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Kinds of poetry

There are three main kinds of poetry: narrative, dramatic and lyrical. It is not always possible to make distinction between them. For example, an epic poem can contain lyrical passages, or lyrical poem can contain narrative parts.

Narrative poetry

Is the kind of poetry which tells a story. Typical are the epic, the tale in verse, the romance. The ballad can also be included into narrative poetry because it contains a story.

The epic poem
The hero of epic poem is a special man endowed with physical strength, leadership, who respects a nation or race, and performs superhuman deeds. The dominant tone is heroic. The poem style is elevated, stylized, formal.

The primary epic was based on the oral traditions of a country – see the Iliad and Odyssey. The major Anglo-Saxon example is Beowulf. The literary or secondary epic was modeled on the primary epic, and was the work of a learned, refined writer. Examples are Virgil’s Aeneid and, in Englang, John Milton’s Paradise Lost. The commonest metre of the epic blank verse (unrhythm iambic pentametre).
The solemnity and seriousness of the epic led, almost inevitably, to parody and burlesque. This is how mock-heroic or mock-epic poetry was born. One of the best examples in English is Alexander Pope’s The Rape of the Lock.


The tale in verse

Narrative in verse was very popular during the Renaissance, and met great favour again in the Romantic period thanks to Walter Scott, who started his career as a poet, and George Byron.

The romance
The medieval romance was a tale in verse dealing with chivalry and love. Edmund Spencer’s Faerie Queene and Alfred Tennyson’s Idylls of the king are modeled on the medieval chivaltric romance.


Dramatic poetry

The word “drama” implies one or more characters and action. Dramatic poetry aims at involving the reader in an experience or situation, and creates tension, immediacy, expectation, conflict. The speakers act out roles and therefore must not be identified with the poet. Many of John Donne’s lyrics represent vivid examples of dramatic poetry.

When one speaker only is involved and the poem is his/hers speech, we have the dramatic monologue. It aim is to get the reader to understand the personality and state of mind of the speaker, and thus sympathize with him/her. This form of composition was famous by poets like Alfred Tennyson, Robert Browning and T.S. Eliot.

Lyrical poetry

This kind of poetry has, and has always had, the most appeal. As the name suggests, lyrical poetry was originally associated with music, and the term lyrical is till used to indicate a song accompanied by a musical instrument.
As Patrick Murray writes in Literary Criticism:
In general terms, it is its quality, its expression of individual thought and feeling that gives lyrical poetry its character. Ruskin defined it as “the expression by the poet of his own feelings”.
A lyric is a non-narrative poem, featuring a single speaker, whose purpose is to share a state of mind, a mood or attitude his reader.
It is easy to identify this speaker with the poet, especially when the poem reflects feelings and events that characterized the poet’s life (e.g Pascoli). However, what makes a poem significant as a work of art is the universal value of the emotion and concepts it expresses.

The ode
A rather long poem, elevated in tone and elaborated in style. It usually begins with an invocation and contains archaism. The subject is usually serious, and the concept conveyed is abstract.

The sonnet
A person of fixed form, in fourteen lines. It can be divided into an octave and sestet (Petrarchan form) or three quartrains and a couplet (Elizabethan form). It appeals to feelings directly and intensely. D.G Rossetti (a painter and a poet) defined it a moment’s monument.

The ballad
A poem narrative in kind and dramatic in style. It used to be transmitted in oral form, as a song. The metre was simple. Repetitions – of words, lines, or stanzas – are a typical feature of ballads. The stanza consists of four lines, rhyming ABCB. The ballad appealed especially to the poets of the Romantic period.

The pastoral

One of the oldest literary forms, which conventionally describes the life of shepherds and the idyllic aspects of rural life. It developed in classical times (3rd century BC) and was renewed in the Renaissance.

The elegy
Sorrowful poem or song written for someone who has died or something that is lost.

Besides these well established forms, any other poem of less than hundred lines, expressing an intense mood or feeling, can be defined a lyric.

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