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Traditional Forms of Poetry

Traditional Forms of Poetry

Traditional Forms of Poetry

Poetry has been around for centuries, beginning with bards and messengers who used poems to pass along news, songs, and stories. Today, we find poetry in songs, on greeting cards, in reading anthologies, and so on. Here are some other traditional forms of poetry.

Ballad A ballad is a poem that tells a story. Ballads are usually written in four-line stanzas called quatrains. Often, the first and third lines have four accented syllables; the second and fourth have three. Here is a quatrain from “The Enchanted Shirt” by John Hay.

The King was sick. His cheek was red

And his eye was clear and bright;

He ate and drank with a kingly zest,

And peacefully snored at night.


Blank Verse Blank verse is unrhymed poetry with meter. The lines in blank verse are 10 syllables in length. Every other syllable, begin- fling with the second syllable, is accented. (Note: Not every line will have exactly 10 syllables.) Consider these first three lines from “Birches” by Robert Frost.


When I see birches bend to Left and right

Across the tines of straighter darker trees,

I Like to think some boy’s been swinging them.


Cinquain Cinquain poems are five lines in length. There are syllable and word cinquain poems.

Syllable Cinquain

Line 1: Title 2 syllables

Line 2: Description of title 4 syllables

Line 3: Action about the title 6 syllables

Line 4: Feeling about the title 8 syllables

Line 5: Synonym for title 2 syllables

Word Cinquain

Line 1: Title 1 word

Line 2: Description of title 2 words

Line 3: Action about the title 3 words

Line 4: Feeling about the title 4 words

Line 5: Synonym for title 1 word


Couplet A couplet is two lines of verse that usually rhyme and state one complete idea.

Elegy An elegy is a poem that states a poet’s sadness about the death of an important person. In the famous elegy “0 Captain, My Captain,” Walt Whitman writes about the death of Abraham Lincoln.

Epic An epic is a long story poem that describes the adventures of a hero. “The Odyssey” by Homer is a famous epic about the Greek hero Odysseus.

Free Verse Free verse is poetry that does not require meter (regular rhythm’ or a rhyme scheme.


Haiku Haiku is a type of Japanese poetry that presents a picture of nature. A haiku poem is three lines in length. The first line is five syllables; the second, seven; and the third, five.

Like a bad Landscape with neither depth nor feeling; the worLd through one eye

—Derek Lam


Limerick A limerick is a humorous verse of five lines. Lines one, two, and five rhyme, as do lines three and four. Lines one, two, and five have three stressed syllables; lines three and four have two.

There once was a panda named Lu, (a)

Who always ate crunchy bamboo. (a)

He ate all day Long, (b)

TILL he Looked Like King Kong. (b)

Now the zoo doesn’t know what to do. (a)

—Sarah Diot


Lyric A lyric is a short poem that expresses personal feeling.


My heart Leaps up when I behoLd

A rainbow in the sky;

So was it when my Life began;

So is it now I am a man;

So be it when I shalt grow old.

—William Wordsworth


Ode An ode is a long lyric that is deep in feeling and rich in poetic devices and imagery. “Ode to a Grecian Urn” is a famous ode by John Keats.


Sonnet A sonnet is a fourteen-line poem that states a poet’s personal feelings. The Shakespearean sonnet follows the abab/cdcd/efef/gg rhyme scheme. Each line in a sonnet is 10 syllables in length, and every other syllable is stressed, beginning with the second syllable.(such as: Peter Peter Pumpkin eater.)

Onomatopoeia: The use of a word whose sound makes you think of its meaing, as in buzz, gunk, gushy, swish, zigzag, zing or zip.


Quatrain: A four line stanza. Common rhyme schemes in quatrains are aabb, aaba, and abab. The Frost poem “Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening” is arranged in quatrains.

Repetition: the repeating of a word or phrase to add rhythm or to focus on an idea, as in the following lines from Poe’s “The Raven.”

While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping, as of someone gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door—