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Heroic Poetry

Heroic poetry is a form of narrative verse that is elevated in style, commonly sung or chanted aloud, and focuses on the deeds of high-ranking warriors and heroes.

Bards and poets have been composing heroic poetry for centuries. It dates back to the work of famed Greek poet Homer and, in old English, to works like ‘Battle of Maldon.’ Below, readers can explore a few more classical and modern heroic poetry examples. 

Heroic Poetry definition and examples


Heroic Poetry Definition

Heroic poetry is a form of narrative verse that tells the story of a hero. These poems often utilize elevated, poetic-sounding language, including allusions to historical events, Kings and Queens, ancient battles, and sometimes fantastical elements.

Despite its classical origins, not all heroic poetry is composed in dactylic hexameter and focused on legendary Greek warriors from mythology. There are examples of heroic poetry from all periods, and countries, composed in various styles.

Examples of Heroic Poetry 

Odyssey by Homer 

This is perhaps the best-known example of heroic poetry. It is the classic example of an epic poem and one of two works Homer is remembered for. It was first published in English in 1614, but it’s believed to have been written around the eighth century BCE.  The poem is divided into 24 books, as Homer’s other famous work, The Iliad, is and focuses on the Greek hero Odysseus. It follows the period after the Trojan war when Odysseus, king of Ithaca, spend ten years attempting to return home. Here are the famous opening lines translated to English by Samuel Butler: 

Tell me, O Muse, of that ingenious hero who travelled far and wide after he had sacked the famous town of Troy. Many cities did he visit, and many were the nations with whose manners and customs he was acquainted; moreover he suffered much by sea while trying to save his own life and bring his men safely home;


A Hero by Katharine Tynan 

A Hero’ tells the story of a hero, a “poor lad” who was “so foolish.” This is an interesting example of heroic poetry that was composed by Irish writer Katharine Tynan in the early 1900s. The first lines read: 

He was so foolish, the poor lad,

He made superior people smile

Who knew not of the wings he had

Budding and growing all the while;

Nor that the laurel wreath was made

Already for his curly head.

Unlike the previous example, this example of heroic poetry uses language that is easier to understand, and it’s not always completely complimentary. Tynan paints a portrait of this Irish hero as a real, relatable human being.

Read more poems by Katharine Tynan

Ulysses by Alfred Lord Tennyson 

Ulysses’ is an 1833 epic poem written in blank verse and published nearly ten years later by Alfred Lord Tennyson. This well-known poem is also a great example of a dramatic monologue describing the later life of Odysseus, also known as Ulysses. The poem picks up as Ulysses is facing old age, discontent, and a new desire to set out on a voyage of discovery. Here are a few lines: 

It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:

It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,

And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.

Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’

We are not now that strength which in old days

Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;

One equal temper of heroic hearts,

Explore more Alfred Lord Tennyson poems

The Hero by Siegfried Sassoon

Sassoon’s ‘The Hero’ is a modern example of a heroic poem. It focuses on the heroic acts of one man—Jack, who was faced with the horrors of World War I. Here are a few lines: 

“Jack fell as he’d have wished,” the Mother said,

And folded up the letter that she’d read.

“The Colonel writes so nicely.” Something broke

In the tired voice that quavered to a choke.

She half looked up. “We mothers are so proud

Of our dead soldiers.” Then her face was bowed.

This poem maintains a distinctly angry and discontented tone. The speaker is clearly upset by the fate Jack was forced to contend with and the fact that men like him experienced similar, unimaginable horrors. Jack died “blown small bits,” and “no one seemed to care” except for his mother.

Discover more Siegfried Sassoon poems

FAQs 

What is a heroic poem?

A heroic poem is a piece of verse that celebrates the accomplishments of a hero, fictional or nonfictional. These poems can take a variety of forms, including blank first and dactylic hexameter, and often include allusions to historical events, places, and more.

What form is a heroic poem? 

There is no set form that poets must use in order to pin a heroic poem. But, the best-known examples from classical Greek and Latin writing were written and dactylic hexameter. Today, it’s possible to see heroic poems written and free verse, blank verse, ballad stanzas, and any other rhyme scheme, or lack thereof, that one can conceive of.

Why do poets write heroic poems? 

Poets write heroic poems in order to celebrate fictional and nonfictional heroes throughout history. Sometimes, these poems are based on historical detail and focus on real-life men and women. But, more often than not, poets dig into mythology and include legendary heroes in their works.

What is an example of a heroic poem? 

The best-known examples of heroic palms are Homer’s Iliad and The Odyssey and Virgil’s The Aeneid. These classic, epic, heroic poems are often cited as prime examples of the genre. But, variations of heroic poetry have been written in the century since these Greek and Latin works were penned. 


Related Literary Terms

  • Epic Poetry: a long narrative poem that tells the story of heroic deeds, normally accomplished by more-than-human characters.
  • Canto: a subsection of a long narrative or epic poem. It is made up of at least five lines, but it usually is much longer.
  • Epic Simile: an extended poetic comparison that uses like or as and goes on for several lines. It grows more complicated and reveals its meaning as the lines progress.
  • Hexameter: a meter commonly used in Greek and Latin epic poetry. It contains six feet and usually utilizes a combination of dactyls and spondees


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