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Poetry Types
<strong>Traditional Verse
</strong>closed form
Most of what follows (below) applies to Traditional Verse, especially all aspects that constrain or define form, meter, rhyme, or sequence in stanzas, or require patterns of emphasis (stress).

Free Verse
open form

Free Verse usually contains crafted, deliberate lines, and can be considered Narrative, Lyric, or Dramatic, but is not constrained by traditions of form, stanza, meter, etc. It often makes use of stresses, phrase repetition, exacting word choice, and a melodic pace, following natural speech/thought, not fixed form.

Prose Poem
open form
Prose Poems might use line breaks in an original, un-prosaic manner, but is usually written like prose (paragraphs). It can even adhere internally to Stanzaic and Fixed Forms, but without line breaks and/or enforced stresses (thus emulating natural speech).

Form Types

Stream-of-consciousness, narrative, or dramatic monolog; prose poems.
{tip "On The Road" —Jack Kerouac::The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn, like fabulous yellow Roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars, and in the middle, you see the blue center-light pop, and everybody goes ahh..}Jack Kerouac{/tip}

Unrhymed iambic and usually pentameter lines (using 5 beats / 10 stresses). Most common form of English poetry.
{tip "Sunday Morning" —Wallace Stevens::
Complacencies of the peignoir, and late
Coffee and oranges in a sunny chair,
And the green freedom of a cockatoo
Upon a rug mingle to dissipate
The holy hush of ancient sacrifice.
She dreams a little, and she feels the dark
Encroachment of that old catastrophe,
As a calm darkens among water-lights.
The pungent oranges and bright, green wings
Seem things in some procession of the dead,
Winding across wide water, without sound.
The day is like wide water, without sound,
Stilled for the passing of her dreaming feet
Over the seas, to silent Palestine,
Dominion of the blood and sepulchre.}Wallace Stevens{/tip}

1 to 4 lines of concise, polished observations or "wisdom" statements. No fixed form, but poetic epigram conforms to a metric musicality, always.
{tip "All things pass" —Stevie Smith::All things passLove and mankind is grass.}Stevie Smith{/tip}

Traditional haiku is 17 syllables (on or morae), in three phrases (lines) of 5, 7, 5. (But even Haiku masters broke the 17 rule.)
{tip "last pull" —Greg Correll::
The last rasping suck
of the milkshake. My mouth mourns
a lost creamy pull.}Greg Correll{/tip}

5 lines with anapestic meter (ta-ta-TUM) and a strict rhyme scheme of aabba. Lines 1, 2, and 5 have 3 feet of 3+ syllables; lines 3 and 4 are 2 feet of 3 syllables (though 3-3-2-2-3 stresses is the essential thing).
{tip "A Lady Named Bright" —anon::
There was a young lady named Bright
whose speed was much faster than light
She set off one day
in her usual way
and returned home the previous night}'Bright'{/tip}

4 line stanzas (quatrains). No fixed length. Rhyming scheme is abab.
2nd and 4th lines of 1st quatrain is 1st and 3rd of Q2, and so forth with successive quatrains. Final quatrian uses the unrepeated 1st and 3rd lines (Q1) are reversed as 2nd and 4th lines.

{tip "She Put on Her Lipstick in the Dark" —Stuart Dischell::

I really did meet a blind girl in Paris once.
It was in the garden of a museum,
Where I saw her touching the statues.
She had brown hair and an aquamarine scarf.

It was in the garden of the museum.
I told her I was a thief disguised as a guard.
She had brown hair and an aquamarine scarf.
She told me she was a student from Grenoble.

I told her I was not a thief disguised as a guard.
We had coffee at the little commissary.
She said she had time till her train to Grenoble.
We talked about our supreme belief in art.

...}Stuart Dischell{/tip}

6 stanzas of Sestets (6 lines), often followed by
3 line half-stanza (Terset) Iambic, often pentameter; varies.
Usually unrhymed. If rhymed: uses triplets (abcabccefedf),
Line endings (words) are rotated in set patterns.
1st stanza: 123456.
2nd: 615243 (S1's first/last end words).
3rd stanza: 364125, etc.
{tip "Sestina" —Elizabeth Bishop::
September rain falls on the house.
In the failing light, the old grandmother
sits in the kitchen with the child
beside the Little Marvel Stove,
reading the jokes from the almanac,
laughing and talking to hide her tears.

