Poetic Forms

A poetic form is the structure of the poem. This includes how long it is, how many lines or words it uses, and the writer’s use of meter and rhyme. There are many different types of form used in poetry, defined below.

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  • a

  • An acrostic is a piece of writing in which letters form words or messages. The “acrostic” is most commonly associated with poetry.
  • An alternate rhyme is a patterned rhyme scheme that’s popular in classic and contemporary poetry. It occurs when the poet repeats two end sounds in an alternate pattern. For example, ABAB CDCD.
  • Anacreontics are metered verses in the style of the Greek poet Anacreon. His poetry often dealt with themes of love and wine.
  • Arte mayor is a term used to describe a type of Spanish verse. It uses lines ranging in length between eight and fourteen syllables. Some sources describe arte major poetry as only that which has more than nine syllables per line. 
  • b

  • A ballad is a kind of verse, sometimes narrative in nature, often set to music and developed from 14th and 15th-century minstrelsy.
  • A ballade is a medieval and Renaissance verse form that is distinct from the far more common “ballad.” It was commonly used in France during the 13th-15th centuries. 
  • Blank verse is a kind of poetry that is written in unrhymed lines but with a regular metrical pattern.
  • The term “block form” is used to describe a poem that is not separated into stanzas or verse paragraphs. These poems are contained within one “block” of text. 
  • The Burns stanza is named for Scottish poet Robert Burns who popularized its use. It is a six-line stanza form that uses a rhyme scheme of AAABAB, and lines of tetrameter and dimeter.
  • c

  • A canto is a subsection of a long narrative or epic poem. It is made up of at least five lines but it is normally much longer.
  • The word “canzone” means “song” in Italian and first used to refer to a verse form in Italy and France in the medieval period.
  • The Chaucerian stanza, also known as rhyme royal, is a stanza form introduced by English poet Geoffrey Chaucer. It's seven lines long and uses the rhyme scheme ABABBCC.
  • A cinquain is a poetic form that makes use of a pattern of five lines.
  • The term “closed form” in literature refers to poems that use a closed, specific structure or pattern. This includes poems written in the form of a sonnet, villanelle, haiku, limerick, and more.
  • Concrete poetry, also sometimes known as visual poetry or shape poetry, is focused on the visual effect that linguistic elements have when they’re arranged in a certain way.
  • A country house poem is a piece of poetry that praises another person’s property. They were usually written for wealthy friends or patrons in order to gain favor. 
  • The curtal sonnet, or the contracted sonnet, is an eleven-line sonnet that follows a pattern of either ABCABCDCBDC or ABCABCDBCDC. 
  • d

  • Diamonte is a popular poetic form that is made up of seven lines. They are formatted into the shape of a diamond and used to compare two opposites.
  • A dirge is a song or poem composed after someone's death. These songs are usually shorter and more concise than elegies.
  • A double dactyl is a form of verse that uses eight lines, each of which contains two dactyls. These are arranged into two stanzas. 
  • A dramatic monologue is a conversation a speaker has with themselves, or which is directed at a listen or reader who does not respond.
  • e

  • An epistle is a letter that comes in the form of either prose or poetry.
  • An epitaph is a short lyric written in memory of someone who has died. Sometimes, epitaphs serve as elegies.
  • The epode is the third part of the greek verse form of an ode. It follows the strophe and antistrophe in traditional ode writing. It is also considered its own branch of poetry.
  • f

  • Found poetry is a type of poem that’s created using someone else’s words, phrases, or structure.
  • A fourteener is a line of poetry that contains fourteen syllables. They are usually composed of seven iambs. 
  • In free verse, lines are unrhymed and there are no consistent metrical patterns. But, that doesn't mean it is entirely without structure.
  • g

  • A ghazal is a type of poem that is constructed with couplets, repeated words, and rhyming words.
  • The golden shovel poetic form uses lines from another author's poetry. Each word of those lines ends one line of a new poem.
  • h

  • A haiku is a three-line Japanese poem that follows a syllable pattern of 5-7-5.
  • A heptastich is a stanza that contains seven lines in poetry. These lines can be written in any rhyme scheme or metrical pattern.
  • The term “heterometric” is used to describe stanzas that use lines of different lengths and/or employ more than one meter. Today, heterometric stanzas are far more common that their opposite: isometric stanzas. 
  • A Horatian ode is one of three common ode forms. It is a simple stanza form in which all stanzas use the same pattern, chosen by the poet.
  • A hymn stanza uses a rhyme scheme of ABCB and alternates between iambic trimeter and iambic tetrameter.
  • i

  • The “In Memoriam” stanza is a poetic form that originated with Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s long poem, ‘In Memoriam: A.H.H.’ 
  • An irregular ode is a common ode form that does not conform to the characteristics of the Pindaric or Horatian ode forms.
  • An isometric stanza is a set of lines, all of which are the same length. It could be as long or as short as the poet wants. 
  • l

  • A lai, or lay, is a medieval lyric poem written in France in octosyllabic couplets. There are a few examples of this specific poetic form in English. 
  • A lament is an expression of grief. They appear as poems and songs about death, loss, and general suffering. Laments can be seen in songs, poetry, and more.
  • A limerick is a humorous poem that follows a fixed structure of five lines and a rhyme scheme of AABBA.
  • A litany is a poetic form. It is a prayer that contains a series of invocations much of the time including repetition.
  • A lullaby is a soothing song that is sung to put children to sleep. Lullabies are often used in the evening, just before bedtime. The most common type of lullaby is one that has a slow and gentle rhythm.
  • m

