Definition & kinds of Genres of Poetry in English Literature

Mofizur Rahman

Definition & kinds of Genres of Poetry in English Literature

Genres (All About Poetry) An ABC of English Literature

English Literature
In this Chapter terms related to literary forms are presented according to the broad categories of English literature- Here one is Poetry. 

Definition & kinds of Genres of Poetry in English Literature

The chart on Above page gives a primary idea about Poetry.



Metrical composition that conveys certain truths. Some famous definitions of poetry are given below:

  • Poetry is “a speaking picture-with this end, to teach and delight.” (Sir Philip Sidney: An Apology for Poetry)
  • “Poetry is the art of uniting pleasure with truth.” (Dr. Samuel Johnson: The Study of Poetry)
  • Poetry is “the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origins from emotion recollected in tranquility.” (William Wordsworth: Preface to Lyrical Ballads)
  • “Poetry is the record of the best and happiest moments of the happiest and best minds.” (P. B. Shelley: A Defence of Poetry)
  • Poetry is “a criticism of life.” (Matthew Arnold: The Study of Poetry)
  • “Poetry is emotion put into measure”. (Thomas Hardy: The Poet)
  • “Poetry is a vehicle for morality, truth, and beauty.”  (Northrop Frye: Anatomy of Criticism)
  • “Poetry provides the one permissible way of saying one thing and meaning another”. (Robert Frost: Education by Poetry)
  • Poetry is “a kind of ingenious nonsense”.  (Isaac Newton: Bent's Familiar Short Sayings of Great Men)
Poetry is also called verse. It is uncountable; its singular is poem. In the Middle Ages, the word poetry meant literature. Poetry has many varieties.

Difference between Prose and Poetry:

a) Poetry is composed of metres and rhymes but prose is written with rhetorical devices.
b) Poetry suggests but prose states.
c) The basic unit of poetry is the verse-line but the basic unit of prose is the sentence.
d) Each line of poetry is limited by metres but sentences in prose have no limit of length.
e) Prose does not provide pleasure the way poetry provides it.


A short poem expressing personal or subjective thoughts and intense feelings of a single speaker. It is identical to a song sung with a lyre.

Its main features are:

  1. It does not tell a story.
  2. It makes a momentary flash of emotion.
  3. It expresses personal thoughts and feelings.
  4. It is shorter than narrative poems-ballad, epic, mock-epic and metrical romance.
  5. It usually possesses the qualities of a song.
  6. A single speaker speaks in it.
  7. Its diction is lucid and soft-sounding.

The sonnet, ode, elegy, dramatic monologue, hymn, epithalamion, etc. are the different forms of the lyric. Shakespeare's sonnets, Keats' odes, Gray's “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard”, Donne's love poems, Marvell's “To His Coy Mistress,” Wordsworth's “Tintern Abbey” and “Ode: Intimations of Immortality,” Arnold's “Dover Beach” and Browning's dramatic monologues are a few examples of the famous English lyric poems.


A lyric poem of fourteen iambic pentameter lines is Called Sonnet. 

Kinds of Sonnet

There are three types of Sonnet:- 
  1. Petrarchan (also known as Italian),
  2. Shakespearean (also known as English) and
  3. Spenserian.
The first eight lines of a Petrarchan sonnet are called octave and the last six lines of it are called sestet.
The rhyme scheme of the octave of a Petrarchan sonnet is abba abba and that of sestet is cd cd cd or cde cde.

Milton, Wordsworth, Wyatt, Rossetti and a few other English poets have used Petrarchan form in their sonnets.

Here is an example:-

Petrarchan (also known as Italian),

The world is too much with us; late and soon,----a
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;----b
Little we see in Nature that is ours;------------b
We have given our hearts away, à sordid boon!----a
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon,----a
The winds that will be howling at all hours,----b
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers,----b
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;----a

It moves us not. -Great God! I'd rather be--------c
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;--------d
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,--------c
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;--------d
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;--------c
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn.--------d
(Wordsworth : “The World Is Too Much with Us”)

One more example for the variation in the sestet:

When I consider how my light is. spent----------a
Ere half my days, in this dark world and wide,----------b
And that one talent which is death to hide----------b
Lodged with me useless, though my soul more bent ----------a
To serve therewith my Marker, and present----------a
My true account, lest he returning chide;----------b
“Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?”----------b
I fondly ask; but Patience to prevent----------a

That murmur, soon replies, “God doth not need----------c
Either man's work or his own gifts; who best----------d
Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His state----------e
Is kingly. Thousands at his bidding speed----------c
And post o'er land and ocean without rest:----------d
They also serve who only stand and wait.”----------e
(John Milton)

Shakespearean sonnet:-

A Shakespearean sonnet is divided into three quatrains followed by a couplet. Its rhyme scheme is abab cdcd efefgg. The concluding couplet is often used as a comment on the preceding lines.

