Nature and forms of Poems (2021)

Nature and forms of Poems
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Nature and forms of Poems

Nature and forms of Poems

The nature and forms of poems differ in various way of writing. So, lets understand it by its types.


Poetry is the ‘literary expression’ in which man explores and understand his experiences. But this is not a perfect definition of poetry. Translating this into exact language, however, seems difficult but through an analysis of some definitions by great writers can give us a comprehensive idea about the nature of poetry.

John Stuart Mill states, “All poetry is of the nature of soliloquy”. {Soliloquy, a monologue, which means speech you make to yourself}.

Thomas Carlyle has one of the opinions that poetry is “musical thought”.

Dr Johnson says, “Poetry is a metrical composition”. Metrical means something which is rhythmically written in meter.

Wordsworth has also given a statement about poetry. He says, “Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of feelings; it takes origin from emotion recollected in tranquility”.

Shelley believes poetry to be, “the expression of the imagination”.

Coleridge thinks that “the main aim of poetry is to give pleasure”. And while criticizing he says, a highest kind of poetry may exist without metre.

Matthew Arnold, to him poetry is “nothing less than the most perfect speech of man, that in which he comes nearest and being able to utter the truth”.

A close study of these definitions helps us in listing some of the elements which make ‘poetry’. First, poetry is an ‘art’ and this art is primarily concerned with “human experiences”. Then, these experiences must be the rise to emotion. The language must be musical and everything must enrich the imagination. Apart from these, melody, metre and aesthetic pleasure are important elements of poetry.


A ballad is a kind of short narrative poem, impersonal in nature and intensely dramatic in technique. It is the song of people in which a story is told. Generally, it sings of some historical events such as ‘battles fought long ago’ or ‘a local love’ or ‘family feud’ or ‘some deed of prowess’ and ‘supernatural happenings. The treatment of the subject is simple, vigorous and dramatic. It always remains in the folktale tradition.

Whether the ballad is the work of a single author or the product of a community is still a debatable point. Perhaps they were never written. It was a strolling singer or a band of singers who sang it from village to village to an accompaniment of a harp or a fiddle. It was usually sung in the chimney corner, the farmhouse, or on the village green where eager listeners assembled to be entertained. Initially, it was composed anonymously and handed down orally.

Ballad is similar to “the epic” in origin and development. But it can hardly be viewed in literary criticism. The ballads tell their story with the extraordinary rapidity of movement. It captures the fascinated attention of the audience. It leaves the imagination of the audience to work hard. Surprise, emotion, repetition and question and answer are some of the tricks used by the ballad singers. The diction is simple, homely, racy and melodious.

Certain “stanzaic form” is also followed in almost all the ballads. But the most popular stanzaic form was the four lined ballad stanzas with alternate ‘iambic tetrameter’ by Coleridge is a good example of a ballad stanza;

“He prayeth best, who loveth best

All things both great and small;

For the dear God who loveth us,

He made and loveth all”.

Ballads are of different kinds-

1. The Ballad of Growth (Folk Ballad)

The Folk Ballad is also known as the “Authentic ballad” or the “Communal Ballad”. They speak for the mass of people among whom they evolve. The folk ballads dealt with the themes of love, hatred, war, pity, hunting, supernatural events, etc. The themes of such ballads open abruptly. There is no introductory matter.

Some of the best known among folk ballads are “Fair Helen of Kirkconnel”, “Sir Patrick Spens”, “Chevy Chase”, etc.

2. The Ballad of Art (Literary Ballad)

The efforts of the poets to imitate the popular ballads are called “Literary ballads”. This Literary Ballad is different from the popular traditional ballad. Its early freshness is gone. Its healthy contact with life and belief is also disappeared. The new writers of ballad have the art of writing. The relationship between the writer and the audience changed. Now the writer is ‘an individual’ and the reader is a ‘lover of art’.

3. Mock Ballad

There is one more type of ballad which is known as the Mock Ballad. Its comic theme is treated with the seriousness suitable to a ballad. It is ‘humorous and satirical’ but it follows its model closely. Cowper’s “John Gilpin” is a famous example of the mock ballad.


Elegy is a poem oflamentation or an expression of personal loss and sorrow’. It has no conventional form. It is identified by its subject matter. It is primarily a song of lamentation for the dead, usually addressed to the memory of a particular person. Though death is the main theme of an elegy, it may also be inspired by other serious themes such as unfulfilled love, the fall of famous city, and the life. It is usually elaborated, dignified and solemn.

“The Ruin” are all reflective elegies rising out of some personal, real or imaginary situation or mood. Gray’s “Elegy Written in the Country Churchyard” is a reflective elegy. It deals with the passing of men and the things they valued. It mourns not of a person but a way of life.

