There are different types of poems in literature. Poems come in all shapes and sizes, but they all have one common goal: to evoke an emotion in the reader. Whether it’s happiness, sadness, anger, or love, poems use words to create a picture that sticks with the reader long after they’ve finished reading.
But what separates a poem from other forms of writing? Many people argue that it’s the use of poetic devices – techniques that are specific to poetry and help convey the author’s message. Others might say that it’s the structure of the poem or the way it’s formatted on the page.
In truth, there is no single answer to this question. Different people will interpret a poem differently, and what might be considered a poetic device to one person might not be to another. However, there are some general characteristics that distinguish poems from other forms of writing.
What is a Poem?
So what is a poem, exactly? According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a poem is “a composition in verse, esp. one that is characterized by grace of expression and beauty of language.” In other words, poems are typically written in verse form, and they use poetic devices to convey a message or evoke an emotion in the reader.
There are many different types of poems, and each one has its own unique structure and style. However, all poems share one common goal: to communicate something to the reader. Whether it’s a feeling, an idea, or a story, poets use words to create a picture that lasts long after the reader has finished reading.
10 Types of Poems
Now that we know what a poem is, let’s take a look at some different kinds of poems. This list contains 10 common types of poems, along with examples and explanations of each one so you can learn to identify them.
1) Narrative Poems
Narrative poems are stories written in verse form. They typically read like short stories, except that they’re written in lines instead of paragraphs.
Example: “The Highwayman” by Alfred Noyes
2) Lyric Poems
Lyric poems are brief (usually only a few lines long), personal reflections that contain no plot or characters. The reader has to interpret the meaning of the poem for themselves; there isn’t necessarily an obvious message or moral.
Example: “To His Coy Mistress” by Andrew Marvell
Sonnets are a type of lyric poem that follows a specific structure. There are 14 lines in a sonnet, and the poem is typically divided into two sections: an 8-line octave and a 6-line sestet. The octave usually introduces a problem or question, while the sestet provides a resolution or answer.
Example: “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?” by William Shakespeare
4) Blank Verse
Definition: Blank verse is unrhymed poetry written in iambic pentameter. Iambic pentameter is a poetic meter that’s made up of five feet, each foot consisting of one unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable.
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Example: “Is it thy will / thy image should keep open / my heavy eyelids to the weary night?” from Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18
A Haiku is a short, unrhymed poem that typically includes three lines and 17 syllables. The first and last lines have 5 syllables, while the middle line has 7. They usually contain a kireji (a cutting word) that divides the poem into two parts.
5-7-5 structure: The most common form of haiku follows a pattern known as 5-7-5. Each of the three lines in the poem has 5 syllables, for a total of 15. The first line introduces an idea or image that’s explored in the second line, while the final line brings the reader back to the present day.
Kigo: Kigo is a seasonal word or phrase that helps convey when the poem was written. For example, if your haiku is about autumn leaves, you might write “kogarashi.” This means “winter chill” in Japanese and implies that it’s autumn/fall by referencing cold weather. The inclusion of kigo gives English-speaking readers an idea about what time of year this scene takes place.
Double Syllable Rule: In general, each syllable in a Haiku contains only one vowel sound. However, there are two exceptions to this rule: words that end in “n” or “m,” and words that end in a double consonant (e.g. “hit” or “knot”).
Example: Autumn’s chill / Nipping at my nose– / I smell winter coming
6) Epic Poems
An epic poem is a lengthy narrative poem that tells the story of a hero overcoming great obstacles to achieve something significant. They’re typically written in an elevated style, and they often chronicle the history of a nation, people, or place. Popular examples include Homer’s Odyssey, Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy, and J.R.R Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings.
Example: The Iliad by Homer
7) Free Verse
Free verse is a type of poem that doesn’t have any set meter or rhyme scheme. It’s typically written in the natural-sounding language, and it doesn’t follow a specific structure. You can tell whether a poem is a free verse based on how it sounds. If the lines sound like they could be spoken naturally, then you’re probably looking at a piece of free verse poetry.
8) Acrostic Poems
An acrostic poem tells a story through the first letter (or letters) of each line in order to spell out a word or phrase. Most acrostic poems follow this basic structure: first line, second line, third line, etc., until the last word in each line spells out a message.
Example: Aimee loves her cat so much she wakes up at night just to pet her.
B is for bedtime when they cuddle together all content.
E is for ecstasy because that’s how it feels to hold her pet.
E is for eyes that are closed but still focused on Miss Kitty.
M is for meowing which she does every morning upon waking from naps!
E loves her cat so much that even with sleeping all day she can’t get enough of being by her side!”
Definition: Haibun is a type of short story that includes at least one poem. They’re typically written in prose and use techniques such as flashbacks, multiple perspectives, and stream-of-consciousness writing. The poet’s observations about nature often serve as the focal point of the story.
Example: A travelogue by Leslie Harrison
Definition: A limerick follows a specific structure: five lines, with the first and last lines rhyming and the middle three lines, also rhyming. They’re often humorous, and they typically tell a story or make a joke.
Example: There was a young man from Nantucket Whose dick was so long he couldn’t fuck it he took it to a whorehouse and the whole house shook because his cock was so big it could break off!
How to Identify a Poem in Literature: Step-by-Step Guide
A poem can be identified in numerous ways and is not always easily recognizable. Here we will look at some examples of different techniques used to distinguish a poem from other literary works, such as prose fiction.
1) Look for Visual Indicators
One method of identifying a poem is by finding visual indicators such as indented lines or changes in font size or typeface. In the example given below, John Milton’s “On His Blindness” may be identifying with the use of italics:
Here did I sit; in utter darkness,
But, what light then? and when I asked
My guide, he answered: ‘That in God
Is trust alone: To God and to the grain
We turn and trust that from His hand
Upward will come to a harvest for the just.’
2) Compare Line Lengths
Another technique for identifying poems is to compare line lengths. Poems often have shorter lines than prose fiction, although there are exceptions to this rule. William Carlos Williams’ “This Is Just To Say” is a good example of a poem with relatively short lines:
I have eaten
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that were in the icebox
and which you were probably
saving for breakfast
They were delicious
so sweet and so cold
3) Listen for Rhythmic Patterns
Poems also tend to have distinctive rhythmic patterns that can be heard when read aloud. Each line of Walt Whitman’s “O Captain! My Captain!” accumulates until reaching final stress on the final word:
O Captain! my Captain! our fearful trip is done;
The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won;
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring:
But O heart! heart! heart!
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O the bleeding drops of red,
Where on the deck my captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.
Identifying poems can be difficult, especially if they are embedded in prose or are not well-known. However, there are several techniques that you can use to ferret out the lyric works from the rest of the literature. Now that you know how to identify a poem, why not try your hand at one yourself? We recommend Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Requiem” as a good template upon which to base your own masterpiece!