For example:

Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?----------a
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:----------b
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,----------a
And summer's lease hath all too short a date:----------b
Sometimes too hot the eye of heaven shines,----------c
And often is his gold complexion dimmed;----------d
And every fair from fair sometimes declines,----------c
By chance or nature's changing coursé untrimmed;----------d

But thy eternal summer shall not fade,----------e
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow'st;----------f
Nor shall death brag thou wander'st in his shade,----------e
When in eternal lines to time thou grow'st:----------f
So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see----------g
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.----------g
(Shakespeare :“Sonnet XVIII”)

The Spenserian sonnet

The Spenserian sonnet is named after Edmund Spenser who developed a different rhyme scheme for his sonnets. Like a Shakespearean sonnet, it consists of three quatrains followed by a couplet but its rhyme scheme differs from that of Shakespearean.

Its rhyme scheme is abab bcbc cdcd ee.

For example:

Lyke as a huntsman after weary chace,----------a
Seeing the game from him escapt away,----------b
Sits downe to rest him in some shady place,----------a
With panting hounds beguiled of their pray:----------b

So after long pursuit and vaine assay,----------b
When I all weary had the chace forsooke,----------c
The gentle deare return'd the selfe-same way,----------b
Thinking to quench her thirst at the next brooke,----------c

There she beholding me with mylder looke,----------c
Sought not to fly, but fearelesse still did bide:----------d
Till I in hand her yet halfe trembling tooke,----------c
And with her owne goodwill hir fyrmely tyde.----------d
Strange thing me seem'd to see a beast so·wyld,----------e
So goodly wonne with her owne will beguyl'd.----------e
(Spenser :Amoretti, Sonnet LXVII)


An exalted lyric poem that begins with an address to someone, instil anguish in the middle part and ends with consolation.

Its main features are:-

a) It is a kind of lyric poem.
b) It opens with an address to someone or something.
c) Its middle part develops a sense of grief.
d) It ends with some sort of consolation.
e) It is written in lofty style.
f) Its subject is serious.
g) Its tone is grave.

Odes are of three types:

The Pindaric ode or Regular ode
The Horatian ode and
The Irregular ode

1. The Pindaric ode or Regular ode:-

The Pindaric ode or Regular ode is written on the model of the ode of Pindar, a Greek poet. It is divided into sections each of which has three parts: a strophe (the turn), an antistrophe (the counter turn) and an epode (the stand). This type of ode is written on public occasions, for instance, celebration of a national victory, birthdays, state events, etc. For this reason, this kind of ode is also called Public ode. Thomas Gray's “The Progress of Poesy” and Tennyson's “Ode on the Death of the Duke of Wellington" are examples of the Pindaric ode.

2. The Horatian ode:-

The Horatian ode is named after Horace, a Latin poet. It consists of a number of two-line or four-line stanzas. It is written on private or personal experiences. For this reason, it is also called Private ode.
The English poets adopted the regular stanza pattern but they discarded Horace's two-line or four-line stanzas. Wordsworth's “Ode to Duty”, Shelley's “Ode to the West Wind” and Keats'“ Ode to a Nightingale” are examples of the Horatian ode.

3. The Irregular ode:-

The odes which neither follow the three-part structure of Pindaric ode nor the regular two-line or four-line stanza pattern of Horatian ode are called Irregular ode. Wordsworth's “Ode: Intimations of Immortality” is an example of it. The Irregular ode may be both public and private.


A narrative poem that tells a story through dialogue and action.

Its general features are:-

  1. It is narrative in form, and so, it tells a story.
  2. Its narrator is generally impersonal third person.
  3. It opens dramatically at the middle of the story.
  4. Its story is told in dialogue and action.
  5. It is usually narrated in ballad stanizas. [see Ballad Stanza]
  6. Refrain (repetition of a line or a stanza) is common in it.
  7. Traditionally it deals with rural labourers or love or legends or supernatural elements or tragic events.

The ballad is mainly of two types:

  1. The Folk or Popular ballad, and
  2. The Literary ballad.

1. The Folk or Popular ballad:- 

The anonymous ballads composed in the early period when written literature was not developed are called Folk or Popular ballad. “The Twa Corbies”, “The Demon Lover” and “The Cruel Mother” are examples of the Folk or Popular ballad.

