Have you always wanted to know more about poems but are daunted by the different forms they can take? Or maybe you feel that you lack the exposure to appreciate poems.
Don’t worry, we’ll guide you through the most common types of poetry from sonnets to haikus, showing you not all poems rhyme, and most importantly, showing you that:
Not everything that
Is written in this manner
Counts as a poem
So buckle up, get comfortable, and as Nancy Pelosi said:
Defined as a light verse in Japanese, haikus are quick and easy to read. Consisting of only 17 syllables, a haiku is usually divided into three lines. Usually, the first and last line of the haiku contains five syllables each and the second line will have the other seven syllables.
Here’s an example of a haiku from Tyler Gregson’s book titled All the Words Are Yours:
“I find you in storms,
I feel you in the lightning,
I miss you in rain.”
At first glance, we can already tell Gregson’s haiku follows three lines structure, and if we denote the syllables, we’ll see the 5, 7, 5 rule in play.
1 2 3 4 5
First line: I find you in storms,
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
Second line: I feel you in the light-ning,
1 2 3 4 5
Third line: I miss you in rain.
Not all poems rhyme.
So what sets a blank verse apart from your everyday prose? Well, for starters, a blank verse contains line breaks. But these breaks aren’t placed at random. They follow a specific metre or flow which the poet wants you to read in.
One of the most common metres is known as an iambic pentameter, but before we delve into what an iambic pentameter is, we must first understand some basic poetry terms.
Have you ever noticed some words have more prominent sounding syllables as compared to the others?
- PINE-apple (Stress on the syllable ‘Pine’)
- TO-mo-rrow (Stress on the syllable ‘TO’)
A foot is a number of stressed and unstressed syllable forming a distinct unit. An iamb is a two-syllable foot with the first syllable being unstressed while the second syllable is stressed.
Now let’s use an excerpt from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet to explain an iambic pentameter:
“Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate.”
Notice how there are 10 syllables in a single sentence before the line breaks?
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
“Shall I com-pare thee to a sum-mer’s day?
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Thou art more love-ly and more tem-per-ate.”
These 10 syllables are actually made out of five pairs of two-syllable iamb. That means the poem is meant to be read in this manner:
“shall I | com-PARE | thee TO | a SUM- | mer’s day?
Thou ART | more LOVE- | ly AND | more TEM– | per-ATE.”
Sonnets are a group of poems that are made up of 14 rhyming lines written in iambic pentameter. To explain the rhyming pattern easily, let’s use the same letters to denote which line rhymes with which. If we look at Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Sonnet 43 from Sonnets from the Portuguese:
How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of being and ideal grace.
I love thee to the level of every day’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for right.
I love thee purely, as they turn from praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints. I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life; and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.
The rhyming pattern can be broken down into:
A – How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
B – I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
B – My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
A – For the ends of being and ideal grace.
A – I love thee to the level of every day’s
B – Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
B – I love thee freely, as men strive for right.
A – I love thee purely, as they turn from praise.
C – I love thee with the passion put to use
D – In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.
C – I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
D – With my lost saints. I love thee with the breath,
C – Smiles, tears, of all my life; and, if God choose,
D – I shall but love thee better after death.
You’ll notice that unlike haikus, sonnets are longer and, in a way, easier to express with little ambiguity to the words. Perfect for confessing your love just like how Elizabeth Barrett Browning did in Sonnets from the Portuguese!
Do you think you know
Just how a poem can flow
Like this haiku goes?
Now that you’ve gotten a bite-sized guide on the different types of poems, it’s time to unleash your inner poet in front of your friends. We recommend picking up any poetry book from your nearest library first in the unlikely event that they should question you to name your favourite! 😉