Poetry is an intricate literary form that incorporates rhyme, figurative language, sound devices, and meter in order to evoke a wide array of meanings. The language of poetry is not always straightforward. It guides readers to reach a conclusion but never gives out any details explicitly. Such is the beauty of a poetry text that demands readers’ attentive and creative participation. With the knowledge of the important poetry elements, we can understand a poem’s message and appreciate the text more effectively.
The Elements of Poetry
Structure and Form
Poetry comes in a variety of forms and in each form follows a specific structure. For example, the sonnet form containing a set structure is different from odes. A free verse poem does not have the metrical regularity, which can be found in a blank verse poem.
The structural elements found in poetry are:
- Stanza: is a group of lines set off from others by a blank line or indentation.
- Verse: are stanzas with no set number of lines that make up units based on sense.
- Canto: is a stanza pattern found in medieval and modern long poetry.
Some of the important poetry forms include:
- Sonnet: is a fourteen-line poem with a set rhyme scheme, often divided into quatrains, octaves, and sestets.
- Ode: is a formal lyric poem written in celebration or dedication of something with specific intent.
- Lyric: is a personal piece of poetry that tends to be shorter, melodic, and contemplative.
- Elegy: is a mournful poem, especially a lament for the dead.
- Villanelle: is a nineteen-line poem comprising five triplets with a closing quatrain.
- Limerick: is a humorous piece of poetry that consists of five lines with the same rhythm.
- Haiku: is a form of unrhymed Japanese poetry containing three sections with a total of 17 syllables arranged in a 5-7-5 pattern.
- Iamb: consists of one unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable, as in des-pair, ex-clude, re-peat, etc.
- Trochee: is a metrical foot containing one stressed syllable followed by an unstressed syllable, as in sis-ter, flow-er, splin-ter, etc.
- Dactyl: comprised one stressed syllable followed by two unstressed syllables, as in si-mi-lar.
- Anapest: consists of three syllables, where the first two are unstressed and the last one is stressed, as in com-pre-hend.
- Spondee: contains two stressed syllables, like “drum beat”.
- Pyrrhic: is the opposite of spondee and contains two unstressed syllables.
Poets utilize these metrical feet to create a pattern, which is called a metrical pattern or metrical scheme. Some of the important metrical patterns include:
- Iambic pentameter: occurs when the lines of a poem contain five iambs each. Shakespeare’s sonnets are written in this meter.
- Iambic tetrameter: is another important metrical pattern. It occurs when the lines have four iambs each, as in Robert Frost‘s poem ‘Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening’.
- Trochaic tetrameter: is the recurring pattern of four trochees per line. In ‘The Song of Hiawatha,’ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow uses this meter.
- Trochaic octameter: occurs when verse lines contain eight trochees each. Edgar Allan Poe’s best-known poem ‘The Raven’ is written in this meter.
Rhyme and Rhyme Scheme
Rhyme is the repetitive pattern of sounds found in poetry. They are used to reinforce a pattern or rhyme scheme. In specific poetry forms such as ballads, sonnets, and couplets, the rhyme scheme is an important element. The common types of rhymes used in poetry are:
- End Rhyme: is a common type of rhyme in poetry that occurs when the last word of two or more lines rhyme.
- Imperfect Rhyme: is a type of rhyme that occurs in words that do not have an identical sound.
- Internal Rhyme: occurs in the middle of lines in poetry.
- Masculine Rhyme: is the rhyming between stressed syllables at the end of verse lines.
- Feminine Rhyme: is the rhyming between unstressed syllables at the end of verse lines.
Sound and Rhythm
Sound and rhythm are other important elements of poetry. The sound of a poetic text means how a line or what sounds some specific words evoke in readers’ minds. Rhythm is a set pattern that is formed by these sounds. In poetry, rhythm refers to the metrical rhythm that involves the arrangement of syllables into repeating patterns called feet. For example, the following lines from William Shakespeare’s ‘Sonnet 116’ contain an iambic rhythm with a few variations:
Let me/ not to/ the mar/-riage of/ true minds
Ad-mit/ im-pe/-di-ments./ Love is/ not love
Which al/-ters when/ it al/-te-ra/-tion finds,
Or bends/ with the/ re-mo/-ver to/ re-move:
The subject or content of poetry differs across a variety of forms. A subject is what the poem is about. For instance, the subjects of sonnets include love and admiration for one’s beloved, heartache and separation. Whereas divine sonnets include the subjects of devotions to God, enlightenment, and salvation. Elegies are written in memory of someone who is no more. Therefore, the subject of these poems is a dead person.
