One of the oldest forms of literary art, poetry is more than just words – it’s depth and emotion, typically strung together with a pattern, rhythm, and striking description that, sometimes, leaves us lost for words or demanding another powerful paragraph that will take the story to the next level. But how many types of poetry are there?
Unbelievably, there are more than 50 types of poetry in existence today, with both popular and unconventional styles used around the world by wordsmiths and academics alike. Whether a poem has 14 lines or 14 paragraphs, there are a variety of ways we can differentiate them.
Here are some examples of the different types of poems you will typically find when flicking through any poetry book:
Poetry by Length and Subject
The Narrative Poem
Perhaps one of the most familiar and relatable forms of poetry, the narrative poem always has a sense of a story about it. Typically, a narrative poem is narrated to the reader and describes characters and events in depth to help us, the reader, gain a full picture.
Unlike other forms of poetry, a narrative poem has no rules or constraints, making it even more story-like. Originally published in 1906, Alfred Noyes’ The Highwayman is a particularly famous narrative poem set in Edinburgh, Scotland. It’s likely that you would have read the poem as literature during school or college.
The Epic Poem
Epic in both form and function, the epic poem is like a narrative poem in that it too tells a clear story, however, an epic poem differs in language and length. Typically, epic poems are incredibly long and use grandeur language that, by some, would be deemed over the top.
Conventionally, epic poems tell the tale of a legend – a hero. Central to Greek literature, Homer was a revolutionary epic poet famed for his epic poems titled Iliad and Odyssey that were penned towards the end of the 8th century BC.
The Free Verse Poem
A style of poetry that sometimes struggles with correct identification is the free verse poem. A free verse poem is whatever you want it to be – there are no rules or conventions.
When creating a free verse poem, you can simply let the pen write and whatever you find on the page at the end of the process is, in fact, a poem.
If the poet takes maximum advantage of not being bound by rules or conventions and, therefore, decides not to use any traditional poetry functions within the poem, a free verse poem may be mistaken for a short story.
However, most poets reign in their freedom by creating poems with clear line breaks and rhythm in one way or another to help categorisation. A renowned example of a free verse poem is American poet Emily Dickinson‘s Success is counted sweetest which Emily publish anonymously in 1864.
If you’re a stickler for rhythm, you’ll love the traditional couplet poem. A couplet is simply defined as two lines of a verse which both rhythm and form a whole unit, meaning they can be read alone or as part of a larger poem and still make complete sense.
William Shakespeare offers many examples of prominent couplet poems, including the following lines from Romeo and Juliet:
This precious book of love, this unbound lover,
To beautify him only lacks a cover.
Shakespeare was quite the maverick with couplet poems in his work so do not hesitate to read some more of his work and discover similarly striking couplets.
Poetry by Pattern and Form
Perhaps a more popular way to categorise poetry is writing pattern and form – you will be familiar with the most popular styles from school where, in literature, it’s likely you would have been introduced to poetry by having a go at writing your own whimsical poems.
One of the most popular forms of short poetry is the haiku. Traditionally found in Japanese literature, the haiku consists of three lines, however, the first and last line of the haiku poem should have five syllables while the middle line has seven syllables.
For maximum effect when writing a haiku poem, punctuation is key. The 5-7-5 rule is likely to be one of, if not the first poetry rule you learnt in your early years. Matsu Basho is a particularly famous haiku poet – here’s some of his work:
we’ve miles to go together.
Simple and beautiful, haiku poems are an incredibly effective form of poetry and a fantastic place to begin if you’re starting out.
Invented in the 13/14th century by Dante and an Italian philosopher named Francisco Petrarch, the sonnet is a short rhyming poem consisting of 14 lines only.
Shakespeare brought the sonnet style to further prominence when he took the style under his wing and used it regularly in his writing. Sonnet 130 is a particularly infamous sonnet poem penned by Shakespeare.
Shorter poems that pose tricky form are a regular read in literature and the limerick is no different. A limerick poem is always amusing in subject and consists of five lines.
The rule is that the first, second, and fifth lines must have seven to ten syllables and rhyme while the third and fourth lines of the poem need only five to seven syllables and must rhyme with each other. Both sections (lines 1-2-5 and 2-3) must have the same rhythm within their own section, bringing the poem together as one.
A popular example of a limerick poem is the following by Edward Lear:
There was a Young Lady whose chin
Resembled the point of a pin:
So she had it made sharp,
And purchased a harp,
And played several tunes with her chin.
Whether you’re a budding poet or a rhyming connoisseur looking to expand your repertoire, there is a poetry style for you – each with its own unique challenges.