She thinks that her equinoctial tears
and the rain that beats on the roof of the house
were both foretold by the almanac,
but only known to a grandmother.
The iron kettle sings on the stove.
She cuts some bread and says to the child,

...}Elizabeth Bishop{/tip}


14 rhymed lines (iambic, often pentameter).
1 Octave (2 Quatrains) followed by
1 Sestet (2 Tersets).
Rhyme scheme is abbaabba, cdecde
(alt: ababcdcd, cdccdc or efgefg, etc).
{tip "Peace" —Rupert Brooke::
Now, God be thanked who has matched us with his hour,
And caught our youth, and wakened us from sleeping!
With hand made sure, clear eye, and sharpened power,
To turn, as swimmers into cleanness leaping,

Glad from a world grown old and cold and weary;
Leave the sick hearts that honor could not move,
And half-men, and their dirty songs and dreary,
And all the little emptiness of love!

Oh! we, who have known shame, we have found release there,
Where there’s no ill, no grief, but sleep has mending,
Naught broken save this body, lost but breath;

Nothing to shake the laughing heart’s long peace there,
But only agony, and that has ending;
And the worst friend and enemy is but Death.}Rupert Brooke{/tip}

19 rhymed lines. 5 Tercets, then a Quatrain.
No established meter (trimeter, pentameter, etc).
2 refrains and 2 repeating rhymes:
Rhyme is A1bA2 abA1 abA2 abA1 abA2 abA1A2.
The 1st line of 1st stanza is the last line of 2nd and 4th stanzas. The 3rd line of 1st stanza is last line of 3rd and 5th stanzas.
{tip "Do not go gentle into that good night" —Dylan Thomas::
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.}Dylan Thomas{/tip}

(see: Types of Stanza, below)

Content Types

A poem with an arc of story, a plot, a set of characters who undergo transformation according to the tradition of storytelling.
{tip "The Epic of Gilgamesh" —anonymous::The eyes of Enkidu were full of tears
and his heart was sick.
He sighed bitterly and Gilgamesh
met his eye and said,
"My friend, why do you sigh so bitterly?
But Enkidu opened his mouth and said,
"I am weak, my arms have lost their strength,
the cry of sorrow sticks in my throat.
I am oppressed by idleness."}'Gilgamesh'{/tip}

Lyric poetry is a relatively brief, personal or emotional poem,
with a central theme or singular effect, that uses creative imagery,
inventive ideas, and musical or dramatic meter.

Historically, Greek elegaic couplets that mourned, commemorated, or exalted persons and events. Any form can be elegaic.
{tip "Fugue of Death" —Paul Celan::Black milk of daybreak we drink it at nightfall
we drink it at noon in the morning we drink it at night
we drink it and drink it
we are digging a grave in the sky it is ample to lie there
A man in the house he plays with the serpents he writes
he writes when the night falls to Germany your golden
hair Margarete
he writes it and walks from the house the stars glitter he
whistles his dogs up
he whistles his Jews out and orders a grave to be dug in
the earth
he commands us strike up for the dance}Paul Celan{/tip}

Haiku is "cutting" (kiru)—the parataxis or pairing of 2 ideas seperated by a kireji ("cutting word";). Call-and-response, change of focus, unexpected twist, deeper meaning, are examples of kireji.

Often bawdy if not obscene, always humorous or witty. Like haiku it has a singular idea, and pays it off with a punchline or twist.

From Malayan, via France. No fixed length, iunlikely most fixed forms. It is considered "slow" in how it gradually intrioduces new lines, and thus suits looking back, timelessness. Early champions were Hugo and Baudelaire

A form derived from troubadour music (12th c.) that has enjoyed many revivals as a popular form, including by modern poets. Understood by many as a form suited to harsh complaint or demands, because of its tight, labyrinthine harmonies

Traditionally, each Octave is often a problem/question, and the Sestet is the resolution/answer. Line 9 is the turn (volta).