Speaker is one who narrates the poem. In poetry, we tend to think that the poet is the speaker himself. However, it is not always the case. Sometimes, poets assume an imaginative character and write the poem from their perspective. Generally, the poem is told from the perspective of a first-person speaker or a third-person speaker. Poets also use the second-person point of view in order to communicate directly with readers. Understanding the speaker helps us to know the poem’s tone and mood.
Figurative Language and Poetic Devices
Poetry uses figurative language and different poetic devices to suggest different interpretations of words or to evoke other ideas that are not literally connected with the words. The sound devices such as alliteration, assonance, consonance, and onomatopoeia are used to create musical effects. Elements of poetic diction such as irony, symbolism, and juxtaposition leave a poem open to several interpretations. In the same way, poetic devices such as metaphor and simile are used to build a relationship between different images previously not perceived.
Some important poetic devices in poetry include:
- Simile: is a comparison between two unlike things using the words “like” or “as”.
- Metaphor: is an implicit comparison between different images or ideas without the use of “like” or “as”.
- Repetition: is a poetic technique that refers to the reuse of words, phrases, and images several times in a poem.
- Enjambment: occurs when a line is cut off before its natural point.
- Irony: occurs when an outcome is different than what is expected.
- Personification: is a poetic device that refers to the projection of human characteristics into inanimate objects.
- Onomatopoeia: occurs when a word imitates a natural sound.
- Hyperbole: occurs when one statement is elevated for a certain poetic effect.
The theme is a recurring idea or a pervading thought in a work of literature. Poetry themes include some common ideas such as love, nature, beauty, and as complex as death, spirituality, and immortality. An understanding of the theme helps readers to identify the core message of the poem or the poet’s purpose for writing the poem. For example, the following lines of Robert Burns’ ‘A Red, Red Rose’ exemplify the theme as well as the underlying message of the entire poem:
O my Luve is like a red, red rose
That’s newly sprung in June;
O my Luve is like the melody
That’s sweetly played in tune.
This piece is written in admiration of the speaker’s beloved. Therefore, the main themes of the poem are beauty, love, and admiration.
Explore some of the important themes in poetry.
Tone and Mood
Diction is another significant aspect of poetry. It refers to the language, sound, and form used in a particular piece of poetry. The tone or attitude of a poem’s speaker and the mood of the entire text is part of poetic diction. To understand the speaker’s attitude or tone to the subject, readers have to look for the poet’s choice of words, figurative language, and sound devices. The mood is related to the impression of the text upon readers. Explore these lines from Keats’ ‘Ode to a Nightingale’:
My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains
My sense, as though of hemlock I had drunk,
Or emptied some dull opiate to the drains
One minute past, and Lethe-wards had sunk:
‘Tis not through envy of thy happy lot,
But being too happy in thine happiness,
That thou, light-winged Dryad of the trees
In some melodious plot
Of beechen green, and shadows numberless,
Singest of summer in full-throated case.
In these lines, the speaker describes the nightingale’s song in an elevated language. He is awe-struck after listening to its intoxicating song. Thus, the tone is emotive, pleasant, and elated. The mood of the poem is happy and positive.
The syntax is the ordering of words into meaningful patterns. Poetry has a distinct syntax compared to prose, fiction, and other forms of literature. Poets manipulate the conventional syntax to emphasize specific words. The purpose of adopting a specific syntax and diction is to achieve certain artistic effects such as tone, mood, etc. For instance, in Dickinson’s ‘A Narrow Fellow in the Grass,’ the speaker describes her surprise and amusement upon the discovery of a snake. To convey her feelings, Dickinson uses a specific syntax:
A narrow fellow in the grass
You may have met him-did you not
His notice sudden is,
- Watch: Elements of Poetry for Beginners
- Learn: About the Rhyme Schemes in Poetry
- Explore: a list of the greatest poetry