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Poetry 101: Learn About Poetry, Different Types of Poems, and Poetic Devices With Examples

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Nov 8, 2020 • 7 min read

Poetry has been around for almost four thousand years. Like other forms of literature, poetry is written to share ideas, express emotions, and create imagery. Poets choose words for their meaning and acoustics, arranging them to create a tempo known as the meter. Some poems incorporate rhyme schemes, with two or more lines that end in like-sounding words.

Today, poetry remains an important part of art and culture. Every year, the United States Library of Congress appoints a Poet Laureate to represent the art of poetry in America. From Shakespearean sonnets to Maya Angelou’s reflective compositions, poems are long-lived, read and recited for generations.



Billy Collins Teaches Reading and Writing PoetryBilly Collins Teaches Reading and Writing Poetry

In his first-ever online class, former U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins teaches you how to find joy, humor, and humanity in reading and writing poetry.

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What Is Poetry?

Poetry is a type of literature that conveys a thought, describes a scene or tells a story in a concentrated, lyrical arrangement of words. Poems can be structured, with rhyming lines and meter, the rhythm and emphasis of a line based on syllabic beats. Poems can also be freeform, which follows no formal structure.

The basic building block of a poem is a verse known as a stanza. A stanza is a grouping of lines related to the same thought or topic, similar to a paragraph in prose. A stanza can be subdivided based on the number of lines it contains. For example, a couplet is a stanza with two lines.

On the page, poetry is visibly unique: a narrow column of words with recurring breaks between stanzas. Lines of a poem may be indented or lengthened with extra spacing between words. The white space that frames a poem is an aesthetic guide for how a poem is read.

What Is Meter in Poetry?

A poem can contain many elements to give it structure. Rhyme is perhaps the most common of these elements: countless poetic works, from limericks to epic poems to pop lyrics, contain rhymes. But equally important is meter, which imposes specific length and emphasis on a given line of poetry. Learn more about meter in poetry here.

Billy Collins Teaches Reading and Writing Poetry
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What Is a Stanza?

In poetry, a stanza is used to describe the main building block of a poem. It is a unit of poetry composed of lines that relate to a similar thought or topic—like a paragraph in prose or a verse in a song. Every stanza in a poem has its own concept and serves a unique purpose. A stanza may be arranged according to rhyming patterns and meters—the syllabic beats of a line. It can also be a free-flowing verse that has no formal structure. Learn more about stanzas in poetry here.

What Is a Rhyme Scheme?

There are many different types of rhymes that poets use in their work: internal rhymes, slant rhymes, eye rhymes, identical rhymes, and more. One of the most common ways to write a rhyming poem is to use a rhyme scheme composed of shared vowel sounds or consonants. Learn about 10 different poetry rhyme schemes here.

15 Types of Poetic Forms

From sonnets and epics to haikus and villanelles, learn more about 15 of literature’s most enduring types of poems.

  1. Blank verse. Blank verse is poetry written with a precise meter—almost always iambic pentameter—that does not rhyme. Learn more about blank verse here.
  2. Rhymed poetry. In contrast to blank verse, rhymed poems rhyme by definition, although their scheme varies. Learn more about rhymed poetry here.
  3. Free verse. Free verse poetry is poetry that lacks a consistent rhyme scheme, metrical pattern, or musical form. Learn more about free verse here.
  4. Epics. An epic poem is a lengthy, narrative work of poetry. These long poems typically detail extraordinary feats and adventures of characters from a distant past. Learn more about epics here.
  5. Narrative poetry. Similar to an epic, a narrative poem tells a story. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere” and Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” exemplify this form. Learn more about narrative poetry here.
  6. Haiku. A haiku is a three-line poetic form originating in Japan. The first line has five syllables, the second line has seven syllables, and the third line again has five syllables. Learn more about haikus here.
  7. Pastoral poetry. A pastoral poem is one that concerns the natural world, rural life, and landscapes. These poems have persevered from Ancient Greece (in the poetry of Hesiod) to Ancient Rome (Virgil) to the present day (Gary Snyder). Learn more about pastoral poetry here.
  8. Sonnet. A sonnet is a 14 line poem, typically (but not exclusively) concerning the topic of love. Sonnets contain internal rhymes within their 14 lines; the exact rhyme scheme depends on the style of a sonnet. Learn about Petrarchan sonnets here. Learn about Shakespearean sonnets here.
  9. Elegies. An elegy is a poem that reflects upon death or loss. Traditionally, it contains themes of mourning, loss, and reflection. However, it can also explore themes of redemption and consolation. Learn more about elegies here.
  10. Ode. Much like an elegy, an ode is a tribute to its subject, although the subject need not be dead—or even sentient, as in John Keats’ “Ode on a Grecian Urn”. Learn more about odes here.
  11. Limerick. A limerick is a five-line poem that consists of a single stanza, an AABBA rhyme scheme, and whose subject is a short, pithy tale or description. Learn more about limericks here.
  12. Lyric poetry. Lyric poetry refers to the broad category of poetry that concerns feelings and emotion. This distinguishes it from two other poetic categories: epic and dramatic. Learn more about lyric poetry here.
  13. Ballad. A ballad (or ballade) is a form of narrative verse that can be either poetic or musical. It typically follows a pattern of rhymed quatrains. From John Keats to Samuel Taylor Coleridge to Bob Dylan, it represents a melodious form of storytelling. Learn more about ballads here.
  14. Soliloquy. A soliloquy is a monologue in which a character speaks to him or herself, expressing inner thoughts that an audience might not otherwise know. Soliloquies are not definitionally poems, although they often can be—most famously in the plays of William Shakespeare. Learn more about soliloquies here.
  15. Villanelle. A nineteen-line poem consisting of five tercets and a quatrain, with a highly specified internal rhyme scheme. Originally a variation on a pastoral, the villanelle has evolved to describe obsessions and other intense subject matters, as exemplified by Dylan Thomas, author of villanelles like “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night.”


