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Literary Content

The content of a poem, or of any novel, short story, essay, etc., is what it is about. It is the message, theme, moral, or other purpose of the written work. 

Content is often contrasted with form. The latter refers to the way that the information is structured. The form could be a poem, short story, or novel (or one of the many subforms within those larger structures). The content takes place within the form. For example, The Rime of the Ancient Marineris a ballad poem (the form) and tells the story of a mariner’s dramatic sea voyage and fantastical near-death experiences (the content). 

Literary Content Definition, Elements, and Examples

Literary Content Definition  

Content refers to the information within a literary work. This could be the moral and/or theme, as well as all the other written elements the author included. 

The term “content” encompasses a wide range of elements in a poem. Therefore, it’s much easier to analyze its various parts individually. Below, take a look at a few of the many elements that make up a poem or novel’s content. 

Elements of Literary Content

Within any literary work, from poems to plays to essays, use content. Some of the various elements of content include: 

  • Exposition: the important background information that a writer includes in a story.
  • Characterization: a literary device that is used to detail and explains the aspects of a specifically crafted character in a novel, play, or poem.
  • Dialogue: concerned with conversations held between two or more characters.
  • Plot: a connected sequence of events that make up a novel, poem, play, film, television show, and other narrative works.
  • Climax: the point at which the main character is forced to contend with the central conflict of the story.
  • Resolution: a piece of literature is the parts of the narrative that bring the story to a close.
  • Conflict: a plot device used by writers when two opposing sides come up against each other. 
  • Theme:  the underlying message that the writer or artist wants to convey. Themes can feature in poetry, a short story, a novel, or even a work of art.
  • Moral: the meaning or message conveyed through a story.
  • Setting: when and where a story takes place. This could be a real place or someone completely fictional.

Examples of Content in Poetry

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening by Robert Frost

Frost’s ‘Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening’ is a beautiful, well-known poem written in 1922. The poem is filled with content that has endeared it to readers around the world and made it a staple of many university syllabuses.

The speaker is a man standing deep in the woods torn between two choices. The poet writes about the setting, includes the man’s motivations, uses symbolism, figurative language, and more—all content elements. Here are a few lines of content from the poem: 

Whose woods these are I think I know.   

His house is in the village though;   

He will not see me stopping here   

To watch his woods fill up with snow.   

Discover more Robert Frost poems

Darkness by Lord Byron

This dark and mysterious poem speaks about growing inequality in Byron’s time and contains a prediction for what will happen to the planet if the human race does not change. The poem is written in blank verse and contains eighty-two lines (its form) and was put to paper in July of 1816. 

The content includes an initial description of the sun, stars, and moon being extinguished, and the earth is left to stumble through space without direction. Here are a few lines: 

I had a dream, which was not all a dream. 

The bright sun was extinguish’d, and the stars 

Did wander darkling in the eternal space, 

Rayless, and pathless, and the icy earth 

Swung blind and blackening in the moonless air;

Explore more Lord Byron poems

Cat by J.R.R. Tolkien 

Tolkien’s ‘Cat’ is a fairly simple poem that can be found in The Lord of the Rings. It was composed by the character Samwise Gamgee, best friend and traveling companion to Frodo Baggins. The content includes a discussion of drams and the nature of a house cat. The first lines read:

The fat cat on the mat

   may seem to dream

of nice mice that suffice

   for him, or cream;

but he free, maybe,

   walks in thought

unbowed, proud, where loud

   roared and fought

his kin, lean and slim,

   or deep in den

in the East feasted on beasts

   and tender men.

Read more J.R.R. Tolkien poems


What does content mean in literature? 

The content is everything the author includes in their book, story, essay, or poem. This ranges from the characterization to plot, setting, and resolution. The only things not included in content are the elements of form or how the literary work is structured. 

What is content in a poem? 

A poem’s content is what the poem is about and what the author includes in the lines. This could be dialogue, descriptions, meditations on a specific theme, and more. 

What are the elements of content in literature? 

Some of the many elements of content in literature are dialogue, setting, exposition, conflict, plot, characterization, resolution, moral, theme, and resolution.

What is important about content in poetry? 

A poem is defined by its content. Without content, there is no poem. It is everything that the author includes in their verse, except the form. 

Related Literary Terms 

  • Rising Action: comes after the exposition and before the climax. It includes the complicating or inciting incident.
  • Resolution: the parts of the narrative that bring the story to a close.
  • Short Story: a piece of writing with a narrative that’s shorter than a novel. These stories usually only take one sitting to read.
  • Rising Action: comes after the exposition and before the climax. It includes the complicating or inciting incident.
  • Novel: a long, written, fictional narrative that includes some amount of realism.

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