Do You Know Your Poetry?

Poetry month ends today, so wax your poetic knowledge without any delay!

1. Pastoral


Often centered around nature, these poems feature rhyming couplets (AB AB). This poem Ode on a Grecian Urn by John Keats is a perfect example. Here is a selection:

“Sylvan historian, who canst thus express
A flow’ry tale more sweetly than our rhyme:
What leaf-fring’d legend haunts about thy shape
Of deities or mortals, or of both,
In Tempe or the dales of Arcady?
What men or gods are these? What maidens loth?
What mad pursuit? What struggle to escape?
What pipes and timbrels? What wild ecstasy?” (3-10)

2. Limerick

Characterized by being silly or whimsical the rhyming scheme AABBA. Limericks usually convey a short funny story. From Edward Lear:

“There was an Old Man with a beard
Who said, ‘It is just as I feared!
Two Owls and a Hen,
Four Larks and a Wren,
Have all built their nests in my beard!’”

3. Elegy

One of the sad forms of poetry, the expresses or lamenting the loss of a loved one. Often read at funerals, some elegies are meant to be accompanied by music. A famous elegy by Walt Whitman is O Captain! My Captain! written to mourn the loss of Abraham Lincoln.

“My Captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still;
My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse nor will;
The ship is anchor’d safe and sound, its voyage closed and done;
From fearful trip, the victor ship, comes in with object won;
Exult, O shores, and ring, O bells!
But I, with mournful tread,
Walk the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.”

4. Sonnet

Made famous by Shakespeare, the sonnet contains 14 lines of iambic pentameter, two rhyming stanzas and a couplet at the end. The word “sonnet” means “little song”.

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date:
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimmed,
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance, or nature’s changing course untrimmed:

But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st,
Nor shall death brag thou wander’st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou grow’st,

So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

5. Haiku

You most likely learned about this Japanese form of poetry in school. Composed of three lines that don’t rhyme but with the first and third lines containing 5 syllables. The second line has seven syllables. They typically express feelings and thoughts on nature. From the master Basho Matsuo:

“An old silent pond…
A frog jumps into the pond,
splash! Silence again.”

6. Ode

A lyrical poem structured into 3 major parts: the Strophe, antistrophe, and epode. The ode is usually accompanied by musical instruments as it is recited. The English version of the Ode focused on various themes.

From William Wordsworth:
“There was a time when meadow, grove, and stream,
The earth, and every common sight,
To me did seem
Apparelled in celestial light,
The glory and the freshness of a dream.
It is not now as it hath been of yore;—
Turn wheresoe’er I may,
By night or day,
The things which I have seen I now can see no more” (1-9)

7. Free Verse

Written much as the words imply- free from any rhyming scheme or meter. That doesn’t mean other literary devices aren’t at work in these poems. Free verse is less restrictive for the writer and rose in popularity in the early 20th century with the epic poem by TS Eliot, The Waste Land.

“April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Winter kept us warm, covering
Earth in forgetful snow, feeding
A little life with dried tubers.
Summer surprised us, coming over the Starnbergersee
With a shower of rain; we stopped in the colonnade,
And went on in sunlight, into the Hofgarten,
And drank coffee, and talked for an hour.” (1-11)

8. Narrative

This form of poetry tells a story, making use of a narrator and a cast of characters. Epics, Ballads and Idylls fall under the umbrella of narrative poems. Famous narratives include Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and The Ring and the Book by Robert Browning. As well as Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven.

“But the Raven, sitting lonely on the placid bust, spoke only
That one word, as if his soul in that one word he did outpour.
Nothing farther then he uttered—not a feather then he fluttered—
Till I scarcely more than muttered “Other friends have flown before—
On the morrow he will leave me, as my Hopes have flown before.”
Then the bird said “Nevermore.”

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