2. The Literary ballad:-

The ballad written on the model of the Popular balled is known as Literary ballad. The poets of this type of ballad imitated the form, language and style of the popular ballad. “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” composed by S.T. Coleridge is a famous Literary ballad. Keats' “La Belle Dame Sans Merci” and Scott's “Lay of the Last Minstrel” are also examples of the literary ballad.

Though four-line ballad stanzas are usually used in ballads, there may be exceptions as in “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” .In it there are several stanzas consisting of five or more lines. Similarly, though
third-person narrator is traditionally used in ballads, first-person narrator may also be used as in Wordsworth's “We are Seven”.


A lyric poem mourning for the death of an individual or lamenting over a tragic event.

The main characteristics of the elegy are:-

  1. It opens with lamentation for the death of the speaker's dear friend.
  2. In its middle part the speaker idealizes and admires the dead.
  3. The society is criticized for doing injustice to the dead and for not allowing the dead person to do what he could have done.
  4. The speaker feels the presence of the dead friend around him.
  5. It raises serious spiritual questions about the nature of life and death, and about the immortality of the soul.
  6. In its closing part the speaker finds consolation and solace.
  7. It is about a single dead person. However, Gray's mourning for all the dead villagers in “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard” is an exception.
  8. It is meditative in nature.
  9. Its tone is grave.

Some of the famous English elegies are:-

  1. Gray's “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard”,
  2. Tennyson's “In Memoriam”,
  3. Walt Whitman's “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd” and
  4. W. H. Auden's “In Memory of W. B. Yeats”.

Pastoral Elegy

An elegy which begins with an invocation tothe Muses and describes a procession of shepherds who mourn for the misfortune of a fellow shepherd in a pastoral atmosphere. In this kind of elegy nature also takes part in the mourning. Its structure, meditative nature and grave tone are similar to those of the elegy.

  1. Edmund Spenser's famous poem, “The Shepherd's Calendar”
  2. Milton's “Lycidas”
  3. Shelley's “Adonais” and
  4. Arnold's “Thyrsis” are famous pastoral elegies.


A long narrative poem that tells in grand style the history and aspirations of a national hero.

The major elements of an epic are:-

  1. Invocation to the Muses and proposition of the subject at the beginning;
  2. Lofty language and high style;
  3. A central hero of superman quality;
  4. A subject of national or collective interest;
  5. A long perilous journey, often on water;
  6. Long speeches of the heroic leaders;
  7. Mighty battles;
  8. Feasts and revels;
  9. Homeric (long-run) similes;
  10. Involvement of supernatural elements (also known as machinery);
  11. An underworld journey;
  12. Assembly of the supernatural powers;
  13. Glorification of justice and peace;

There are two types of epic:

  1. Primary or Oral epic; and
  2. Secondary or Literary epic;

Primary or Oral epic

A Primary epic is a type of epic with which the epic tradition began. In a primary epic the episodes taken from the oral tradition are linked with one another to make a longer story. For this reason, looseness in the construction is apparent. A primary epic displays savage and rude heroism. In a primary epic supernatural elements are very significant. Homer's Iliad and Odyssey are primary epics.

The Secondary or Literary epic

The Secondary or Literary epic is the one which imitated the tradition of the primary epic. In a secondary epic such looseness is not found. but a secondary epic shows a more refined taste. In a literary epic they are not so significant. Virgil's Aeneid, Dante's Divine Comedy and Milton's Paradise Lost are secondary epics.

Mock- epic

A narrative poem which aims at mockery and laughter by using almost all the characteristic features of an epic but for a trivial subject. Pope's well-known poem, The Rape of the Lock is a famous mock-epic.

It has in it invocation, proposition of the subject, battles, supernatural machinery, journey on water, underworld journey, long speeches, feasts (coffee house),Homeric similes and grand style but all for a simple family dispute instead of a dignified subject. The grand treatment of a low subject produces hilarious laughter and makes the story ridiculous.

Metrical Romance

A romance in verse. [see Romance]


A lower kind of poem on a trivial subject having rough and monotonous rhyme.

Nonsense Verse

A kind of metrical composition that does not follow thematic rules and rules of rhyme. Here is a real nonsense verse:-

Ah, ra, chickera,
Roly, poly, pickena,
Kinny, minny, festi,
Ickerman, chikerman, Chinee-choo.

Dramatic Monologue

A kind of lyric poem in which a single speaker expresses his thoughts and feelings to a silent listener.

