15 Types of Poetic Forms
From sonnets and epics to haikus and villanelles, learn more about 15 of literature’s most enduring types of poems.
Blank verse. Blank verse is poetry written with a precise meter—almost always iambic pentameter—that does not rhyme.
Rhymed poetry. In contrast to blank verse, rhymed poems rhyme by definition, although their scheme varies.
Free verse. Free verse poetry is poetry that lacks a consistent rhyme scheme, metrical pattern, or musical form.
Epics. An epic poem is a lengthy, narrative work of poetry. These long poems typically detail extraordinary feats and adventures of characters from a distant past.
Narrative poetry. Similar to an epic, a narrative poem tells a story. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere” and Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” exemplify this form.
Haiku. A haiku is a three-line poetic form originating in Japan. The first line has five syllables, the second line has seven syllables, and the third line again has five syllables.
Pastoral poetry. A pastoral poem is one that concerns the natural world, rural life, and landscapes. These poems have persevered from Ancient Greece (in the poetry of Hesiod) to Ancient Rome (Virgil) to the present day (Gary Snyder).
Sonnet. A sonnet is a 14 line poem, typically (but not exclusively) concerning the topic of love. Sonnets contain internal rhymes within their 14 lines; the exact rhyme scheme depends on the style of a sonnet. Learn about Petrarchan sonnets here.
Elegies. An elegy is a poem that reflects upon death or loss. Traditionally, it contains themes of mourning, loss, and reflection. However, it can also explore themes of redemption and consolation.
Ode. Much like an elegy, an ode is a tribute to its subject, although the subject need not be dead—or even sentient, as in John Keats’ “Ode on a Grecian Urn”.
Limerick. A limerick is a five-line poem that consists of a single stanza, an AABBA rhyme scheme, and whose subject is a short, pithy tale or description.
Lyric poetry. Lyric poetry refers to the broad category of poetry that concerns feelings and emotion. This distinguishes it from two other poetic categories: epic and dramatic.
Ballad. A ballad (or ballade) is a form of narrative verse that can be either poetic or musical. It typically follows a pattern of rhymed quatrains. From John Keats to Samuel Taylor Coleridge to Bob Dylan, it represents a melodious form of storytelling.
Soliloquy. A soliloquy is a monologue in which a character speaks to him or herself, expressing inner thoughts that an audience might not otherwise know. Soliloquies are not definitionally poems, although they often can be—most famously in the plays of William Shakespeare.
Villanelle. A nineteen-line poem consisting of five tercets and a quatrain, with a highly specified internal rhyme scheme. Originally a variation on a pastoral, the villanelle has evolved to describe obsessions and other intense subject matters, as exemplified by Dylan Thomas, author of villanelles like “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night.”
And there are more!