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What Is Imagery in Poetry?

In poetry and literature, imagery is the use of figurative language to evoke a sensory experience in the reader. When a poet uses descriptive language well, they play to the reader’s senses, providing them with sights, tastes, smells, sounds, internal and external feelings, and even internal emotion. Learn about the seven types of imagery in poetry here.

What Is the Difference Between Blank Verse and Free Verse Poetry?

Free verse poetry has been popular from the nineteenth century onward and is not bound by rules regarding rhyme or meter. Blank verse poetry came of age in the sixteenth century and has been famously employed by the likes of William Shakespeare, John Milton, William Wordsworth, and countless others. Unlike free verse, it adheres to a strong metrical pattern. Learn more about the differences between blank verse and free verse poetry here.

What Is Mimesis in Poetry?

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In his first-ever online class, former U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins teaches you how to find joy, humor, and humanity in reading and writing poetry.

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Copying is something writers usually strive to avoid. And yet, the literary theory of mimesis says that artists copy constantly, as a matter of necessity. Does this make their art bad? Centuries of thinkers from Plato and Aristotle onwards have attempted to answer this question by debating the nature of mimesis. Learn more about mimesis in poetry here.

What Is Onomatopoeia in Poetry?

Usually, how words sound bears no relationship to what they mean. That’s not true in the case of onomatopoeia, where words sound like what they are. The English language is littered with these mimicking words, from meowing cats to babbling brooks. In poetry and literature, the onomatopoeic effect is something writers can harness to create vivid imagery without verbosity. Learn more about onomatopoeia in poetry here.

What Is Enjambment in Poetry?

Poetry is a structured literary form, with patterns and rhythms that dictate the flow of verses. Lineation in poetry is how lines are divided and where they end in relation to a clause or thought. Having a line break at the end of a phrase or complete thought is a regular and expected pattern in poetry. Poets subvert this expectation by using a technique called enjambment. Learn more about enjambment in poetry here.

What Is Dissonance in Poetry?

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The human brain instinctively looks for harmony. When it is denied harmony, it can create a powerful moment—whether that’s for the purposes of creating tension, capturing inner turmoil, or bringing a bit of levity. Dissonance injects discomfort into text through inharmonious sounds and uneven rhythms. Learn more about dissonance in poetry here.

What Is Consonance in Poetry?

In poetry, rhyme isn’t the only way to introduce memorability and musicality. Consonance presents poets with the possibility of playing around with the repetition of consonant sounds. Learn more about consonance in poetry here.

What Is Assonance in Poetry?

From William Wordsworth to Kendrick Lamar, generations of poets have used assonance as a looser alternative to strict rhymes. Assonance, the repetition of vowel sounds, is distinct from consonance, which refers to the repetition of consonant sounds. Along with rhyme and alliteration, it is a powerful poetic device that writers can use to make their words stand out. Learn more about assonance in poetry here.

What Is Alliteration in Poetry?

Sometimes called initial rhyme or head rhyme, alliteration is one poetic device that’s unmissable in our everyday world. Poets, advertisers and headline writers all regularly take this approach of repeating initial letter sounds to grab people’s attention. In poetry, it also injects focus, harmony, and rhythm. Learn more about alliteration in poetry here.

Learn more about reading and writing poetry in US Poet Laureate Billy Collins’s MasterClass.