A lyric poem is a musically inclined, short verse that speaks on poignant and powerful emotions. It is usually an emotion, or a series of emotions, around which the poem is centred. Rather than telling a cohesive story, many lyric poems are meditations on specific states of mind or emotional experiences.
Writers make use of a number of poetic techniques, including rhyme, meter, repetition, alliteration, and assonance or consonance to imbue a poem with musical qualities. The more unity a poem has, the easier it will flow and more it will seem as if it could be set to music. There is no single form a lyric poem has to be written in, from sonnets to villanelles, anything can qualify as long as the text uses emotion as its primary driving force.
One of the most important techniques is the meter. Writers can make use of any combination of metrical patterns, from iambic to anapaestic and pyrrhic. Each one can bring something different to a work.
Although not always the case, often these poems are written from the first-person perspective. Sometimes, through historical details, or contextual ones, a reader can infer that the poet is speaking about themselves. But, more often than not it is safer to assume the poet is taking on a persona for that particular poem.
Example of a Lyric Poem
As stated above, repetition, as well as a range of other literary devices are used in lyric poetry to help convey a particular emotion and increase the musicality. Let’s take a look at the first two stanzas from ‘Do not go gentle into that good night’ by Dylan Thomas as an example.
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.
From these lines, a reader will notice that Thomas made use of almost all of the techniques mentioned in the introduction of this article. Alliteration, or the use of words beginning with the same letter in close succession, appears in the first line, with the use and reuse of “g” (then again in other lines as well). There is a general use of repetition through the refrain “Do not go gentle into that good night”. Plus, there is a very simple, consistent rhyme scheme of ABC ABC.
History and Origins
Lyric poetry originated in different forms around the world. Today, contemporary readers might be familiar with the ancient Greek poet Sappho who wrote deeply moving poems on love and loss that still resonate with modern audiences. In ancient Greece, lyric poems did not just sound musical, they were always accompanied by music. This means either the lyre, cithara, or barbital, all stringed instruments. Variations of lyric poems also came from the Middle East and Asia.
Take a look at this list of other popular lyric poems:
- ‘Annabel Lee’ by Edgar Allan Poe
- ‘Ode to the West Wind’ by Percy Bysshe Shelley‘
- To Celia’ by Ben Jonson
- ‘Lines Written a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey’ by William Wordsworth