Poetry is a skill that every writer should at least dabble in. Rhymed or not, poetry writing is a chance to express what you’re feeling or sensing in the most potent way possible.
Whether you intend to specialize in poetry or just improve your skills, you should start by learning the different types of poems.
Poem formats vary, depending on the type, as you’ll see in the list below.
15 Types of Poems
Get acquainted with the following 15 poem types. You’re bound to recognize some favorites or feel inspired to create your own.
Types of Rhyming Poems
Limericks are light-hearted and often funny, but their form, meter, and rhyme scheme are nothing to take lightly.
To qualify as a limerick, a poem must have five lines. The first two lines are usually 7-10 syllables, the next two are usually 5-7 syllables, and the last line should be 7-10 syllables. The last line ties the poem together, often as a sort of punchline or joke.
The rhyme scheme is the same for every limerick: AABBA, as you’ll see in the following example.
“The limerick packs laughs anatomical,
Into space that is quite economical,
But the good ones I’ve seen
So seldom are clean
And the clean ones so seldom are comical.”
Sonnets come in two different types: the Petrarchan and the Shakespearean, named after the poets who made them famous.
Petrarchan sonnets have two stanzas and a total of 14 lines with the rhyme scheme: ABBA, ABBA, CDECDE.
Shakespearean sonnets have three quatrains (four-line stanzas) followed by a couplet. The standard rhyme scheme is ABAB, CDCD, EFEF, GG.
Example — “Ozymandias” by Percy Bysshe Shelley
I met a traveler from an antique land,
Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
“My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.
Invented by the late 17th-century poet Jean Passerat, the villanelle is a French form. But most well-known villanelle poets are English: Oscar Wilde, Austin Dobson, and Edwin Arlington Robinson, to name a few.
Villanelles have 19 lines, divided into 5 stanzas of 3 lines each, plus 1 closing stanza of 4 lines. The rhyme scheme goes ABA, ABA, ABA, ABA, ABA, ABAA. Some lines repeat: Line 1 in lines 6, 12, and 18; and line 3 in lines 9, 15, and 19.
Example — Excerpt from “Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night,” by Dylan Thomas
“Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light…”
Ballads are another “fixed form” in French lyric poetry, developed in the 14th and 15th centuries by minstrels. They have 4-line stanzas with an ABAB or ABCB rhyme scheme. You’ll find this form often in folk ballad poetry, typically in iambic pentameter.
Older ballads usually come with rhymed quatrains alternating four-stress and three-stress lines. Modern ballads are less structured and don’t always rhyme.
Example — Excerpt from “Last Love” by Ella Wheeler Wilcox
“The first flower of the spring is not so fair
Or bright, as one the ripe midsummer brings.
The first faint note the forest warbler sings
Is not as rich with feeling, or so rare
As when, full master of his art, the air
Drowns in the liquid sea of song he flings
Like silver spray from beak, and breast, and wings…”
Types of Short Poems
Originating in 17th century Japan, the haiku has only one rule, which has to do with the number of syllables for each of its three lines: 5 syllables for the first line, 7 syllables for the second line, and 5 syllables for the third line.
With haikus composed in Japanese, the 5-7-5 syllable structure often gets lost in the translation.
Example — “A World of Dew” by Kobayashi Issa
A world of dew,
And within every dewdrop
A world of struggle.
An epigram is either a rhetorical device or a brief, memorable statement. It has no rules regarding structure, meter, or rhyme, though you’ll occasionally see one in couplet or quatrain form. The point of an epigram is to get people thinking — or laughing.
“Raise your words, not your volume. Rain grows flowers — not thunder.” —Rumi
“These Strangers, in a foreign World,
Protection asked of me―
Befriend them, lest Yourself in Heaven
Be found a Refugee.”
The epitaph is a shorter version of an elegy, commonly seen on gravestones (no specific rules for rhyme schemes). An epitaph can also be the final part of an elegy, as in Thomas Gray’s Elegy in a Country Churchyard.
Example — The Epitaph from Elegy in a Country Churchyard:
“Here rests his head upon the lap of Earth
A youth, to Fortune and to Fame unknown;
Fair Science frown’d not on his humble birth
And Melancholy mark’d him for her own.
“Large was his bounty, and his soul sincere;
Heaven did a recompense as largely send:
He gave to Mis’ry all he had, a tear,
He gain’d from Heaven, ’twas all he wish’d, a friend…”
More Related Articles:
Other Types of Poems
8. Concrete Poem
Concrete poems take a particular representative or symbolic shape on the page, which is part of the poem itself.
These are generally free-verse poems written to communicate something of their meaning at first glance. Each well-composed concrete poem is a work of art in two distinct but interdependent ways.
Example — Easter Wings by George Herbert
Named after an ancient Greek poet, Pindar, the classic ode contains three triads: the strophe (first few lines), the antistrophe (next few lines, with a thematic to counterbalance the strophe), and the final stanza as epode.
