There are a truly endless number of poetic types, especially if you consider the forms created across languages and those people create for themselves. While this can seem overwhelming, it means that there truly is a form of poetry that suits everyone and every style. So, whether you’re looking for more poems to read, or want to find a new form to write in and experiment with, this guide of the 25 main types of poetry (complete with examples of each type of poetry) will provide you with a spark of inspiration.
What Are The Different Types Of Poems?
For those who like structure and enjoy the challenge of a rigid poetic form, there are forms such as the sestina, the villanelle, and the pantoum. For those who favour fluidity, there’s free verse, lyrical poetry, and occasional poetry. If one form intimidates you, simply try another! Or break the rules of its form and experiment. Here are some of the most well-known types of poetry.
Odes are one of the most well-known forms of poetry. They tend to serve as a tribute to a subject. This subject can be a person or an inanimate object, and the voice in the poem praises the subject in a ceremonial manner. Odes are short lyric poems, which convey intense emotions, and tend to follow traditional verse structure. They are generally formal in tone. Romantic poet John Keats wrote several odes, including Ode To a Nightingale.
Similarly to odes, elegies are tributes to certain subjects, though in this case that subject is largely a person. These poems reflect on death and loss, and traditionally include a theme of mourning. Sometimes they also include a sense of hope, through themes like redemption and consolation. Elegies are generally written in quatrains and in iambic pentameter, with an ABAB rhyme scheme. These are loose guidelines, and many poets adjust them. There is a strong tradition of poets using the elegy in order to honour and pay respects to their departed literary compatriots, such as in W.H. Auden’s poem In Memory of W.B. Yeats.
Villanelles (yes, this really is a type of poem, not just the name of one of the main characters in the TV show Killing Eve) are a little stricter and more complicated in form. They tend to have a fluid, almost lyrical feel to them, as they use lots of repeating lines. Villanelles consist of nineteen lines, in the form of five tercets and a closing quatrain, and they have a very specific rhyme scheme. The tercets follow the rhyme scheme ABA, while the quatrain’s rhyme scheme is ABAA. The first line repeats in lines 6, 12, and 18 of the poem, while the third line repeats in lines 9, 15, and 19. These repeated lines need to be signifcant and well-crafted as they occur so frequently. Villanelles often describe obsessions and intense subject matters. Well regarded examples include Sylvia Plath’s Mad Girl’s Love Song and Dylan Thomas’ Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night.
Sonnets are among the most popular forms of poetry. They are fourteen lines long, and typically centre around the topic of love. The rhyme scheme varies depending on the type of sonnet used. Shakespearen sonnets have three quatrains and an ending couplet. The quatrain has an ABCB rhyme scheme, the couplet has a DD rhyme scheme, and they are written in iambic pentameter. Petrarchan sonnets have one octave and one sestet. The octave uses the rhyme scheme ABBA ABBA, while the sestet most commonly uses the rhyme scheme CDE CDE, but also sometimes uses CDC CDC. Sonnet Number 43 by Elizabeth Barrett Browning is a particularly well-written sonnet.
5. Free Verse
Free verse is a type of poem that appeals to those who find strict forms intimidating. There are no rules, the poem can establish any rhythm, and rhyme is entirely optional. This is a great form to try if you’re new to writing poetry, or want the freedom to explore all kinds of structures and ideas. Free verse is often used in contemporary poetry, such as in Ada Limón’s How to Triumph Like a Girl.
The sestina is a complex French verse form which usually features unrhymed lines of poetry. It has six sestets, and an ending tercet. The ending words of each line from the first stanza are repeated in a different order as ending words in each of the subsequent five stanzas. The closing tercet contains all six of these ending words, two per line, and they are placed in the middle and at the end of these three lines. The sestina is one of the most complicated types of poetry, but its intricacies create beautiful poetry. See here for a guide on writing sestinas. It often helps to look at examples of complicated poetic forms, so you can see how they’re structured. A Miracle for Breakfast by Elizabeth Bishop is a great example of a sestina.
Acrostic poems are fun, and very well-known. You may have written an acrostic or two during your time at school. Acrostics vertically spell out a name, word, or phrase, with each letter that begins each new line of a poem. Lewis Carroll’s Acrostic spells out the names of three children he knew, and to whom he gave the poem as a gift.
The term ekphrastic poetry refers to any poem that uses a visual image or work of art as inspiration. Ekphrastic poetry is not about form, rigidity, or structure, but the connection between poetry and art. It’s often created by poets writing down details about an art form and how it makes them feel, or imagining when and how the art form was created. Self-Portrait with Sylvia Plath’s Braid by Diane Seuss is a contemporary example of an ekphrastic poem.
Haikus are very popular types of poetry. The haiku originated in Japan, and it is a short and fun form. These poems often refer to nature, though this is optional, and the form comes from the use of syllables. Haikus are three lines long, with the first line comprising 5 syllables, the second line 7 syllables, and the final line 5 syllables. The fact that this form is so short and simple means that haikus are very accessible and pleasant to write. That being said, it can be difficult to express something meaningful within such limited parameters. Suicide’s Note by Langston Hughes is an exceptionally well-executed haiku (note that it’s a newer form of haiku).
A ballad is a form of narrative verse, and its focus on storytelling can be musical or poetic. They typically follow the pattern of rhymed quatrains, which use a rhyme scheme of ABAB or ABCB. Though this is often how they are structured, this is not always the case, as the form is loose and can be altered. An example of a ballad is Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.
