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12 Common Poetry Forms

by May L

More often than we know it, we come across a number of poems. Whether it is in a commercial, movie, or recited by a significant other, poems are forms and conventions to expand the literal meaning of the words, or to evoke emotional or sensual responses. The history behind poetry has quite an interesting story. Poetry as an art, may out date literacy itself. Specific poetic forms have been developed by many cultures, and can be found on monoliths, rune stones, and stelae. In prehistoric and ancient societies, poetry was used as a way to record cultural events or to tell stories.

More recently, a Polish historian of aesthetics by the name of Tatakiewicz wrote in The Concept of Poetry, "Poetry expresses a certain state of mind." So how does one go about defining poetry? Well for starters, poetry is more than just rhyming. In fact, poetry doesn't even have to rhyme. The main ingredients are movement and sound. In addition to feeling, these three factors comprise what poetry is. Poetry is about expression. Poetry expresses the way we feel about a certain subject through imagery and other senses. It helps us deal with our daily life, be it good or bad.

Common Poetry Forms

Various cultures have developed many forms of poetry. Interestingly, there are 51 types of poetry!

Here is a complete list.

Aside from the numerous types, it is important to keep in mind the many techniques as well. Some techniques used in poetry include onomatopoeia, alliteration, assonance, rhyming, simile and metaphor. Below, we will discuss the 12 most common poetic forms used across a number of languages.

1. Sonnet

Among the most common form of poetry through the ages is the sonnet, which by the thirteenth century, was a poem of fourteen lines following a set rhyme scheme and logical structure. The conventions associated with the sonnet have changed during its history, and so there are several different sonnet forms. Traditionally, English poets use iambic pentameter when writing sonnets, with the Spenserian and Shakespearean sonnets being especially notable. Sonnets are particularly associated with love poetry, and often use a poetic diction heavily based on vivid imagery. The twists and turns associated with the move from octave to sestet and to final couplet make them a useful and dynamic form for many subjects. Shakespeare's sonnets are among the most famous in English poetry.

2. Jintishi

The jintishi is a Chinese poetic form based on a series of set tonal patterns using the four tones of the classical Chinese language in each couplet: the level, rising, falling and entering tones. The basic form of the jintishi has eight lines in four couplets, with parallelism between the lines in the second and third couplets. The couplets with parallel lines contain contrasting content but an identical grammatical relationship between words. Jintishi often has a rich poetic diction, full of allusion, and can have a wide range of subject, including history and politics. One of the masters of the form was Du Fu, who wrote during the eighth century, Tang Dynasty.

3. Sestina

The sestina has six stanzas, each comprising six unrhymed lines, in which the words at the end of the first stanza’s lines reappear in a rolling pattern in the other stanzas. The poem then ends with a 3-line stanza in which the words again appear two on each line.

4. Villanelle

The villanelle is a nineteen-line poem made up of five triplets with a closing quatrain. The poem is characterized by having two refrains, initially used in the first and third lines of the first stanza, and then alternately used at the close of each subsequent stanza until the final quatrain, which is concluded by the two refrains. The remaining lines of the poem have an A-B alternating rhyme. The villanelle has been used regularly in the English language since the late nineteenth century by such poets as Dylan Thomas, W. H. Auden, and Elizabeth Bishop.

5. Pantoum

The pantoum is a rare form of poetry similar to a villanelle. It is composed of a series of quatrains; the second and fourth lines of each stanza are repeated as the first and third lines of the next.

6. Rondeau

The rondeau was originally a French form, written on two rhymes with fifteen lines, using the first part of the first line as a refrain.

7. Tanka

Tanka is a form of unrhymed Japanese poetry, with five sections totalling thirty-one onji , structured in a 5-7-5 7-7 pattern. There is generally a shift in tone and subject matter between the upper 5-7-5 phrase and the lower 7-7 phrase. Tanka was written as early as the Nara period by such poets as Kakinomoto no Hitomaro, at a time when Japan was emerging from a period where much of its poetry followed Chinese form. Tanka was originally the shorter form of Japanese formal poetry, and was used more heavily to explore personal rather than public themes. It had a more informal poetic diction. By the thirteenth century, Tanka had become the dominant form of Japanese poetry, and it is still widely written today. The 31-mora rule is generally ignored by poets writing literary tanka in languages other than Japanese.

