set apart from the rest. Differentiating those two lines provides emphasis – giving their message much importance than the rest of the poem.

Another important element of poetic structure is the ‘rhythm’, or the beat that the poem follows. This will typically be measured in meters (sets of syllables that are stressed and unstressed) that the reader will sing a long with. Consider the rhythmic effect of music and the words. What emotions does the singer display? The notes and the meter may be fast at first, but they may slow down later on. This rhythm effects the message as a whole.

Lastly, a person writing poetry might decide to use figurative language techniques to create a specific effect. Rhythm scheme is one of those methods – it uses a pattern of repeating final sounds in the last word of each sentence. Developing patterns of rhyming will also affect the poems rhythm. Whole rhyming lines might be repeated throughout the poem in order to bring emphasis to the message the writer is delivering.

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Examples of Poetry Structure

Think of a song, for example. Songs typically have a chorus, or a few lines of refrain that are repeated several times over. These are typically the lines that most people have the best recollection of. The writer knew that by manipulating the repetition and rhyme they would be able to have their audience reciting their work over and over. Repetition and rhyme are powerful tools.

Here is an example of rhyme in poetry.

I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud by William Wordsworth

I wandered lonely as a cloud

That floats on high o’er vales and hills,

When all at once I saw a crowd,

A host, of golden daffodils;

Beside the lake, beneath the trees,

Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine

And twinkle on the milky way,

They stretched in never-ending line

Along the margin of a bay:

Ten thousand saw I at a glance,

Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced; but they

Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:

A poet could not but be gay,

In such a jocund company:

I gazed—and gazed—but little thought

What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie

In vacant or in pensive mood,

They flash upon that inward eye

Which is the bliss of solitude;

And then my heart with pleasure fills,

And dances with the daffodils.

Different Types of Poetic Structures

As alluded to earlier, rhythm is what gives poetry its ‘sound.’ There are multiple ways in which rhythm might be used – and even more elements of poetry that can be attributed to rhythm.

Stress or Accent: Each line of a poems contains syllables. Whenever emphasis is placed on a specific syllable, it is referred to as a stressed syllable. Stress refers to the emphasis that is given to that syllable.

For example, ‘candle’ has two syllables: can-dle

The first syllable (“can”) is the stressed syllable – therefore it is pronounced using more emphasis than the second syllable (“dle”), which is referred to as the unstressed syllable.

Foot: A foot is the term used to describe a combination of both stressed and unstressed syllables in a single line of a poem. There are several possible combinations, however, some are more popular than the rest.

Iamb: a foot with two syllables, one that is unstressed and one that is stressed, in that specific order.
Trochee: a foot with two syllables, one that is stressed and one that is unstressed, in that specific order.
Spondee: a foot with two syllables, both are stressed.
Anapest: A foot with three syllables, two that are stressed and one that is unstressed, in that order.
Dactyl: a foot with three syllables, one that is stressed and two that are unstressed.

Meter: The term meter refers to the number of feet that are in a line of a poem. There can be any number of feet in a line of poetry, and there can even be more than one type of foot. Some meters are used more frequently than others.

Monometer: a line with 1 foot

Dimeter: A line with 2 feet

Trimeter: A line with 3 feet

Tetrameter: A line with 4 feet Pentameter: A line with 5 feet Hexameter: A line with 6 feet Heptameter: A line with 7 feet Octameter: a line with 8 feet

If a line of a poem has five feet, and each of those feet are iambs, the line of the poem is referred to as being an iambic pentameter. This is the most frequently seen metric pattern in poetry.

Scansion: When you can through a poem, you are scanning for the poem’s metrical pattern. By looking over the poem, you are essentially searching for patterns of stressed and unstressed syllables in hopes of determining what type of feet are being used. From here, you should be able to determine that meter of the poem – Whether it be an iambic pentameter, trochaic hexameter or anapestic trimester.

What is form in poetry?

There are multiple ways to write a poem and there are several different forms that could be used. There are times when the form of the poem might be determined by the meter, but there are also times where it might be determined by the content or the organization of the poem itself.

Stanza: A group of lines in a poem, similar to a paragraph.
Quatrain: A stanza with four lines.
Couplet: A stanza with two lines.
Ballad: Poetry that tells a story similar to a folktale, often includes quatrains and lines that are iambic    trimeter.
Elegy: Poetry that is sad and emotional, often written about death.
Epic: A narrative poem.
Lyric: Poetry used to express emotions.
Narrative: A poem that tells a story.
Sonnet: A sonnet typically has 14 lines. However, there are multiple variations of sonnets.

Petrarchan sonnet (or Italian sonnet): Each of its 14 lines will be written in iambic pentameter. There will be an octave (a group of 8 lines) at the beginning, and a sestet (a group of 6 lines) at the end.

Shakespearean sonnet (or English sonnet) Each of its 14 lines will be written in iambic pentameter. There will be three quatrains, and will end with a couplet. The rhyme scheme will be A-B-A-B, C-D-C-D, E-F-E-F,G,G

Structure of Poetry and Its Elements

The Line: A line in a poem is not the same as a sentence. Just because the words are placed in a single line, does not mean that the thought is complete.

As you read through a poem, and you come to the end of a line where there is no punctuation after the last word, there is no need to pause – navigate to the start of the next line and continue reading.

For example, in the poem Annabel Lee by Edgar Allen Poe, you would not come to a complete stop after the end of the first line, but instead you would keep reading until you reached the punctuated end of the paragraph.

It was many and many a year ago,

In a kingdom by the sea,

That a maiden there lived whom you may know

By the name of Annabel Lee;

And this maiden she lived with no other thought

Than to love and be loved by me.

I was a child and she was a child,

In this kingdom by the sea,

But we loved with a love that was more than love—

I and my Annabel Lee—

With a love that the wingèd seraphs of Heaven

Coveted her and me.

And this was the reason that, long ago,

In this kingdom by the sea,

A wind blew out of a cloud, chilling

My beautiful Annabel Lee;

So that her highborn kinsmen came

And bore her away from me,

To shut her up in a sepulchre

In this kingdom by the sea.

The angels, not half so happy in Heaven,

Went envying her and me—

Yes!—that was the reason (as all men know,

In this kingdom by the sea)

That the wind came out of the cloud by night,

Chilling and killing my Annabel Lee.

But our love it was stronger by far than the love

Of those who were older than we—

Of many far wiser than we—

And neither the angels in Heaven above

Nor the demons down under the sea

Can ever dissever my soul from the soul

Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;

For the moon never beams, without bringing me dreams

Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;

And the stars never rise, but I feel the bright eyes

Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;

And so, all the night-tide, I lie down by the side

Of my darling—my darling—my life and my bride,

In her sepulchre there by the sea—

In her tomb by the sounding sea.