Historically these were pastorals (ital. villanella, rustic song). Modern usage is for obsessions, intense examination or focus which exploits/suits the recurrence in the structure. Villanelles are again a popular form, undergoing innovation since the 1980s


Shakespeare's plays, Browning's dramatic monologs, Ginsberg's Howl


Thomas Wolfe's "Only the Dead Know Brooklyn"

A poem can qualify under more than one Form and Type. For example, "Howl," a dramatic free verse, has aspects of Lyric and Narrative Content Types.
Some Forms resist certain kinds of Content. For example, a Villanelle, with its recurring, circular use of lines and rhymes, resists narrative, and lends itself to poems about found moments, universal themes, and observed phenomenon or sensation. A Ballad can be Fixed or Stanzaic, Lyric and/or Dramatic.

Types of Stanzas
Stanza or Verse

two or more lines grouped together
(four lines grouped together is most common)

a unit of two lines that end in perfect rhyme
(the basic unit of English poetry)
I think that I shall never see
a poem as lovely as a tree

a unit of three lines*

Quatrain (Quartet)
a group of four lines*

Quintain (Quintet)
a group of five lines*

a group of six lines*

a group of seven lines*

a group of eight lines*

* with a recurring rhyme scheme

Reading Lines of Poetry
End-Stopped Line
the meaning of a line comes to a definite end

Enjambed Line
the meaning does not end but continues on
to the next line

the running of one line into another line

The Sounds of Poetry
End Rhyme
the words at the end of the lines rhyme

Eye Rhyme
two words look as though they should sound alik
e (e.g. tough and though)

Perfect Rhyme
the sound of the two words is exactly alike
(e.g. dream and scheme

Near or Slant Rhyme
the sound of the two words is close but not exact
(e.g. ball and bell)

Masculine Rhyme
the accent on the rhyming words is on a final strong syllable
(e.g. bells and foretells)

Feminine Rhyme
the accent on the rhyming words is on a weak syllable
(e.g. season and reason)

Internal Rhyme
using rhyme in the middle of a line as well as the end

The repetition of the same sounding letters, and the letters are consonants. Or, the repetition of initial identical consonant sounds or any vowel sounds in successive or closely associated syllables, especially stressed syllables. . . . Alliteration, limited to "onsets," which are mostly consonants, seems to dwell in the ear for a much shorter time than rhyme, which involves both vowels and consonants and seems to stay in the memory over a period of thirty or more syllables.

Consonantal Alliteration

"The fair breeze blew, the white foam flew, / The furrow followed free." (Coleridge)

Vowel Alliteration:

"Apt alliteration's artful aid is often an occasional element in prose."

Alliteration of sounds

"The moan of doves in immemorial elms, / And murmuring of innumerable bees."

The repetition of vowel sounds within a phrase. Or, generally, the patterning of vowel sounds without regard to consonants. . . . Assonance sometimes refers to same or similar vowel sounds in stressed syllables that end with different consonant sounds. Assonance differs from rhyme in that rhyme typically involves both vowel and consonant sounds.
"Lake" and "fake" demonstrate full rhyme; "lake" and "fate" assonance.

The relation between words in which the final consonants in the stressed syllables agree but the vowels that precede them differ. In view of the vagaries attending the ways in which vowels are pronounced and spelled, most so-called eye rhymes (such as "word-lord" or "blood-food-good";) are instances of consonance.
"add-read," "mill-ball," and "torn-burn."

using a word that “sounds” like the noise it describes
(e.g. buzz, whack, hiss, sizzle, etc.).

The Rhythm of Poetry

Meter in poetry is a way of measuring a line of poetry based on the rhythm of the words. The meter of much poetry of the Western world and elsewhere is based on particular patterns of syllables of particular types.

Foot in poetry is a unit of stressed and unstressed syllables. For example, look at this line from Shakespeare: "No longer mourn for me when I am dead." The rhythm is, "bah-BAH bah-BAH bah-BAH bah-BAH bah-BAH.

We read it like this: "no LON-ger MOURN for ME when I am DEAD." The type of foot Shakespeare used here is called an iamb. An iamb or an iambic foot has the rhythm bah-BAH. An unstressed syllable, then a stressed one. The iamb is the most common kind of foot in English poetry.

