Elements of Poetry: Structure and Forms Let’s start with some basics…

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Elements of Poetry: Structure and Forms

Let’s start with some basics…

  • Let’s start with some basics…


  • May be short or long.

  • Are NOT necessarily complete sentences or even complete thoughts!

  • The arrangement of lines, spacing, and whether or not the lines rhyme in some manner, can define the FORM of a poem.


  • A group of lines whose rhyme scheme is usually followed throughout the poem.

  • A division in poetry like a paragraph in prose.

  • Common stanza patterns include couplets, triplets, quatrains, etc.

  • Free-verse poems follow no rules regarding where to divide stanzas.

And now several forms

  • And now several forms

  • of poetry…


  • Two lines that rhyme.

  • A complete idea is usually expressed in a couplet, or in a long poem made up of many couplets.

  • Couplets may be humorous or serious.

Couplet continued…

  • Example:

  • But if the while I think on thee, dear friend,

  • All losses are restored and sorrows end.

  • Shakespeare

  • Chocolate candy is sweet and yummy

  • It goes down smoothly in my tummy!

  • Unknown

Couplet continued…

  • Twinkle, twinkle little star,

  • How I wonder what you are,

  • Up above the world so high,

  • Like a diamond in the sky.

Narrative Poems

  • Tell a story. It is a story told in verse, by a speaker or narrator.

  • There is a plot … something happens; because of this, something else happens.

  • Can be true or fictional.

  • Poems vary in treatment of character and setting.

  • Forms of narrative poetry include:

    • ballad
    • epic

Narrative Poems: Ballad

  • A narrative, rhyming poem or song.

  • Characterized by short stanzas and simple words, usually telling a heroic and/or tragic story (although some are humorous).

  • Can be long.

  • Usually rich with imagery (emotionally charged visual images).

  • Originated from folk songs that told exciting or dramatic stories.

Ballad continued…

  • Example from John Henry, a traditional American ballad in ten stanzas.

  • When John Henry was a tiny little baby

  • Sitting on his mama’s knee,

  • He picked up a hammer and a little piece of steel

  • Saying, “Hammer’s going to be the death of me, Lord, Lord,

  • Hammer’s going to be the death of me.”

  • John Henry was a man just six feet high.

  • Nearly two feet and a half across his chest.

  • He’d hammer with a nine-pound hammer all day

  • And never get tired and want to rest. Lord, Lord,

  • And never get tired and want to rest.

Ballad continued…

  • Example from The Unquiet Grave. (an old ballad that would have been sung to an eerily catchy tune)

  • The wind doth blow today, my love,

  • And a few small drops of rain.

  • I never had but one true-love,

  • In cold grave she was lain.

  • I’ll do as much for my true-love

  • As any young man may.

  • I’ll sit and mourn all at her grave

  • For a twelvemonth and a day.

Narrative Poems: Epic

  • Very long narrative (story) poem that tells of the adventures of a hero.

  • Purpose is to help the reader understand the past and be inspired to choose good over evil.

  • Usually focuses on the heroism of one person who is a symbol of strength, virtue, and courage in the face of conflict.

Narrative Poems: Epic continued

  • Some are VERY long – for example, The Odyssey by Homer, (written as 12 books) has over 6,213 lines in the first half alone!

Lyric Poetry

  • Always expresses some emotion.

  • Poems are shorter than epic poems.

  • Tend to express the personal feelings of one speaker (often the poet).

  • Give you a feeling that they could be sung.

Lyric Poetry continued…

  • Originally Greek poets sang or recited poems accompanied by music played on a lyre (a stringed instrument like a small harp).

  • In the Renaissance, poems were accompanied by a lute (like a guitar).

Lyric Poetry: Sonnet

  • Most sonnets are in a fixed form of 14 lines of 10 syllables, usually written in iambic pentameter.

  • The theme of the poem is summed up in the last two lines.

  • Can be about any subject, but usually are about love and/or philosophy.

Lyric Poetry: Sonnet continued…

  • Example from Sonnet 18 by Shakespeare:

  • Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?

