Types of Poems You Need to Know About

Poetry is a highly diverse and continuously evolving art form that finds its roots in prehistoric times, and hundreds of different types of poems have emerged throughout human history. So without further ado, let’s check out 10 of the most interesting forms of poetry out there!

  1. Epic

Epic poems are perhaps the oldest poems in the written record, often telling stories of ancient gods and heroes and the supernatural forces they battled against. The grand scale of their narratives, the complexity of their characters, and the formal, sophisticated language they use set them apart. These types of poems were made before reading and writing were common. As a result, they were usually told orally and only recorded centuries after their invention.

The Sumerians wrote the oldest Epic poem we know of is the Epic of Gilgamesh around 5,000 years ago. Famous works by the Ancient Greek poet Homer such as the Iliad are also great examples of the form.

  1. Limerick

Unlike epic poems, limericks usually involve a more lighthearted approach to their subject matter, which is often ribald. They also adhere to a strict rhyming pattern and form consisting of five lines.

The first two lines rhyme with each other along with the fifth, all of which can contain seven to ten syllables. As for the third and fourth lines, they break up the pattern with their distinct rhymes. They generally have a shorter length of five to ten syllables. Here’s an example of a limerick published in a New Brunswick newspaper in 1880:

There was a young rustic named Mallory,

who drew but a very small salary.

When he went to the show,

his purse made him go

to a seat in the uppermost gallery.

  1. Sonnet

Anyone who read Shakespeare in high school is familiar with this term. However, sonnets had already been around for hundreds of years by the time the Bard started coming up with his own. Their origins lie in 13th-century Italy, and over time they were divided into two categories. One bears the name of Shakespeare, and the other bears the name of the Italian poet Petrarch, who helped popularize the genre in Europe.

Though Shakespearean and Petrarchan sonnets have their own distinct rules, they both consist of 14 lines written in Iambic Pentameter. This is a rhythmic pattern that uses ten syllables divided into five pairs, with one stressed and the other unstressed. Petrarch divided his sonnets into two sections, one with eight lines and the other with six, whereas Shakespeare split his sonnets into three sections of four lines called quatrains, followed by a two-line section called a couplet.

  1. Ghazal

Ghazals are a form of Arabic poetry that eventually became core parts of Persian and Urdu literary traditions. They’re on the shorter side with between five to fifteen couplets in a ghazal. However, they have slightly different rhyming patterns than what English speakers might be used to.

Instead of the last words of each line rhyming with each other, Ghazals place the rhyme in the second last word, with the final word being a kind of refrain. The true spirit of the ghazal sometimes becomes lost in translation, but there’s recently been a new wave of English ghazals that show the enormous cross-cultural potential of this poetry form.

  1. Acrostic

Here we have an example of a poem that creates patterns through more than just rhyming schemes. While acrostic poems usually have an alternative rhyme pattern or an ABAB pattern, in other words, they also form a word through the first letter of each line. Sometimes the first letter of each paragraph or any other repeated feature forms the word, but the basic idea is still the same.

You can find examples of acrostic poems in the Hebrew Bible and the religious texts of the Ancient Sumerians, so this type of poem has been around for thousands of years! Nowadays, these types of poems have become an effective way for children to develop language skills and improve their critical thinking abilities by spotting the patterns they form.

  1. Ode

Similarly to epic poems, odes are an ancient style of poetry. You can trace their roots back to the time of the Ancient Greeks. In the time of the Ancient Greeks, people probably accompanied them with an instrument called the Lyre while reciting or singing. The subject matter generally praises the beauty of nature, venerates a momentous occasion, or expresses love or admiration for an individual.

There are three forms of odes, starting with Pindaric inspired by the works of the Greek lyrical poet Pindar. Horatian odes take their cue from Horatius, a Roman lyrical poet whose name translates to Horace in English. Finally, irregular odes use a different style from those of Horatian and Pindaric odes.

  1. Haiku

Haiku is a form of traditional Japanese poetry developed during the Meiji period in the late 19th century that consists of three phrases divided into 5, 7, and 5 syllables. They contain linguistic devices called kireji which indicate a pause between two lines. A kigo is a metaphor for the season or natural environment that the haiku is describing. For example, the author of a haiku might use cherry blossoms to refer to spring, snow for winter, cicadas for summer, or falling leaves to refer to autumn.

Despite their brevity, haiku are evocative and meditative types of poems. They use vivid language to evoke the feeling of being in nature and help readers absorb the emotional essence of the subject matter.

  1. Elegy

Poetic language can help us express our deepest inner selves. No emotion is as potent as the grief of losing a loved one. Elegies are poems that can encapsulate this sorrow. Their brooding, introspective tone discusses topics like the fleetingness of life and the unstoppable march of time.

The Ancient Greeks created the first elegies thousands of years ago. During the time of Ancient Rome, their subject matter broadened to include myths, intimacy, and even satire. In the modern age, elegies in English literature adhere to their original, sorrowful style.

  1. Free Verse

You might think that all poems need to rhyme, but free verse poetry throws all those rules out the window. This form doesn’t just reject rhyming patterns. It eschews any pattern you’d associate with poetry including meter and rhythm. Instead, free verse poems possess a conversational flow and an informal rhythmic pattern.

The lack of structural rules allows for unrestricted freedom of expression. Many free verse poets experiment with syntax, imagery, and metaphor. Despite their unorthodox qualities, these types of poems are poignant explorations of deep emotions and philosophies.

  1. Villanelle

Villanelles are the polar opposites of free verse because they use a rigidly fixed verse consisting of nineteen lines. The first fifteen are divided into groups of three called tercets, with a four-line quatrain finishing the poem.

The nineteen-line requirement can be challenging for poets to master, but villanelles didn’t always have a strict structure. They originated as free verse ballads and evolved into the fixed verse style during the 17th century. If you want to read an example of a villanelle, check out “Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night” by Dylan Thomas.

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