“the rhythm of a poem is built on the sound of words”

a method of analyzing a poem by marking the pattern of accents in a line of poetry

the strong syllable or syllables in a word / the part of a word we emphasize with breath and tone

Strong Accent
all words with more than one syllable will have at least one strong accent

Weak Accent
other syllables in a word

a term used in place of “strong accent” / the emphasized sound(s) in a word

a term used in place of “weak accent” / the unemphasized sound(s) in a word

one unit of the rhythmic pattern that makes up the meter

one weak and one strong syllable

Iambic Meter
the rhythm based on the iambic foot

one strong and one weak syllable

Trochaic Meter
the rhythm based on the trochaic foot

two weak syllables followed by a strong syllable

Anapestic Meter
the rhythm based on the anapestic foot

a strong syllable followed by two weak syllables

Dactylic Meter
the rhythm based on the dactylic foot

two strong accents together

two weak accents together

a break in the meter (often punctuated with a period, colon, semicolon, or possibly a comma)

an unstressed syllable at the beginning of a line that does not affect the overall meter

the pattern set up by the regular rhythm of words in a poem

a line of one (1) foot

a line of two (2) feet

a line of three (3) feet

a line of four (4) feet

a line with five (5) feet

a line with six (6) feet

a line with seven (7) feet

a line with eight (8) feet

Poetic feet in classical metrics

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Systems_of_scansion#Classical_scansion_--_macron_and_breve";">Macron and breve notation: ¯ = stressed/long syllable, ˘ = unstressed/short syllable

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pyrrhic";">pyrrhus, dibrach


http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trochee";">trochee, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Choree";">choree (or choreus)





http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anapest";">anapest, antidactylus



http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cretic";">cretic, amphimacer


tetrabrach, proceleusmatic

primus http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paeon_%28prosody%29";">paeon

secundus paeon

tertius paeon

quartus paeon

major http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ionic_meter";">ionic, double trochee

minor ionic, double iamb





first epitrite

second epitrite

third epitrite

fourth epitrite


* / monometer
/ * monometer
* * / monometer
/ * * amphimacic monometer
/ * /
* / | * / dimeter
/ * | / * dimeter
* * / | * * / dimeter
/ * * | / * * amphimacic dimeter
/ * / | / * /
* / | * / | * / trimeter
/ * | / * | / * trimeter
* * / | * * / | * * / trimeter
/ * * | / * * | / * * amphibrachictrimeter
* / * | * / * | * / *
* / | * / | * / | * / | tetrameter
/ * | / * | / * | / * tetrameter
**/ | **/ | **/| **/ tetrameter
/** | /** | /** | /** tetrameter
* /|* /|* /|* /|* / pentameter
/ *| / *| / *| / *| / * pentameter
**/|**/|**/**/|**/ pentameter
/**|/**|/**|/**|/** amphibrachicpentameter
*/|* /|* /|* /|*/|*/ hexameter
/* |/* |/*|/* |/* |/* hexameter
(six feet) hexameter
(six feet) hexameter
*/|* /|* /|* /|*/|*/|*/ heptameter
/*|/* |/*|/* |/* |/*|/* heptameter
(seven feet) heptameter
(seven feet) heptameter
(seven feet)
(eight feet) octameter
(eight feet) octameter
(eight feet) octameter
(eight feet) octameter
(eight feet)
alternating iambic tetrameter and dimeter trochaic tetrameters with one dimeter per stanza anapestic dimeters and trimeters dactylic tetrameters and trimeters
alternating iambic tetrameter and trimeter (common measure, ballad meter) anapestic tetrameters and trimeters dactylic tetrameters and dimeters alternating amphibrachic tetrameter and trimeter (sort of)
iambic trimeter lines 1,2,4; tetrameter in 3 (short measure)
Please note that the templates above almost never fit an actual poem exactly. If we use this foot-based method to describe poetic meter in English, we have to allow for abundant "substitution," where any iamb ( * / ) can become a trochee ( / * ), a spondee ( / / ), or a pyrrhic ( * * ). Trochaic rhythm tends to be somewhat more regular, but substitutions occur there as well. Sometimes poets introduce three-syllable feet into a line of iambs or trochees, and three-syllable (or "triple";) footed meters often shift from anapests ( * * /), to dactyls ( / * * ), amphibrachs ( * / * ), amphimacers ( / * / ), and other combinations.

Note that spondaic meters or pyrrhic meters (as opposed to individual feet) in English are impossible because of the constant alternation of stressed and unsrtessed syllables. Despite this obvious truth, some discussions of English metrics speak of spondaic meter and even attempt to illustrate it with lines isolated from poems written in iambic or anapestic meters.

Chart ©1999 H. T. Kirby-Smith







See also

External links


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