Narrative

Narrative poems contain all the elements of a story, including characters and conflict.

Facts About Narrative Poems

  • A narrative poem tells a story.
  • They use characters, conflict, rising and falling actions, and resolutions.
  • Sometimes these plot elements are well-defined, while other times, they’re looser.
  • Some narrative poems convey a moral message—for example, a reminder not to be greedy or a message about faith.
  • They may or may not use a specific rhyme scheme.
  • They’re written to evoke a particular emotion. For example, inspiring love or faith and encouraging bravery or patience.


Narrative Poem Example #1

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

This is one of the best-known Romantic narrative poems. It waswritten between 1797 and 1798 and first appeared inLyricalBalladsThe poem is a frame narrative, meaning there’s a story inside a story. On the outside, readers are introduced to a mariner who has a desperate story to tell. The story follows his time at sea, his voice to shoot down an albatross, and what happens to the ship and the crew afterward. Here are a few lines:

At length did cross an Albatross,

Thorough the fog it came;

As if it had been a Christian soul,

We hailed it in God’s name.

It ate the food it ne’er had eat,

And round and round it flew.

The ice did split with a thunder-fit;

The helmsman steered us through!

The narrative has characters, like the mariner, the wedding guest, the other crew members, a climax, conflict, and a resolution. There are also supernatural elements at play. By the end of the poem, readers should walk away reminded of God’s power and with a new respect for His creatures.

Narrative Poem Example #2

Goliath and David by Robert Graves 

Goliath and David’ is a narrative poem that details the battle between David, a shepherd and musician, and Goliath, a Philistine giant. A reader might also note, due to the changing nature of this narrative, that the title itself is backward. The story is generally referred to as that of “David and Goliath,” rather than “Goliath and David.” This switching of names alludes to the different outcome which is contained within this text and the domination of Goliath over David. Here are a few lines:

Striding within javelin range,

Goliath marvels at this strange

Goodly-faced boy so proud of strength.

David’s clear eye measures the length;

With hand thrust back, he cramps one knee,

Poises a moment thoughtfully,

And hurls with a long vengeful swing.

Graves chose to give this poem a specific rhyme scheme, something that’s not uncommon in narrative poems. The text is fairly easy to follow, meaning that the different plot points stanza out. For example, Goliath rounding on David and attacking him, and when the Giant proves himself to be too strong for David’s meager weapon. The resolution comes when Goliath strikes down David. It conveys a specific meaning, as narrative poems often do: how even those who are the bravest, with the best intentions, cannot defeat those with mightier means.

Other Narrative Poems to Explore

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