Johnson’s “Vanity of Human Wishes” and Goldsmith’s “The Deserted Village” also consider the temporaries of life.

Some elegies can be the poet’s tribute to some great men, the study of their life and character and their reminiscences and thoughts.


Spenser’s “Amoretti”, Ben Jonson’s celebrated verses “To the Memory of My Beloved, Mr. William Shakespeare”. Milton’s “Lycidas” and Arnold’s “Rugby Chapel” and “Thyrsis” are some of them.

These are all poems of mourning and lamentation. In this regard, “In Memoriam” by Tennyson is noteworthy. This elegy mourns the death of his friend Arthur Hallam. Similarly, Milton, in his “Lycidas” mourns the death of the friend Edward King. In “Rugby Chapel”, Arnold mourns the death of his father. His “Scholar Gipsy” reveals his utter disgust of the sick, hurry and divided aims of his contemporaries. Shelley’s “Adonais ” cannot be ignored. In “Adonais”, Shelley finds consolation in the thought that Keats, his friend is not dead. In fact, he is enjoying his immortality in heaven.

According to W.H. Hudson, one of the kinds of elegies is a “funeral song” or “a poem of lament” for an individual. Spenser’s “Daphnaida”, David’s “Lament for Saul and Jonathan” Landor’s “Rose Aylmer and Tennyson’s “Break, Break, Break” are some of the examples of this form of elegy.

Pastoral Elegy

It is an important form of elegy. In such elegies, the poets represent ‘shepherd’ as lamenting the death of a fellow shepherd. They employ imagery appropriate to ‘pastoral life’.

Some of the features of the pastoral elegy are – an invocation or address, mention of the death as a shepherd, a contrast between the unreturning life of man and the ever-returning life of nature, a procession of mourners, gods, shepherds, dreams, consolation, hope and so on.


Spenser’s “Shepherd’s Calendar” is the first significant pastoral elegy in English.

Milton in his “Lycidas” followed the same convention of the pastoral elegy.

Shelley’s “Adonais” which is written on the death of John Keats.

Arnold’s “Thyrsis” which is written on the death of Arthur Clough, are the great pastoral elegies.


“Epic” is one of the oldest forms of poetry that has come down to us from the ancients. It has been derived from the Greek word “epikos” or “epicus” or from “epos” which means ‘a narrative poem’. It is a long narrative poem dealing with heroic achievements and eternal human problems. It includes experiences from the whole of man’s history of civilization. The epic centers on a national hero of extraordinary virtue. The style used in such a narrative is marked with loftiness, seriousness and dignity.

The first significant attempt at the composition of an epic poem in England, was made by Spenser. His “Faerie Queen” deals with the romantic theme of spiritual pilgrimage. This was followed by “The Civil War of York and Lancaster” by Samuel David and “Prince Arthur”, “King Arthur” and “Eliza” by Sir Richard Blackmore.

The main features of an English epic-

  • Long narrative in verse,
  • Serious themes,
  • National hero,
  • Heroic deeds,
  • Grand setting,
  • Elevated diction

Epics have generally divided into three classes    –

1. Oral or Folk Epic

The first form of epic that was told in oral form. This form of poem was transmitted to the audience from performer to performer by purely oral means. These epics present the achievement of national heroes in a heroic style.

The earliest of English epic is “Beowulf”. It is written in the manner of folk epics of Greece. It deals with the achievements of Beowulf, a hero of great prowess and great strength.

2. Literary or Epic of Art

The Literary epic is the creation of an old poem according to gradually formulated ideals and principles of technique. The Romantic epics follow the example of the literary epics.

The pioneers of literary epic are Homer in Greece and Virgil in Rome. Homer’s “Iliad” and “Odyssey” are the prominent landmarks in this direction. Both these Homeric epics are based on the legend of Trojan War. Virgil’s “The Aeneid” concentrates on the achievement of Aereas, the Roman Hero. English epic poetry has considerably been influenced by the example and tradition of the classical epic left behind by Virgil, Homer, Tasso and Ariosto.

Epic Poetry attained the pinnacle glory in the hands of John Milton. His epic poem “Paradise Lost” and “Paradise Regained” received popular applause and recognition.

Mock Heroic Epic

“The Nun’s Priest’s Tale” is the first mock-heroic epic in the history of English literature. Mock-heroic epic imitates all the characteristics and conventions of a serious epic. Mock-heroic epic has a ‘typical satirical’ approach towards the characters present in the story. It is a long narrative in verse. It is written in grand style and exalted language. But what makes it a mock-heroic epic is its trivial subject and its trivial characters.

