The structure of a literary work is defined by the genre, the way the author arranges the words on the page, and how those pages are organized. Depending on the writer’s style, the form changes considerably. Literature is divided into major forms, like novels, short stories, essays, poems, etc. But, these forms also contain sub-forms. These are described in more detail below.
Explore Poetry Form
Poetry Form Definition
A form is the structure of a literary work. All writing has a form, whether written for an academic publication, for publication as a novel, or for one’s personal enjoyment.
For example, an author might choose to write a poem in the form of a sonnet, such as a Shakespearean sonnet with the traditional rhyme scheme of ABABCDCDEFEFGG and an iambic pentameter metrical pattern. Or, they might choose to write a poem in the form of an elegy or in dedication to someone who has died.
Sub-forms in Literature
In literature, there are many sub-forms. These are versions of the previously discussed forms, like poems, short stories, and novels, that tell readers more about the text. Some sub-forms of poems are listed below:
- Narrative: contains all the elements of a story and is normally longer than average.
- Ballad: a kind of verse, sometimes narrative in nature, often set to music and developed from 14th and 15th-century minstrelsy.
- Sonnet: fourteen-line poems that follow a strict rhyme scheme and conform to the metrical pattern of iambic pentameter.
- Elegy: a poem or song that is dedicated to someone who has died.
- Epic: a long narrative poem that tells the story of heroic deeds, normally accomplished by more-than-human characters.
These important poetic sub-forms are just as interesting as the wide variety of sub-forms commonly seen demonstrated in short stories and novels, such as biographies, autobiographies, epistles, and more.
Examples of Forms in Literature
The One Girl at the Boy’s Party by Sharon Olds
‘The One Girl at the Boy’s Party’ is a contemporary poem written by Sharon Olds. It is a great example of a poem written in block form. This refers to a specific feature Olds employed throughout the twenty-two-line piece. The poem is contained within one stanza with no line breaks.
When I take my girl to the swimming party
I set her down among the boys. They tower and
bristle, she stands there smooth and sleek,
her math scores unfolding in the air around her.
They will strip to their suits, her body hard and
indivisible as a prime number,
It is also written in the form of free verse. This means that it does not make use of a specific rhyme scheme or metrical pattern. Here are a few lines.
Discover more Sharon Olds poems.
To a Mouse by Robert Burns
‘To a Mouse’ is an example of a poem that uses a specific stanza form. That is the Burns stanza. This means that it:
The stanza form is named after Scottish poet Robert Burns who popularized its use. Here are a few lines:
Wee, sleekit, cowrin, tim’rous beastie,
O, what a pannic’s in thy breastie!
Thou need na start awa sae hasty,
Wi’ bickering brattle!
I wad be laith to rin an’ chase thee,
Wi’ murd’ring pattle!
Read more Robert Burns poems.
This well-loved William Wordsworth poem is written in the form of an ode. This means that it was crafted to celebrate something or was written in dedication to something. In this case, The poet is looking back on the past, remembering a time in which the natural world pleased his spirit and eased his heart. Here are a few lines:
There was a time when meadow, grove, and stream,
The earth, and every common sight,
To me did seem
Apparelled in celestial light,
The glory and the freshness of a dream.
Odes are also divided into other sub-forms. The most common are:
Wordsworth’s ode is an example of a Pindaric ode. This ode form:
- Celebrates major events and moments in history
- It is irregular in its length, metrical pattern, and rhyme
- Consists of three parts: the strophe, antistrophe, and epode.
Explore more William Wordsworth poems.
Forms are the basis of all literary texts. Writers use forms all the time, no matter what they’re writing. They select specific forms depending on what they want to accomplish. For example, in poetry, a poet might write an ode to create a poem of dedication or an elegy if they want to convey their emotions regarding a recent death.
There are many different poetic forms examples, including ballads, narratives, epics, ballads, villanelles, sonnets, odes, and elegies. There are many more ways of describing a poem’s organization, including sub-forms of those listed above.
Related Literary Terms
- Genre: a type of art, literary work, or musical composition defined by its content, style, or a specific form to which it conforms.
- Short Story: a piece of writing with a narrative that is shorter than a novel. These stories usually only take one sitting to read.
- Narrator: the voice that tells the story, whether that story is in the form of a poem or novel.
- Prose: a written and spoken language form that does not use a metrical pattern or rhyme scheme.
- Read: Everything You Need to Know about Rhyme Schemes in Poetry
- Listen: 12 Poetic Forms You Should Try
- Watch: The Pleasure of Poetic Pattern