Its common features are:-

  1. A single speaker speaks throughout the poem on some specific issue.
  2. The speaker speaks to someone who remains silent throughout the poem. The listener's presence is revealed through the speaker's comment.
  3. It concentrates on the speaker and reveals his character and mindset.
  4. It begins dramatically and takes several abrupt turns in the course of its progress.
  5. It is not a dramatic technique, and therefore, it is not used in the drama. It is a form of lyric poem.

  • Robert Browning is well-known for his dramatic monologues. His “My Last Duchess,” “Andrea del Sarto” and “Fra Lippo Lippi,” and
  • Tennyson's “Ulysses” and “Tithonus,” are some of the best known dramatic monologues.

Interior Monologue

A kind of dramatic monologue in which the speaker dramatizes inner conflicts, self-analysis, and talks to his imagined split self. His thoughts wander backward and forward revealing his character. “The Love' Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” by T.S. Eliot is an example.

Note: The term “interior monologue” does not only refer to a type of poem but also refers to a narrative technique, similar to stream of consciousness, which is used in fiction. [see Stream of Consciousness]

Metaphysical Poetry

“Meta” means beyond and “physical” means about concrete things that one can see and touch. Thus, metaphysical poetry means poems on the subjects which exist beyond the physical world. In other words, it is a type of poetry which deals with abstract or philosophical subjects.

Metaphysical poetry has the following features:-

  1. Abstract themes-either love between man and woman or devotion to God;
  2. Logical and argumentative presentation of emotion;
  3. Use of conceit and wit in profusion;
  4. Terseness of expression;
  5. Skilful use of colloquial words instead of formal words;
  6. Abrupt beginning.

Name of Some Metaphysical Poets:-

  1. Donne
  2. Marvell
  3. Herbert
  4. Vaughan
  5. Cowley
  6. Carew and
  7. Crashaw 
They are wrote metaphysical poems and they áre known as metaphysical poets.

Carpe Diem

A literary motif used in lyric poems. It is a Latin phrase which means “seize the day” or “enjoy the present moment”. The poem that deals with this motif is called a poem of carpe diem tradition. Marvell's “To His Coy Mistress”, and Robert Herrick's “To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time” are common examples of this type of poems.


A kind of poem consisting of five three-line stanzas and a final quatrain. The rhyme scheme of each of the three-line stanzas is aba and of the final four-line stanza is abaa. The first line and the third line of the first stanza are repeated alternately at the third line of the following stanzas and at the end of the quatrain both are repeated. Dylan Thomas's “Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night” is an example:-

Do not go gentle into that good night,----------a
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;----------b
Rage,rage against the dying of the light.----------a

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,----------a
Because their words had forked no lightning they----------b
Do not go gentle into that good night.----------a

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright----------a
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,----------b
Rage,rage against the dying of the light.----------a

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,a----------a
And learn, too late, they on its way,----------b
Do not go gentle into that good night.----------a

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight----------a
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,----------b
Rage,rage against the dying of the light.----------a

And you, my father,there on the sad height,----------a
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.----------b
Do not go gentle into that good night.----------a
Rage,rage against the dying of the light.----------a


A kind of lyric poem written to celebrate a wedding. It is a. Spenser's “Epithalamion” which he wrote to celebrate his own marriage, is the best example of it. John Donne's “Hail Bishop Valentine, whose day this is”,composed on the marriage of Lady Elizabeth and Count Palatine, Ben Jonson's “Up.

Youthes and Virgins, up, and praise” composed on the wedding of John Lord Ramsey and Lady Elizabeth Radcliffe, Robert Herrick's “Bloom'd from the East, or faire Injewel'd May” composed on the wedding of Sir Clipseby Crew and-his Lady, W. H. Auden's “Epithalamion” commemorating the marriage of Giuseppe Antonio Borgese and Elisabeth Mann, are the famous epithalamia.


A lyric poem or song in praise of God or a deity or a hero. Usually, it is sung by chorus to express religious emotion. Spenser's “Fowre Hymnes”, Martin Luther's “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God”, Shelley's “Hymn of Apollo” and Keats' “Hymn to Apollo” are some of the well-known hymns in English.


'A musical composition for the mass (a kind of funeral prayer) of a dead person. It has religious fervour. Mozart was a famous composer of requiems. William Croft, Thomas Morley, Thomas Tomkins, Christopher Wood are some of the many English requiem composers.


A bitter satire in prose or verse that ridicules and attacks a person or a group.

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