The purpose of an ode is to express emotions using lyrical stanzas with irregular rhyme patterns. The modern ode has evolved to include a variety of styles and forms. While many odes rhyme, this particular form is not required to.
Example — Excerpt from “Ode to a Nightingale” by John Keats
“My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains
My sense, as though of hemlock I had drunk,
Or emptied some dull opiate to the drains
One minute past, and Lethe-wards had sunk:
‘Tis not through envy of thy happy lot,
But being too happy in thine happiness,
That thou, light-wing’d Dryad of the trees,
In some melodious plot
Of beechen green, and shadows numberless,
Singest of summer in full-throated ease…”
Originating in the ancient Greek tradition of “elegieia,” an elegy is typically a lament for the dead. It usually relates to mourning and loss, though it can also touch on redemption and consolation.
Rhyme schemes have varied from the original couplets to the more varied choices used in modern elegies. And while elegies often do have rhyme, they’re not strictly required to.
Example — Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard by Thomas Gray:
“The curfew tolls the knell of parting day,
The lowing herd winds slowly o’er the lea,
The ploughman homeward plods his weary way,
And leaves the world to darkness and to me…”
11. Epic Poem
An epic poem is a lengthy narrative work, usually written to recount extraordinary feats from the past in elaborate detail. It typically follows a hero’s journey and describes their adventures. And it begins with an invocation of a Muse.
The meter depends on cultural custom. Generally, though, these poems are written in a formal style with third-person narration. Think Homer’s The Iliad or The Odyssey (Greek) — or Beowulf (Old English).
Example — Excerpt from Virgil’s Aeniad:
“…O Muse! the causes and the crimes relate;
What goddess was provok’d, and whence her hate;
For what offense the Queen of Heav’n began
To persecute so brave, so just a man;
Involv’d his anxious life in endless cares,
Expos’d to wants, and hurried into wars!
Can heav’nly minds such high resentment show,
Or exercise their spite in human woe?…”
12. Narrative Poem
A narrative poem is like an epic poem in that it tells a story, but it’s not as long. Think Alfred Lord Tennyson’s The Charge of the Light Brigade or Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere.
While many notable examples have both meter and rhyme, narrative poems are not required to have either.
Example — “The Raven” by Edgar Allan Poe
“Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore —
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
‘’Tis some visitor,’ I muttered, ‘tapping at my chamber door —
Only this and nothing more’…”
13. Pastoral Poem
Pastoral poetry concerns the natural world and the poet’s (or humanity’s) relationship with it. You’ll find examples of this poetic genre dating from Ancient Greece (the poetry of Hesiod) and Ancient Rome (Virgil) to the present.
Brilliant examples of this form include Christopher Marlowe’s “The Passionate Shepherd to His Love” (1599) and Sir Walter Raleigh’s “The Nymph’s Reply to the Shepherd” (1600).
Example — “A Country Life” by Katherine Philips
“How sacred and how innocent
A countrey life appeares,
How free from tumult, discontent,
From flatterye and feares.
That was the first and happiest life,
When man enjoy’d himselfe;
Till pride exchanged peace for strife,
And happinesse for pelfe…”
14. Blank Verse
Blank verse has a precise meter — usually iambic pentameter, like a sonnet. But, unlike a sonnet, blank verse does not rhyme. You’ll find blank verse in verse plays by Shakespeare, long poems like Milton’s Paradise Lost, and shorter romantic poems
Think of blank verse as a sort of middle ground between structured poems that rhyme and the no-rules approach of free verse.
Example — “To be or not to be” monologue from Shakespeare’s Hamlet
“To be, or not to be, that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles
And by opposing end them…”
15. Free Verse
Free verse has no rules for meter, rhyme, or musical form. To help create meaning and flow, free verse poems use strategic line breaks and natural speech, among other poetic devices, to create a rhythm of their own.
The best in free verse is proof that taking away the rules for meter and rhyme doesn’t take away the magic.
Well, son, I’ll tell you:
Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.
It’s had tacks in it,
And boards torn up,
And places with no carpet on the floor—
But all the time
I’se been a-climbin’ on,
And reachin’ landin’s,
And turnin’ corners,
And sometimes goin’ in the dark
Where there ain’t been no light.
So boy, don’t you turn back.
Don’t you set down on the steps
’Cause you finds it’s kinder hard.
Don’t you fall now—
For I’se still goin’, honey,
I’se still climbin’,
And life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.
What types of poems speak to you?
Now that you’re better acquainted with these 15 types of poems, which ones do you feel closest to? If you feel inspired to jot down some lines or ideas, please don’t let us stop you.
Get those words down. Let the flow of thoughts onto a page and spend some time playing with them, whatever poem type you choose as their vehicle. Spend some time just playing with your ideas.
You have a poet in you. It’s never too late to give them more room to grow.