5.02 – Keys to Understanding Poetry

Narrative poem
A poem that tells a story. Types of narrative poetry include ballads and epics.

Epic
A long story poem, often told in verse, involving heroes and gods. These poems paint a picture of the culture, the legends, beliefs and values of a people. The Iliad and The Odyssey are famous Greek epics. Beowulf is an Anglo-Saxon epic.

Lyric poem
A lyric poem expresses the emotions of the speaker in verse of musical qualities. There are many types of lyric poems.

Sonnet
A sonnet is a poem of fourteen lines with a specific pattern of rhyme. Many sonnets deal with the subject of love. Shakespeare’s sonnets are examples of the Elizabethan sonnet.

Ode
An ode is a lyric poem of lofty qualities on a serious theme. “Ode on a Grecian Urn” by Keats is a well known example.

Free Verse Lyric
A free verse lyric does not follow any regular pattern of rhythm, rhyme, or meter. This is a very popular type of poem. “Dover Beach” is an example.

Elegiac Lyric
An elegiac lyric expresses the speaker’s feelings of loss often because of the death of a friend or loved one, or the passing of a better time. “In Memoriam” by Tennyson is an example of an elegy.

Dramatic Poetry
A dramatic poem is one that relies heavily on dramatic elements such as the monologue (a speech by a single character) or dialogue (conversation involving two or more characters). Types of dramatic poems include the dramatic monologue and the soliloquy.

Dramatic monologue
A dramatic monologue is a poem that presents the speech of a single character in a dramatic situation, often in a moment of crisis or self-reflection. The speech is one-side of an imagined conversation. “My Last Duchess” by Browning is one example of a dramatic monologue.

Soliloquy
A soliloquy is a speech from a play, often in verse, delivered by a solitary character revealing his thoughts and feelings. There are several examples of soliloquies in Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

Stanza
A group of lines in a poem.

Couplet
Two lines of rhymed poetry. Chaucer used couplets in his Canterbury Tales.

Quatrain
Four lines of rhymed poetry making up one stanza.

Octave
Eight lines of rhymed poetry making up one stanza.

oral tradition
Stories passed on by word of mouth from one generation to the next.

scop
A tribal historian and story teller, to entertain 8th-century audiences.

meadhall
The gathering place of the tribal warriors and their king.

scribe
Someone employed to make written copies of documents and manuscripts.