8. Haiku

Haiku is a popular form of unrhymed Japanese poetry, which evolved in the seventeenth century from the hokku, or opening verse of a renku. Generally written in a single vertical line, the haiku contains three sections totalling seventeen onji, structured in a 5-7-5 pattern. Traditionally, haiku contain a kireji, or cutting word, usually placed at the end of one of the poem's three sections; and a kigo, or season-word. The most famous exponent of the haiku was Matsuo Bashō. The seventeen-mora rule is generally ignored by poets writing literary haiku in languages other than Japanese.

9. Ruba'i

Ruba'i is a four-line verse practiced by Arabian and Persian poets. Famous for his rubaiyat (collection of quatrains) is the Persian poet Omar Khayyam. The most celebrated English renderings of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam were produced by Edward Fitzgerald.

10. Sijo

Sijo is a short musical lyric practiced by Korean poets. It is usually written as three lines, each averaging 14-16 syllables, for a total of 44-46 syllables. There is a pause in the middle of each line and so, in English, a sijo is sometimes printed in six lines rather than three.

11. Ode

Odes were first developed by poets writing in ancient Greek, such as Pindar, and Latin, such as Horace. Forms of odes appear in many of the cultures that were influenced by the Greeks and Latins. The ode generally has three parts: a strophe, an antistrophe, and an epode. The antistrophes of the ode possess similar metrical structures and, depending on the tradition, similar rhyme structures. In contrast, the epode is written with a different scheme and structure. Odes have a formal poetic diction, and generally deal with a serious subject. The strophe and antistrophe look at the subject from different, often conflicting, perspectives, with the epode moving to a higher level to either view or resolve the underlying issues. Odes are often intended to be recited or sung by two choruses, with the first reciting the strophe, the second the antistrophe, and both together the epode. Over time, differing forms for odes have developed with considerable variations in form and structure, but generally showing the original influence of the Pindaric or Horatian ode.

12. Ghazal

The ghazal is a form of poetry common in Arabic, Persian, Urdu and Bengali poetry. In classic form, the ghazal has from five to fifteen rhyming couplets that share a refrain at the end of the second line. Each line has an identical meter, and there is a set pattern of rhymes in the first couplet and among the refrains. Each couplet forms a complete thought and stands alone, and the overall ghazal often reflects on a theme of unattainable love or divinity. The last couplet generally includes the signature of the author.

Reference: Wikipedia

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    sajadworldSat, 08 Dec 2012 09:19:37 -0000

    nice ,informative…….

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    EMKFri, 02 Sep 2011 03:20:23 -0000

    You should mention or add Qene or Sem-enná werq (Wax and Gold, double entendre), a unique style of poetry from Ethiopia that is rich and deep in meaning, as part of your list. Usually, two metric lines and occasionally three or four. The apparent, literal meaning of the words is called the "wax", while their more figurative or hidden significance is the "gold," and the word with double meanings is usually found in the last line. Here is a good paper on the subject: http://www.lutheranworld.org/What_We_Do/DTS/DTS-Documents/EN/TLC_Augsburg/Papers/Mohammed.pdf

    This is a very beautiful form of poetry and deserves a recognition. Yes, unfortunately, there aren't too many translations done in English … to introduce it to Western audience. But this poetic tradition has been a normal practice in Ethiopia for centuries.

    Thanks for your attention!


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    magedm33Tue, 04 Jan 2011 09:27:08 -0000

    thanks a lot

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About: My interests include geography, philosophy, good food and the arts. The complex art of communication fascinates me. I also enjoy my daily dose(s) of coffee!

Last Updated At Dec 08, 2012


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