  • The Miltonic Sonnet is one of the main sonnet forms and was popularized by the poet John Milton who was born in 1609 in London, England.
  • A monostitch is a poem that's made up of one line of verse. It can be as long as the poet wants it to be, but it's restricted to one line.
  • n

  • A narrative poem contains all the elements of a story and is normally longer than average.
  • o

  • An octastich is a stanza with eight lines. These lines might be written in free verse or conform to a specific rhyme scheme or metrical pattern. 
  • The word “octave” comes from the Latin word meaning “eighth part”. It is an eight-line stanza or poem.
  • An ode is a formal lyric poem that is written in celebration or dedication. They are generally directed with specific intent.
  • The Onegin stanza, or Pushkin sonnet, is a stanza form invented and popularized by Alexander Pushkin in his 1825-1832 novel, Eugene Onegin. 
  • An open couplet is a pair of lines in poetry, the first of which is enjambed. The first line does not conclude, running into the second line.
  • An open form poem does not follow traditional patterns or structures. These poems are more commonly known as free verse poems. 
  • The phrase “ottava rima” is used to describe a particular type of stanza in poetry. It uses eight iambic lines and follows a rhyme scheme of ABABABCC.
  • p

  • A palinode, or palinody, is an ode in which the author expresses an opinion opposite to that which they included in another, earlier poem. 
  • Pantoums use the second and fourth lines of each stanza as the first and third lines of the next stanza. They're usually four stanzas.
  • A parable is a short fictional story that speaks on a religious attitude or moral belief.
  • Pattern poetry is a type of poetry that depends on the shape the text makes. The visual image of the lines is an integral part of the work. 
  • Petrarchan/Italian sonnets are fourteen lines long and follow an initial rhyme scheme of ABBAABBA. They use iambic pentameter as their meter.
  • The term “Pindaric” refers to the body of work, and style, of the Greek poet Pindar. It is used to refer, specifically, to his odes and those written in his traditional style. 
  • q

  • A quatrain is a verse form that is made up of four lines with fifteen different possible rhyme schemes.
  • The term “quintain” is used to describe a stanza that has five lines. It is one of several stanza forms that a poet might choose from. 
  • r

  • Sonnets usually conform to one of two different rhyme schemes, those connected to the Shakespearean and the Petrarchan sonnet forms.
  • The rondel has two quatrains that are followed by a quintet, a set of five lines. The verse form has its origins in lyrical poetry of 14th-century France.
  • The roundelay is a complex, less-commonly used form of poetry that follows a strict pattern. 
  • s

  • The term “Sapphics” refers to poems written in the style of Sappho, a classical Greek poet. These poems are often composed of four-line stanzas, sometimes use quantitive meter but more commonly use accentual meter (mostly using dactyls and trochees). 
  • A sedoka is a form of Japanese poetry that consists of six lines. It follows a syllable pattern of 5-7-7, meaning that the first line contains five syllables, the second line contains seven syllables, and the third line contains seven syllables.
  • A septet is any seven-line stanza in poetry. These stanzas are uncommon and sometimes associated with the work of Geoffrey Chaucer, who pioneered a pattern and structure known as rhyme royal. 
  • A sestet is a six-line stanza or poem, or the second half or a sonnet. It does not require a specific rhyme scheme or metrical pattern.
  • A sestina is a unique poetic form that utilizes repetition. It has six, six-line stanzas that use a complex pattern that can be hard to utilize. 
  • The Shakespearean sonnet follows a rhyme scheme of ABABCDCDEFEFGG and uses iambic pentameter.
  • Slam poetry, also known as spoken word poetry, is typically performed at what is known as a “poetry slam”.
  • Somonka is a form of Japanese poetry consisting of two tanka stanzas, with each stanza written by a different poet. Each tanka consists of five lines with a syllable pattern of 5-7-5-7-7.
  • Traditionally, sonnets are fourteen-line poems that follow a strict rhyme scheme and conform to the metrical pattern of iambic pentameter.
  • The Spenserian sonnet was invented by the famous sixteenth-century poet Edmund Spenser and uses a rhyme scheme of ABAB BCBC CDCD EE.
  • A Spenserian stanza is a nine-line stanza consisting of eight lines in iambic pentameter followed by an Alexandrine in iambic hexameter. 
  • The term “strophe” refers to a group of verses within a poem that forms a unit as well as the first part of the ode in Greek tragedies.
  • A sonnet is a fourteen-line poem that usually makes use of the metrical pattern of iambic pentameter.
  • t

  • A tail rhyme refers to a specific pattern of end-rhymes and repetition used in poetry. For example, AABCCB or AABCCCB.
  • A tail rhyme stanza refers to a stanza where the poet repeats a rhyme intermittently. It usually occurs in between rhyming couplets. 
  • A tanka poem is an important form in Japanese poetry that follows a syllable pattern of 5-7-5-7-7.
  • A tercet is a three-line stanza. It is a common stanza form, although not as common as the couplet and quatrain.
  • Terza rima refers to a very specific rhyme scheme that follows the rhyming pattern of ABA BCB DED.
  • A triplet is a poetic form that occurs when a writer uses three lines together, all of which use the same rhyme scheme. 
  • v

  • A villanelle is a nineteen-line poem that is divided into five tercets or sets of three lines, and one concluding quatrain, or set of four lines.
  • w

  • Waka poetry is a traditional form of Japanese poetry that has been practiced for over a thousand years. The term "waka" means "Japanese poem" and is also known as "tanka," which means "short poem."

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