Skip to main content
Humanities LibreTexts

12.2: Poetry - types and terms

  • Page ID
    • Rachel Bell, Jim Bowsher, Eric Brenner, Serena Chu-Mraz, Liza Erpelo, Kathleen Feinblum, Nina Floro, Gwen Fuller, Chris Gibson, Katharine Harer, Cheryl Hertig, Lucia Lachmayr, Eve Lerman, Nancy Kaplan-Beigel, Nathan Jones, Garry Nicol, Janice Sapigao, Leigh Anne Shaw, Paula Silva, Jessica Silver-Sharp, Mine Suer, Mike Urquidez, Rob Williams, Karen Wong, Susan Zoughbie, Leigh Anne Shaw, Paula Silva, Jessica Silver-Sharp, Mine Suer, Mike Urquidez, Rob Williams, Karen Wong, and Susan Zoughbie
    • Skyline College

    \( \newcommand{\vecs}[1]{\overset { \scriptstyle \rightharpoonup} {\mathbf{#1}} } \)

    \( \newcommand{\vecd}[1]{\overset{-\!-\!\rightharpoonup}{\vphantom{a}\smash {#1}}} \)

    \( \newcommand{\id}{\mathrm{id}}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\)

    ( \newcommand{\kernel}{\mathrm{null}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\range}{\mathrm{range}\,}\)

    \( \newcommand{\RealPart}{\mathrm{Re}}\) \( \newcommand{\ImaginaryPart}{\mathrm{Im}}\)

    \( \newcommand{\Argument}{\mathrm{Arg}}\) \( \newcommand{\norm}[1]{\| #1 \|}\)

    \( \newcommand{\inner}[2]{\langle #1, #2 \rangle}\)

    \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\)

    \( \newcommand{\id}{\mathrm{id}}\)

    \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\)

    \( \newcommand{\kernel}{\mathrm{null}\,}\)

    \( \newcommand{\range}{\mathrm{range}\,}\)

    \( \newcommand{\RealPart}{\mathrm{Re}}\)

    \( \newcommand{\ImaginaryPart}{\mathrm{Im}}\)

    \( \newcommand{\Argument}{\mathrm{Arg}}\)

    \( \newcommand{\norm}[1]{\| #1 \|}\)

    \( \newcommand{\inner}[2]{\langle #1, #2 \rangle}\)

    \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\) \( \newcommand{\AA}{\unicode[.8,0]{x212B}}\)

    \( \newcommand{\vectorA}[1]{\vec{#1}}      % arrow\)

    \( \newcommand{\vectorAt}[1]{\vec{\text{#1}}}      % arrow\)

    \( \newcommand{\vectorB}[1]{\overset { \scriptstyle \rightharpoonup} {\mathbf{#1}} } \)

    \( \newcommand{\vectorC}[1]{\textbf{#1}} \)

    \( \newcommand{\vectorD}[1]{\overrightarrow{#1}} \)

    \( \newcommand{\vectorDt}[1]{\overrightarrow{\text{#1}}} \)

    \( \newcommand{\vectE}[1]{\overset{-\!-\!\rightharpoonup}{\vphantom{a}\smash{\mathbf {#1}}}} \)

    \( \newcommand{\vecs}[1]{\overset { \scriptstyle \rightharpoonup} {\mathbf{#1}} } \)

    \( \newcommand{\vecd}[1]{\overset{-\!-\!\rightharpoonup}{\vphantom{a}\smash {#1}}} \)

    Types of Poetry

    Poetry can be written in two general categories, formal or free verse. Formal verse has set rules and structures that dictate how it must be written. For example, a sonnet is written in fourteen lines that follow a set rhyming pattern. Free verse follows what poet, Denise Levertov, called “organic form,” meaning that a poem can be any shape or size it needs to be to communicate its message.

    Some different types of Formal Verse

    Sonnet: a poem that is metered and rhymed of 14 lines usually in iambic pentameter

    Villanelle: a French form of 19 lines in iambic pentameter with only two rhymes

    Sestina: an unrhymed poem that places the same six words in varying patterns through six stanzas, ending with a two-line stanza

    Haiku: a Japanese form of three lines in which the first and third lines contain 5 syllables and the second line contains 7 syllables

    Types of poetry styles

    Narrative: tells a story

    Imagist: uses rich sensory imagery

    Lyrical: expresses strongly felt emotion and is written in a shorter form

    Persona: relies on a character whose voice speaks the poem

    Confessional: speaks openly about a poet’s personal life

    Satirical: uses humor to make a point

    Sound: relies on sounds rather than ideas to create meaning

    Concrete: takes on the literal shape of its subject

    Experimental: creates its own style through experimentation with language, shape, meaning & form

    Epic: deals with a mythic, legendary or historic event and often focuses on a hero and is written in a longer form

    Occasional: marks a particular occasion, like a birthday, dedication, death or marriage

    Poetry Terms

    Poetry shares many elements with its sister genres, fiction and drama such as characterization, plot, and theme. Most poems, however, do not offer a “story” in the conventional sense. They are usually brief and apparently devoid of “action.” Even so, a plot of sorts may be implied, a place and time may be important, a specific point of view may be operating, and characters may be dramatizing the key issues of the poem.

    SPEAKER: In any poem there is always one “character” of the utmost importance which is the speaker, the “I” of the poem. Often the speaker is a fictional personage, not at all equivalent to the poet.