  • Thou art more lovely and more temperate:

  • Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,

  • And summer's lease hath all too short a date:

  • Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,

  • And often is his gold complexion dimm'd;

  • And every fair from fair sometime declines,

  • By chance or nature's changing course untrimm'd;

  • But thy eternal summer shall not fade

  • Nor lose possession of that fair thou owest;

  • Nor shall Death brag thou wander'st in his shade,

  • When in eternal lines to time thou growest:

  • So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,

  • So long lives this and this gives life to thee.

Lyric Poetry: Ode

  • A tribute to someone or something.

  • Often uses exalted language in praise or celebration.

  • Can be serious or humorous.

Lyric Poetry: Ode continued…

  • Example from Ode to Pablo's Tennis Shoes by Gary Soto


Elegy for Anne Frank

  • Elegy for Anne Frank

  • by Jessica Smith

  • You blossomed and grew

  • between the quiet gray walls

  • of your attic home.

  • A sidewalk-surrounded flower

  • pushed up through the cracks,

  • petals straining for

  • the light, but your

  • roots held you down.

  • In the dim light of your room

  • you made family trees,

  • the continuing lives

  • comforting you in ways

  • your mother could not.

  • While concentration camps

  • built bonfires with the

  • bones of your neighbors,

  • you dreamed of the sun and

  • the love you’d find when the doors

  • of your prison were unlocked.

  • When I took your short life from your diary,

  • I could feel your heartbeat

  • pulse with my own,

  • and every breath you took

  • went into my own lungs,

  • every desire you felt,

  • I felt, too.

  • Your life was held by four silent years,

  • surrounding you as the four walls did.

  • And before the last bomb fell,

  • destroying the last of your love and light,

  • you died.

  • And I am thankful.


  • A FUNNY 5-line poem, written with one couplet (two lines of poetry that rhyme) and one triplet (three lines of poetry that rhyme).

  • Always follows the same pattern.

  • The rhyme scheme (pattern) is – a a b b a.

  • The last line contains the “punchline” or “heart of the joke”.

  • Often contain hyperbole, onomatopoeia, idioms, and other figurative language.

Limerick continued…

  • You will soon hear the distinctive beat pattern of all limericks.

  • eg: “A fly and a flea in a flue

  • Were caught, so what could they do?

  • Said the fly, “Let us flee.”

  • “Let us fly,” said the flea.

  • So they flew through a flaw in the flue.”

Limerick continued…

Limerick continued…

  • eg. Before we even said grace

  • He sat and filled up his face

  • He gorged on salami

  • Ate all the pastrami

  • Then exploded with nary a trace.

          • There was a large bear in a tree
          • Who was in pursuit of a bee
          • The bee was no dummy
          • He gave the bear money
          • So the bear let the honeybee free.

Free Verse

  • Is just that – free!

  • Lines of poetry written without rules; no regular beat or rhyme.

  • Unrhymed poetry.


  • A Japanese form of poetry; one line of five syllables; one line of seven syllables; and a final line of five syllables.

  • Fragments (not usually complete sentences)

  • About everyday things; written in the present tense.

  • Much is left unsaid.

Haiku continued…

  • Examples:

  • Little sparrow child

  • plays in the road. “Oh, watch out!

  • Watch out! Horse tramps by!”

  • Soft, summer twilight,

  • suddenly a sound; Frog leaps

  • in the old pond – Splash!


  • A Cinquain is a poem that resembles a diamond.

  • It has 5 lines and begins with one word.

  • The 2nd line has two adjectives that describe that word.

  • The 3rd , three verbs.

  • The 4th line is a phrase that goes deeper into the topic.

  • The 5th line gives either a synonym for the first word, or a word that encompasses the whole poem.

Cinquain examples…

and a few other interesting poetry forms…

List Poem

  • One of the oldest forms of poetry

    • Polynesians used list poems to form an inventory of all of their islands!
  • a.k.a Catalog Poem

  • Can be long or short, rhymed or unrhymed

List Poem continued…

  • Example: Things a Pigeon Knows

  • What does a pigeon know? Who throws cracker crumbs the

  • Eaves and ledges, thickest,

  • Rafter edges, How thin cats are often

  • Gutter streams, quickest.

  • Steel beams, Tennis courts. Trees in parks.

  • Cars and busses, The highest steeple.

  • A bridge, with its delightful Swarms

  • trusses, of people.

  • Sidewalks,

  • Culverts,

  • Popcorn vendors, - Patricia Hubbell

  • Taxis and their yellow

  • fenders.

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