Many identifiable poem structures have emerged since the birth of the poetic form, which dates back several thousand years. Poems can be used to tell stories, express emotions, teach us about the natural world, and help us reach out to each other as humans. There are new forms of poetry being created all the time. This article will explain different poem structures to so that we can learn how to write them.
Contemporary poetry refers to poetry that has been written in our lifetimes. The poetic form can vary from hip-hop music to a sonnet to free verse poetry. It simply refers to modern poetry that does not follow strict rules. It includes several other types of poems, which we will discuss.
1. Free Verse Poems
Free verse poetry has one rule: Do not follow any rule. There is no set rhyme scheme, no set length, can involve blank verse, and is one of those poetic structures that makes up its own rules as it goes along. Poetry written by these poets is often lofty and personal because it does not have to rhyme, and the poet can exactly say what he or she wants to say without the pressure to select rhyming words.
Many free verse poems are considered blank verse poems because there is a metrical rhythm but no rhyme scheme. Some free verse poems rhyme, but many do not.
2. Acrostic Poems
These poems often have rhyming lines, but the critical thing to note is the first letter of each line or stanza. When reading it from top to bottom, the first letters of each line spell out a name or word. Here is an example of an acrostic poem.
Don’t whisper when you are happy, or say it quietly.
Yell it from the rooftops, so people flock to see.
Look for all the happiness that you can find each day.
Accept that there is joy if you give your love away.
Nothing beats a smile to show the world that you’re okay.
In the example above, the first letters from each line form “DYLAN.”
Haiku poetry originated in Japan and is a descriptive type with stringent guidelines. There is no set rhyme scheme, but most haikus do not rhyme. This form of poetry relies on syllables rather than rhyme.
The first and third lines of a haiku have five syllables, and the second line has seven syllables. All haiku poems are exactly seventeen syllables in length. Here is an example of haiku.
The teapot sits there.
A vessel of memories,
Waiting to be poured.
Classical poetry is one of the poetic forms that cannot be changed once it has begun. However, in the first stanza, many feet or syllables repeat in subsequent stanzas. A stanza (which refers to each line of a poem) is the basic building block of poetry. So, in a classical poem, if you begin the poem with a stanza of fourteen feet, the subsequent stanzas must also be fourteen feet.
1. Epic Poems
Epic poems are where poetry started, dating back to ancient Greece. These were long poems that today fill an entire book that told the story of a journey someone took. On the other hand, narrative poems involve journeys and characters, conflict, plot, and emotion.
Think about Homer’s epic poems The Iliad and The Odyssey. These are tales of great adventure, and they have survived centuries and are still popular reads.
Dante Alighieri, the great Italian poet, wrote The Divine Comedy, three tales of a man who travels through hell and purgatory until he arrives in heaven. Most certainly considered an epic, this work lives on and is read and enjoyed by people worldwide today.
Dante is credited for creating the sonnet poem structure, specifically the Italian sonnet, as his work was not translated into the English language until years after his death.
2. Villanelle Poetry
This poem’s form is very specific and an ancient form of poetry. It has many rules to abide by. First, it has nineteen lines and a distinct rhyme scheme. The first and third lines are repeated at the end of each stanza, giving the content urgency and invoking the emotions in the poem.
A poem was written in this style and often dealt with a heavy or important subject matter. The first five stanzas have three lines, ending with a stanza of four lines. A stanza with this number of lines is referred to as a quatrain.
Dylan Thomas is one such poet known for a villanelle poem titled Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night. This is a poem that deals with dark and passionate emotions. It is full of imagery, repetition that grows steadily urgent, and stressed syllables that impact the readers.
Sonnets depend upon rhymes, rhythm, and other poetic devices to thrive. William Shakespeare is the most famous writer of sonnets, as it can be assured that nearly everyone has heard of his famous sonnets, such as Romeo and Juliet.
This particular sonnet, also known as a Shakespearean sonnet, contains a variable rhyme scheme. William Shakespeare was also a master of the line break, demonstrating that suspense, love, and shock can be conveyed within the lines of a sonnet.
Shakespeare helped set the sonnet rules, such as making a sonnet’s meaning shift after the first eight lines. There are also internal rhymes since there is no set rule for actual rhyming. This is a stylistic move that he repeatedly used to the point that even without a name on his work, most people could pick out which sonnet was the work of Shakespeare.
Petrarchan sonnet is the type of sonnet named after 14th-century Italian poet Francesco Petrarch. This sonnet has a total of 14 lines, which is divided into two parts: octave containing eight lines and sestet containing six lines. It follows a rhyming scheme ABBAABBA for its octave and CDCDCD or CDECDE for its sestet.