    • Who is speaking?
    • What characterizes the speaker?
    • To whom is he or she speaking?
    • What is the speaker’s tone?
    • What is the speaker’s emotional state?
    • Why is he or she speaking?
    • What situation is being described?
    • What are the conflicts or tensions in the situation?
    • How is setting—social situation, physical place, and time—important to the speaker?
    • What ideas is the speaker communicating?

    IMAGERY: Descriptive Language: Although the word imagery calls to mind the visual sense, poetic imagery appeals to all the senses. Sensuous imagery is pleasurable for its own sake, but it also provides a concreteness and immediacy. Imagery causes the reader to become personally, experientially involved in the subject matter of the poem.

    IMAGERY: Figurative Language: The conscious departure from normal or conventional ways of saying things. This could mean merely a rearrangement of the normal word order of a sentence. A much more common category of figurative language is tropes. Tropes (literally “turns”) extend the meaning of words beyond their literal meaning, and the most common form of trope is metaphor. A metaphor is a type of analogy which is a similarity between things that are basically different.


    • What senses does the poet appeal to?
    • What analogies are implied or stated directly?
    • Why does the poet use these particular images and analogies?
    • Is metaphor used in the poem? To reveal what?
    • How are the descriptive images used to create atmosphere and mood?
    • What is the relationship between the descriptive images and the speaker’s state of mind?
    • What dominant impression do the images make?

    ALLITERATION: the repetition of the same sound at the beginning of words, as in "he clasps the crag with crooked hands."

    ALLUSION: a reference in a poem to a historical or literary character, event, idea or place outside the piece of writing.

    AMBIGUITY: a quality of certain words and phrases whereby meaning is unclear -- often used intentionally to create multiple layers of meaning.

    BALLAD: a songlike, narrative poem with a recurring refrain and four-line stanzas.

    CONCEIT: an extended, elaborate and often farfetched comparison that continues throughout a poem.

    CONCRETE POETRY: poems that use the physical arrangement of words on the page to mirror meaning such as a poem about a car that is car-shaped.

    CONSONANCE: repetition of similar sounds in the final consonants of words as in torn/burn, add/read, heaven/given.

    COUPLET: two rhymed lines of verse -- when separated or self-contained, called a closed couplet.

    DICTION: Refers to the poet’s choice of words. Poets are sensitive to the subtle shades of meaning of words, to the possible double meanings of words, and to the denotative (the object or idea that the word represents) and connotative (the subjective, emotional association of a word) meanings of words.

    ELEGY: a poem of mourning and lamentation often associated with death.

    END RHYME: a rhyme in which the last words of two or more lines of poetry rhyme with each other.

    END-STOPPED LINE: a line of poetry that ends with a period, colon or semi-colon.

    ENJAMBMENT: the continuation of a line in a poem so that it spills over into the next line.

    EPIC POEM: a lengthy narrative poem, ordinarily concerning a serious subject containing details of heroic deeds and events significant to a culture or nation.

    EXTENDED METAPHOR: a metaphor that continues throughout the piece of writing.

    FREE VERSE: poetry with no regular pattern of meter or rhyme. It avoids strict adherence to metrical patterns and to fixed line lengths. But it is not entirely “free,” for it uses other ways of creating rhythm and sound patterns.

    HYPERBOLE: extreme exaggeration such as "he's as strong as an ox".

    LINE BREAKS: where a poet chooses to end one line and start another.

    METAPHOR: comparison between two essentially unlike things without the use of "like" or "as".

    METER: the underlying regular beat in a poem; ex: pentameter has five stressed syllables to a line.

    PERSONIFICATION: figurative language that endows something nonhuman with human qualities as in "the trees whispered in the wind."

    PROSE POEM: a poem written with straight left-hand margins in paragraph form like prose.

    REFRAIN: the same line or group of lines repeated at intervals in a poem.

    RHYTHM: All human speech has rhythm, but poetry regularizes that rhythm into recognizable patterns. These patterns are called meters. Metrical patterns vary depending on the sequence in which one arranges the accented and unaccented syllables of an utterance. The unit that determines that arrangement is the foot. A foot is one unit of rhythm in verse.

    SIMILE: a comparison between two unlike things using "as" or "like" or "as if".

    SOUND: Poets delight in the sound of language and consciously present sounds to be enjoyed for themselves. They also use them to emphasize meaning, action, and emotion, and especially to call the reader’s attention to the relationship of certain words. Rhyme, for example, has the effect of linking words together. Among the most common sound devices are the following:

    • Onomatopoeia—the use of words that sound like what they mean (“buzz,” “boom,” “hiss”)
    • Alliteration—the repetition of consonant sounds at the beginning of words or at the beginning of accented syllables (“the woeful woman went wading Wednesday”)
    • Rhyme—the repetition of accented vowels and the sounds that follow.

    STANZA: a grouping of lines, somewhat like a paragraph in prose.

    STRESS: an accent that makes one syllable stand out from the others in a word or phrase --used in metrical poetry.

    STRUCTURE: Poets give structure to their poems in two overlapping ways: by organizing ideas according to a logical plan and by creating a pattern of sounds. Perhaps the most common sound device by which poets create structure is end rhyme, and any pattern of end rhyme is called a rhyme scheme. Rhyme scheme helps to establish another structural device, the stanza, which is physically separated from other stanzas by extra spaces and usually represents one idea.