Poetry: Definition, Types & Examples

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      According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, “Poetry is a vast subject, as old as history and older, present wherever religious is present, possibly — under some definitions - the primal and primary form of languages themselves”. Poetry is a form of literature that uses aesthetic and rhythmic qualities of language — such as phonaesthetics, sound symbolism, and meter to evoke meanings messages. Poetry has a long history right since period of the Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh. Poetry is the first major literary genre. All types of poetry share specific characteristics. In fact, poetry is a form of text that follows a meter and rhythm with each lines and syllables. Poetry is the literary work in which the expression of feelings and ideas is given intensity by the use of distinctive style and rhythm. Poetry is an imaginative awareness of experience expressed through meaning, sound, and rhythmic language choices so as to evoke an emotional response. Poetry has been known to employ meter and rhyme, but this is by no means necessary. Poetry is an ancient form that has gone through numerous and drastic reinvention over time. The very nature of poetry as an authentic and individual mode of expression makes it nearly impossible to define. According to the themes and development of the themes throughout the poetry, it can be divided into some major types as (i) narrative poetry, (ii) lyric poetry, (iii) descriptive and didactic poetry:

1. Narrative Poetry

      Narrative poetry gives a verbal representation of a sequence of connected events in verse. It propels characters through a plot. It is always told by a narrator. Narrative poems might tell of a love story (like Tennyson’s Maud), the story of a father and son (like William Wordsworth’s Michael) or the deeds of a hero or heroine (like Walter Scott’s Lay of the Last Minstrel). The narrative poetry can in turn be of few other categories, such as epic, mock-epic and ballad.

a) Epics usually operate on a large scale, both in length and topic, such as the founding of a nation or the beginning of world history. They tend to use an elevated style of language and supernatural beings take part in the action.

b) Mock-Epic makes use of epic conventions, like the elevated style and the assumption that the topic is of great importance, to deal with completely insignificant occurrences. Mock-epic (also known as a mock-heroic) poetry draws heavily on the technique of satire. Alexander Pope’s The Rape of the Lock, which tells the story of a young beautiful girl whose suitor secretly cuts off a lock of her hair, is a great instance of mock-epic.

c) Ballad is a song, originally transmitted orally, which tells a story. It is an important form of folk poetry which was adapted for literary uses from the sixteenth century onwards. The ballad stanza is usually a four-line stanza, alternating tetrameter and trimeter.

2. Lyric Poetry

      Lyric Poetry is a comparatively short, non-narrative poem in which a single speaker presents a state of mind or an emotional state. Lyric poetry retains some of the elements of song which is said to be its origin. For Greek writers the lyric was a song accompanied by the lyre. Subcategories of the lyric are sonnet, ode, elegy and dramatic monologue and most occasional poetry.

a) Sonnet was originally a love poem which dealt with the lover’s sufferings and hopes. It originated in Italy and became popular in England in the Renaissance period, when Thomas Wyatt and the Earl of Surrey translated and imitated the sonnets written by Petrarch. Sonnets are written in specific style and rhyme scheme of its own. William Shakespeare is the greatest sonneteers in English literature amongst others.

b) Ode is a long lyric poem with a serious subject written in an elevated style. Famous examples of Ode are Wordsworth’s Hymn to Duty and Keats’ Ode to a Grecian Urn.

c) Elegy is a formal lament for the death of a particular person. More broadly defined, the term elegy is also used for solemn
meditations, often on questions of death. Gray’s Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard and Tennyson’s In Memoriam are two perfect examples of elegy.

d) In Dramatic Monologue a speaker, who is explicitly someone other than the author, makes a speech to a silent audience in a specific situation and at a critical moment. Without intending to do so, the speaker reveals aspects of his temperament and character. In Browning’s My Last Duchess for instance, the Duke shows the picture of his last wife to the emissary from his prospective new wife and reveals his excessive pride in his position and his jealous temperament.

e) Occasional Poetry is written for a specific occasion: a wedding (then it is called an epithalamion, as is Spenser’s Epithalamion), the return of a king from exile (for instance Dryden’s Annus Mirabilis) or a death (for example Milton’s Lycidas\ etc.

3. Descriptive, Dramatic and Didactic Poetry

      Descriptive poetry is the name given to a class of literature that belongs mainly to the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries in Europe. When both lyric and narrative poetry contains lengthy and detailed descriptions, they are termed as descriptive poetry. And when they contain some scenes in direct speech, they are termed as dramatic poetry. Dramatic poetry is a drama that is written in verse that is meant to be spoken. Dramatic poetry includes dramatic monologues and rhyme verse. It usually tells a story or refers to a situation. A good example of dramatic poetry comes from Christopher Marlowe. This excerpt is from the opening of Tamburlaine the Great and is very dramatic:

“From jigging veins of riming mother wits and such conceits as clownage keeps in pay We’ll lead you to the stately tent of war, Where you shall hear the Scythian Tamburlaine Threatening the world with high astounding terms and scourging kingdoms with his conquering sword.”

      On the other hand, the purpose of a didactic poem is primarily to teach something. This can take the form of very specific instructions, such as how to catch a fish, as in James Thomson’s The Seasons (Spring 379- 442) or how to write good poetry as in Pope’s Essay on Criticism. But it can also be meant as instructive in a general way. Didactic poetry also offers moral lessons at the end.

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