11. Lyric Poetry
The term lyric poetry houses a broad category of poetry that centres around feelings and emotions. These poems are often short and expressive and tend to have a songlike quality to them. They can use rhyming verse, or free form. Lyric poetry differs from epic and narrative poetry as the focus is on a feeling rather than a story. Emily Dickinson’s The Heart Asks Pleasure First and her Because I could not stop for Death are both strong examples of lyric poetry.
12. Erasure/Blackout Poetry
Erasure (or blackout) poetry is a form of found poetry, wherein you take an existing text and cross out or black out large portions of it. The idea is to create something new from what remains of the initial text, creating a dialogue between the new text and the existing one. This form is great for experimentation as you can use books, magazines, newspapers, anything you can think of. A great example is Doris Cross’ Dictionary Columns.
Epic poetry refers to very long poems which tell a story. They contain detailed adventures and extraordinary feats performed by characters (they can be real or fictional) whom are often from a distant past. The term ‘epic’ was derived from the accomplishments, adventures, and bravado of these poems. Homer’s The Iliad and Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queen are famous epics which are often studied at length by students and scholars alike.
14. Narrative Poetry
Narrative poems are similar to epics as they too tell a story, but they are not as long nor as focused on adventures and heroism. They focus on plot over emotion, and tell fully developed stories from beginning to end. Narrative poems are typically told by one narrator or speaker, and they often have some kind of formal rhyme scheme. An example of narrative poetry is The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost.
Limericks are short, comedic poems, which can be crude and are largely trivial in nature. They often include pithy tales and brief descriptions. Limericks are five line poems of a single stanza with an AABBA rhyme scheme. The first, second, and fifth lines tend to have 7-10 syllables, while the third and fourth lines tend to have 5-7 syllables. Edward Lear wrote many limericks, such as There Was a Young Lady. Limericks are often prevalent in nursery rhymes such as Hickory Dickory Dock.
16. Occasional Poetry
The term occasional poetry refers to poems written to describe or comment on a particular event. They are often written for a public reading, and their topics range from sad, serious matters like war, to more joyous ones like birthdays and presidential inaugurations. Praise Song for the Day by Elizabeth Alexander is an example of occasional poetry.
Pantoums are a more complicated type of poetry. They are poems of any length and are composed of quatrains. Within these quatrains, the second and fourth lines of each stanza are used as the first and third lines of the following stanza. The last line of a pantoum is often the same as the first. An example of a pantoum is Charles Baudelaire’s Harmonie du Soir.
18. Blank Verse
Blank verse is poetry written with a precise meter, often iambic pentameter, but it doesn’t rhyme. That’s all there is to it! So it’s another interesting form to experiment with, and help you decide which kind of structures you prefer (long or short, rhyming or not, with or without meter etc). Paradise Lost by John Milton is an example of blank verse.
19. Prose Poetry
Prose poetry, as the name suggests, combines elements of the poetic form with those of the prose form. It tends to look like a standard paragraph of prose with standard punctuation and a lack of line breaks, but utilises poetic elements such as meter, alliteration, repetition, rhyme, and rhythm. As some of these devices/elements feature in other forms of writing too, there have to be a combination of them featured in the writing in order for it to be determined as a prose poem. If you’re looking for an example of a prose poem, Bath by Amy Lowell is a great one.
20. Concrete Poetry
Concrete poetry is designed to create a particular shape or form on the page which echoes the poem’s message. This form of poetry uses layout and spacing to emphasise certain themes, and they sometimes take the shape of their subjects. For instance, a poem about the moon may have a decidedly crescent shape. Sonnet in the Shape of a Potted Christmas Tree by George Starbuck is a wonderful concrete poem (and is a sonnet too; poems often belong in several poetic groups).
Epitaphs are like elegies, but considerably shorter. They often appear on gravestones and can also include an element of humour. There are no strict rules regarding rhyme scheme and the like, so they are another poetry form suited to those who feel restricted by stricter forms. Epitaph by Edna St. Vincent Millay is a lovely example.
22. Palindrome Poetry
This type of poetry combines poetic form with palindromes, so the words reflect back upon themselves, hence why they are also referred to as mirror poems. These poems start with an initial set of lines and then hinge on a line that usually repeats directly in the middle of the poem before they work through the rest of the lines in reverse order. This form is another complicated form which seems less daunting once you read an example of it. Try Doppelgänger by James A. Lindon.
23. Diminishing Verse
Diminishing verse is a poetry form with unknown origins. Its main rule is to remove the first letter of the end word in the previous line and then repeat it. For instance, if the first line ends with the word blink, the second line would end with link, and the third would end with ink. There are no other strict rules, though diminishing verse poems tend to be written in tercets. This is a newer form, so there are very few well known examples of it, though you can find some written by various people on the internet.
24. List Poems
As the name suggests, list poems are made up of lists of things or items. They don’t follow any strict rules, though the last line is often funny and/or impactful and sums up the entire poem. Sick by Shel Silverstein is one great example.
25. Echo Verse
Echo verse refers to poems which repeat the end syllable of each line. This ending syllable can be repeated at the end of the same line, or it can be placed on its own line directly underneath it. Other than this repetition, this type of poetry doesn’t follow any rules. An example of echo verse is Jonathan Swift’s A Gentle Echo on Woman.
Different Types Of Poems And Poets
There are numerous different types of poetry, to match every poet or every mood. Hopefully this guide has given you some inspiration, or helped you discover a new form. There are endless poetic styles and forms for you to explore, but if all else fails simply make up your own!
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