A poem is a composition that uses words to evoke emotions in an imaginative way. Although poetry is a form of self-expression that knows no bounds, it can be safely divided into three main genres: lyric poetry, narrative poetry and dramatic poetry. Keep reading to see examples of poetry genres in each of these genres.
Lyric poetry uses song-like and emotional words to describe a moment, an object, a feeling, or a person. Lyric poems do not necessarily tell a story but focus on the poet’s personal attitudes and state of mind. They use sensory language to set the scene and inspire emotions in the reader.
There are several types of poetry that one could classify as lyric poetry. They include:
- elegy - a reflective poem to honor the dead
- haiku - a seventeen-syllable poem that uses natural imagery to express an emotion
- ode - an elevated poem that pays tribute to a person, idea, place, or another concept
- sonnet - a descriptive fourteen-line poem with a specific rhyme scheme
When you read a lyric poem, you are transported to a different time or place. Writing lyric poems is an effective way to illustrate your perspective and share a special moment with others.
Here's an example of lyric poetry by English Romantic poet John Keats. This excerpt is taken from "Ode on a Grecian Urn." Notice it doesn't tell a story, per se. Rather, it focuses on the speaker’s thoughts of death and morality as he studies an urn.
"O Attic shape! Fair attitude! with brede
Of marble men and maidens overwrought,
With forest branches and the trodden weed;
Thou, silent form, dost tease us out of thought
As doth eternity: Cold Pastoral!
When old age shall this generation waste,
Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe
Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou say'st,
"Beauty is truth, truth beauty,-that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know."
Elizabeth Barrett Browning's famous poem "How Do I Love Thee" is another example of a lyric poem. She focuses on the theme of love and uses figurative language to express its immeasurability.
"How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of Being and ideal Grace
I love thee to the level of everyday's
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for Right;
I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood's faith
I love thee with a love I seem to love
With my lost saints, - I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life! - and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death."
A narrative poem tells a story. Also known as epic poetry, narrative poetry is often set to music as ballads. Narrative poems are usually of human interest and include epics, or long stories.
Examples of poetry in this category include:
- allegory - a narrative poem that uses an extended metaphor to make a point
- ballad - narrative poetry set to music
- burlesque - a mock-epic poem that tells an ordinary story in a melodramatic way
- epic - a lengthy poem that tells a story of heroic adventures
If the story changes over the course of the poem, it’s a narrative poem. The rhyme scheme and meter may change between narrative poems, but all narrative poems tell a story from the perspective of a third-person narrator.
Homer’s The Odyssey is one of the oldest and most famous epic poems. The epic is an example of poetry that tells a story through poetic language. It tells the story of heroic (but cursed) Odysseus and his crew as they battle monsters, outwit witches and make their way home to his waiting wife.
Of the cunning hero,
The wanderer, blown off course time and again
After he plundered Troy's sacred heights.
Speak of all the cities he saw, the minds he grasped,
The suffering deep in his heart at sea
As he struggled to survive and bring his men home
But could not save them, hard as he tried—
The fools—destroyed by their own recklessness
When they ate the oxen of Hyperion the Sun,
And that god snuffed out their day of return."
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s epic tale, “Paul Revere’s Ride,” tells the story of American Revolution hero Paul Revere and his historic ride. It captures the tension of the night and the thrill of the early Revolution.
"Listen, my children, and you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,
On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-Five:
Hardly a man is now alive
Who remembers that famous day and year.
He said to his friend, “If the British march
By land or sea from the town to-night,
Hang a lantern aloft in the belfry-arch
Of the North-Church-tower, as a signal-light,—
One if by land, and two if by sea;
And I on the opposite shore will be,
Ready to ride and spread the alarm
Through every Middlesex village and farm,
For the country-folk to be up and to arm."
Dramatic poetry, also known as dramatic monologue, is meant to be spoken or acted. Similar to narrative poetry, dramatic poetry tells a story. You’re most likely to find dramatic poetry in the form of dramatic (or even comedic) monologues or soliloquies written in a rhyming verse.
Many dramatic poems appear as:
- monologue - a speech given by one character to another, or by one character to the audience (also known as dramatic verse when not in poetic form)
- soliloquy - a speech given by one character to himself or herself; a dramatic representation of inner monologue
While narrative poetry is told by a narrator, dramatic poetry is written from the perspective of a character in the story. Narrative poetry tends to set the scene and describe what's happening, whereas dramatic poetry tends to lead with a main character entering the scene and speaking.
Here is an excerpt from the opening of Robert Browning's "My Last Duchess." It’s often used as an example of dramatic monologue because it’s told from a character’s point of view.
"That's my last Duchess painted on the wall,
Looking as if she were alive. I call
That piece a wonder, now; Fra Pandolf's hands
Worked busily a day, and there she stands.
Will't please you sit and look at her? I said
"Fra Pandolf" by design, for never read
Strangers like you that pictured countenance,
The depth and passion of its earnest glance,
But to myself they turned (since none puts by
The curtain I have drawn for you, but I)
And seemed as they would ask me, if they durst,
How such a glance came there; so, not the first
Are you to turn and ask thus. Sir, 'twas not
Her husband's presence only, called that spot
Of joy into the Duchess' cheek; perhaps
Fra Pandolf chanced to say, "Her mantle laps
Over my lady's wrist too much," or "Paint
Must never hope to reproduce the faint
Half-flush that dies along her throat."
Following is an excerpt from a dramatic poem titled "The Dream Called Life" by Pedro Calderon de la Barca. The scene is immediately set with one word - dream. After that, we enter into a swirl of emotion as the writer tells us a story.
"A DREAM it was in which I found myself.
And you that hail me now, then hailed me king,
In a brave palace that was all my own,
Within, and all without it, mine; until,
Drunk with excess of majesty and pride,
Methought I towered so big and swelled so wide
That of myself I burst the glittering bubble
Which my ambition had about me blown
And all again was darkness. Such a dream
As this, in which I may be walking now,
Dispensing solemn justice to you shadows,
Who make believe to listen; but anon
Kings, princes, captains, warriors, plume and steel,
Ay, even with all your airy theater,
May flit into the air you seem to rend ..."
Whether you’re writing lyric poetry to evoke emotions, narrative poetry to tell a story or dramatic poetry to express a character’s point of view, it’s a wonderful way to use the written word. Poetry is an escape from the mundane moments of everyday life. When you’re ready to put pen to paper, check out these helpful tips on writing poetry. And if your poem doesn’t fit into a rhyme scheme or poetic meter, take a look at these examples of free verse poetry.