The 18th century witnessed mock heroic epics like “The Rape of Lock” by Alexander Pope, “Tragedy of Tomb Thumb” by Henry Fielding and Jonathan Swift’s “Gulliver’s Travels”.

In 19th century, Wordsworth’s “Prelude” and “Excursion” are epical in dimension. Keats also employed many of devices of the classical epic in his “Hyperion”. Byron’s “Don Juan” is another work in epical style.


Lyric poetry is usually a form of poetry with rhyme schemes that express ‘personal feelings’. It centered round an individual singer’s emotion to the accompaniment of the lyre. As the time passed this term was often taken to cover all poetry. English lyric, however, is different from all other form in subjectivity individuality and personal emotion. The poet’s personal emotion is marked by a note of spontaneity and free flow. Melody or music is an integral part of lyric.

The English lyric poetry before Chaucer was chiefly cultivated and developed by the Anglo-Saxon writers. But it was very primitive in tone and tenor. The best lyric of this period is “Deor’s Lament”. Other famous lyrics of this period are “The wanderer”, “The Wife’s Complaint” etc. A new spirit in lyrics began to be felt in the Early Elizabethan Age when Wyatt and Surrey attempted sonnet in English. The real beginning was seen after Sidney from “Astrophel and Stella” and Spenser’s “Amoretti”.

We can see different forms of lyric such as Madrigals, Airs, Sonnets, Odes, Songs, Song Lyric, Roundelay etc. Love became the dominant theme of these lyrics. These were characterized by extreme lightness of touch. They are light and airy and refreshing even when they say nothing. The rhythmic grace, music and the haunting melody of the lyrics are enthralling.

The famous lyricists of this period are Tennyson, Lyly, Peele, Nashe, Lodge, Heywood and, of course, Shakespeare.


The term ‘Ode’ has been derived from the Greek word ‘Oide’ which means ‘to sing’. Originally it meant a poem to be sung or chanted by a chorus but nowadays it is regarded as a form of lyrical verse characterized by dignity of language and mood. It is often in the form of address, elevated in tone and style.

‘Epithalamion’ and ‘Prothalamion’ are the first odes in English written by Edmund Spenser. Spenser’s odes influenced Milton to a great extent. His odes “On the Morning of Christ Nativity” which celebrates the birth of Christ, is one of the most beautiful odes in the English Language.

The Ode has its origin in Greece and was practiced by the famous Greek poet Pindar (522-422 B.C).

The Ode can broadly be divided into two categories:

1.The Classical Ode

The Classical Ode is of two types: Personal and Choral. The personal ode was chiefly practiced by the Greek poet- Alcaeus and Sappho. It is also called Sapphic ode. The Roman poet Horace imitated this.

Hence, it is sometimes called Horatian ode. The Choral Ode is generally called Pindaric after its greatest exponent, Pindar.

2. The Modern Ode

The modern ode is a lyric with a high level of emotion and even exalted in mood and language. It generally rhymes and frequently begins with ‘an address’ or ‘apostrophe’.


Sonnet is the perfect flower in the garden of poetry. It is complete in itself and expresses one feeling; one idea, or one emotion. It is fourteen lined poem usually in “iambic pentameter”.

The word ‘sonnet’ has been derived from the Italian word ‘Sonetto’ meaning ‘a little strain’. Originally, it was a poem to be sung or recited to music. But nowadays, it stands for a written lyric of fixed form, expressing a single idea.

Though sonnet was first used by Dante (1265-1321) to the praise of his beloved Beatrice, the credit of developing and perfecting this form goes to Italian poet, Petrarch (1304-1374).

Petrarchan Sonnet

A Petrarchan sonnet consisted of fourteen lines (has 10 syllables per line). The first eight lines is called the Octave, rhymed ‘abbaabba’. The last six is called the sestet, rhymed ‘cdecde’. The octave is divided into two stanzas of four lines each, called quatrains. The sestet into two or three lines each, called couplet or tercet. The octave ends with a caesura (a pause). It is followed by a ‘Volta’ or change on thought.

Wyatt and Surrey introduced sonnets in England in the 16th century. They introduced sonnet in the third decade of the 16th century. Wyatt followed the Petrarchan pattern and left behind 31 sonnets of rare beauty and excellence. He imparted emotion and passion, fervor and enthusiasm to English poetry. The form introduced by Henry Howard, the Earl of Surrey is known by the name of its greatest practitioner, the Shakespearean Sonnet.

Shakespearean Sonnet

A Shakespearean sonnet has three quatrains of four lines each and a couplet of two lines. The rhyme scheme of Shakespearean sonnet is ‘abab cdcd efef gg’. Sonnet gathered momentum during the last ten years of the 16th century. Edmund Spenser is regarded as the true father of Elizabethan sonnet.


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