The octave supplies the issue, problem, or question the sonnet addresses, whereas the sestet provides the realization, solution, or answer. The themes of Petrarchan sonnet can deal with talent, future, and any form of virtues, but the most used theme for this type of sonnet is the concept of love.
This is a challenging type of poem to write, as it repeats itself often. It is a seven-line poem in which the first line is repeated in the third and fifth lines, and the second line is repeated in the sixth line. These poems can be about anything but are most often about nature or a place.
A limerick is a funny or comedic poem that almost sounds like a song when read aloud. There is a rhyme at the end of each line, and they tell stories about people in a fun way. A classic example of a limerick by Edward Lear is noted below.
There was an Old Man with a beard
Who said, “It is just as I feared!
Two Owls and a Hen,
Four Larks and a Wren,
Have all built their nests in my beard!”
The use of humor in the example above is clear, but it is usually harmless. Sometimes crude and borderline vulgar—no one is sure where this type of poetry originated or how it got its start.
The 4 Parts of Poetry Structures
When analyzing and writing poetry, you have to understand certain terminologies and definitions of those terms to identify what type of poem you are reading or writing. The following will explain some of the more common types of poetic structure.
1. Iambic Pentameter
Iambic pentameter is a popular and often used rhyme scheme. These rhyme schemes consist of stressed and unstressed syllables in groups of five. It mimics the beating of a heart but in a group of five beats—one syllable is stressed, and the next is not. This goes on for five syllables, and line breaks usually follow each set. Rappers like Kendrick Lamar and Eminem also use this poem structure.
2. Stanza Length
Stanza length in a poem depends upon what sort of poem it is, but it just refers to how many words or syllables are in each line of poetry. Different forms of poetry follow different rules. When there are no stanzas, it is referred to as isometric poetry, and it reads like a paragraph or a short story.
3. Rhyme Scheme
Rhyme scheme refers to how a poem rhymes and its rhythm. William Wordsworth was known for his many examples of rhyming in his writing of poetry. One example of his use of rhyme is his famous poem I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud. Repetition is often used as a device to aid in rhyme.
Another well-known master of rhyme and rhythm is Shel Silverstein. He wrote many books of poetry and music, and his rhymes are simple and creative and make for memorable poems and songs. Bordering on funny with writing credits on Johnny Cash’s hit song A Boy Named Sue, and crossing into profound lessons of life in The Giving Tree, Silverstein is a versatile poet who used rhyme to his advantage to tell stories that timelessly entertain.
4. Last Word on Poem Structures
Poem structures for some types of poetry are set in stone, and in others, they are fluid and can be ignored. The important part of writing a poem is to write what you feel, think, or want to share. Poems often rely heavily on cadence, rhythm, and imagery. They run the gamut from funny and irreverent to sad to woeful, to long tales of journeys taken by adventurous people who lived long ago.
Hip hop artists that are incredibly popular have figured out and have mastered this kind of structure. From Kendrick Lamar’s call to attention to body image, Black culture, and freedoms to Eminem’s usage of iambic pentameter to spin clever turns of phrases with double meanings, we ingest more poetry daily than most of us realize.
We are creating new outlets and new types of poetry every day, and as long as people continue to feel and express themselves artistically, poetry will stick around. It has survived four thousand years, and it will likely continue to thrive and survive endlessly.
Volta in Poetry
In poetry, volta means the turn or shift of an argument. It introduces a new outlook after the first argument in a poem. Highlighted below are the voltas of two sonnets:
Example of volta in a Shakespearean sonnet:
by William Shakespeare
My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun;
Coral is far more red than her lips’ red;
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.
I have seen roses damask’d, red and white,
But no such roses see I in her cheeks;
And in some perfumes is there more delight
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
That music hath a far more pleasing sound;
I grant I never saw a goddess go;
My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground.
And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare As any she belied with false compare.
In the three quatrains of Sonnet 130, the speaker compares his lady to other forms of beauty that can outweigh hers. Yet, the volta appears in the couplet, shifting the sonnet into a new aura; the speaker confesses that his love for her is incomparable despite what has been said.
Example of volta in a Petrarchan sonnet:
by Giacomo da Lentini
“I’ve seen it rain on sunny days And seen the darkness flash with light And even lightning turn to haze, Yes, frozen snow turn warm and bright And sweet things taste of bitterness And what is bitter taste most sweet And enemies their love confess And good, close friends no longer meet.
Yet stranger things I’ve seen of love Who healed my wounds by wounding me. The fire in me he quenched before; The life he gave was the end thereof, The fire that slew eluded me. Once saved from love, love now burns more.”
In the octave of Sonnet 130, the speaker tells how ironic life in general is and how different things operate in the most unexpected ways. However, in the first two lines of the sestet, his argument shifts into tackling how love heals by letting him undergo experiences that hurt.