Forms of poetry
Important forms of poetry in English
There are basically two forms of poetry. The most prominent forms of poetry in the English language are the same as in most of the European languages. With a few significant exceptions, these have been borrowed and developed from the ancient Greek and Latin poetry. The two broad divisions of poetry are the Narrative poetry and the Lyrical poetry. The Narrative poetry has some element of a story in it, while the lyrical poetry gives expression to a passing mood or a thought or some deeply felt emotion of the poet. Narrative poetry is comparatively objective by its nature whereas lyrical poetry is generally subjective or personal. We shall now dwell at some length on each of these two divisions of poetry along with their important sub-division.
The Narrative Poetry-
Since every narrative poem is a story in the verse forms it is comparatively longer than a lyrical poem or a lyric. As stated earlier, narrative poetry falls into two main groups (1) the epic and (2) the ballad. The epic is considerably longer than any other poetic form. The ballad is much shorter in length and much smaller in scope.
The epic is generally in the form of a full length book. The world has produced just a handful of genuine epics. The whole of the Western literature has produced no more than half a dozen epics, real poem’s, in its course of nearly three thousand years. The epic follows certain conventions: (1) It is divided into “books” or cantos, generally twelve in number. (2) The theme of the poem is stated in the few lines, accompanied by a prayer to the Muse. (3) The epic employs certain conventional poetic devices. (4) The action of the epic is often controlled, or at least participated in, by supernatural agencies such as gods and demons. (5) The epic contains a number of episodes. It offers a lot of scope for digression to the poet. There is a special variety of the epic known as “mock epic” or the ‘mock heroic’ poem. The only genuine English epic is Milton’s Paradise Lost, though there are a number of other poems which are la balled epic by scholars.
The ballad arises out of folk literature. It may be called folk song or popular song which is transmitted orally from one generation to another. Originally there used to be ballad singers who moved from place to place, singing to the accompaniment of a harp or a fiddle. Most of the ancient English ballads were collected in Bishop Percy’s Residues of Ancient English Poetry published in 1765. The ballad is a sort story in verse. Its subject is human deeds, rather than thoughts and they are of the simplest kinds, e. g. a thrilling adventure, a family feud leading to some disaster, love and war etc. The poem is written in the Ballad Stanza, a quatrain (four-line stanza rhyming abcb with the first and third lines having four iambic feet and the second and fourth lines having three iambic feet). There are certain well-marked conventions of the ballad, such as the abrupt start of the tale, the impersonal character of the poem, the repetition of certain stock phrases, lack of detai regarding time and place. There are two important kinds of ballad-
- The Ballad of Growth which is the genuine ballad, in which both the author and the time of the composition of the poem remain unknown.
- The Ballad of Art of Literary Ballad, which is “a literary development of the traditional form. Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner and Keats’s La Belle Dame Sans Merci are well-known literary ballads in English.
The Lyrical Poetry-
The word “lyric” has its origin in the word “lyre” Lyre is a simple musical instrument and a lyric was originally a song intended to be sung by a person to the accompaniment of a lyre. A lyric still has two characteristics implied in the above description :
- It is an expression of a single emotion or mood, and
- It is a musical composition. There can be no end to the variety of lyric poetry. To divide it into categories is impossible. We shall briefly discuss here only the most popular forms of the English lyrical poetry.
The ode is perhaps one of the most ancient forms of the lyric poetry. It is of Greek origin. It is a serious and dignified composition. It is often in the form of an address. The poet is serious both in the choice of his subject and manner of its treatment. It is generally generally somewhat elaborate and impressive. Sometimes it has for its theme some important public event.
In ancient times there were two important varieties of the ode-1) The Pindaric ode and (2) The Horatian ode. Both are Greek in origin. Pindaric ode is very elaborate and complex in structure. It was meant to be sung in chorus to the accompaniment of a dance. Its structure was borrowed from the movements of the dancers. It consisted of three parts—the Strophe, the Antistrophe, and the Epode-which together formed one unit (or paragraph) of the poem. This could be repeated as many times as the poet liked. The Horatian ode was simpler in structure. It consisted of short regular stanzas, similar in length and arrangement. The treatment is direct and dignified and the thought clearly developed. The Greek poet Pindar and the great Latin poet Horace were the greatest exponents of the Pindaric and the Horatian variety of the ode, respectively.
In English the ode has followed its own course. It is either Regular, like the Odes of Shelley and keats, or Irregular. As is clear from the name itself, the Regular ode consists of a series of regular stanzas and Irregular ode is written in verse paragraphs of varying lengths. Wordsworth’s Immortality ode is the most famous example of the Irregular ode in English.
An elegy in the modern sense is a song of lamentation. Like the ode it is also of ancient origin. The Greeks wrote elegies in a particular measure known as the elegiac measure. The term elegy covered a covered a wide variety of subjects such as war songs, love poems, lamentation for the dead, in those ancient times. In English usage, however, the classical elegiac measure is not used. It is judged now not by its metre but by its subject-matter. The theme or subject-matter of an elegy must be mournful. It is usually a lamention for the death of some one near and dear to the poet. But an elegy also commemorates the death of a great public figure or the death of an ideal or a way of life. An elegy is a dignified poetic form, even though there is no set formula for this kind of poetry. It does take a number of forms. Death and reflections on Death are often only a starting- point, leading to reflections on other subjects. Thomas Gray’s Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard is the most famous example of this type.
During the Renaissance a new kind of elegy was introduced into English poetry. It was known as the pastoral elegy. It followed certain well-defined conventions. The poet introduced himself as a shepherd lamenting the death of companion. The setting is altogether one of rural. Nature, too, is shown to mourn the death of her dear son. There is regular funeral procession in which living personalities as well as deities and spirits aret supposed to take part. Lastly, there is a change of tone towards the end of the poem. The poet feels glad to see that his friend is not dead but he has only passed into a higher world and enjoys a better life. Milton’s Lycidas, Shelley’s Adonais and Arnold’s Thyrsis are the most famous English pastoral elegies.
The word “sonnet” is derived from the Italian word “sonetto”, which means a little strain or sound. The sonnet is a poem most possibly of Italian origin. It is a short poem of fourteen lines expressing a single thought or feeling. It has two most familiar forms. One is known as the Italian Sonnet or the Miltonic Sonnet since Milton is the greatest exponent of this form in England. The other is known as the English Sonnet or the Shakespearean Sonnet. Before analyzing the structure of the sonnet let us note that nowadays there is no limitation as to the subject of the sonnet. But originally poets used this form of poetry to give expression to the subtleties of love and passion. In Milton’s hand the scope of the sonnet was enlarged. In course of time it came to include almost anything within the range of human experience.
The Italian Sonnet consists of two parts: the octave or a stanza of 8 lines and the sestet or a stanza of 6 lines. The rhyme-scheme in the octave is invariably abba, But in the sestet the rhyme-scheme is not fixed. It may have either two rhymes, thus rhyming cd cd or three rhymes, the three rhyme sestet taking different rhyme patterns. Usually there is a pause at the end of the octave or at the end of the 8th line. The octave introduces a thought or a situation and develops it to a climax in the sestet the thought or the situation takes a new turn. The octave generally introduces a problem or asks a question. The sestet is often in the nature of an answer or a solution.
The English Sonnet may be divided into four parts. It consists of 3 quatrains (stanzas of 4 lines each) and a couplet (a stanza of two lines). Each quatrain has two independent rhymes, coming alternately, the couplet using a new rhyme. Thus the rhyme-scheme of the full sonnet is a b a b, cd cd, e fef, g g. In the first three stanza the poet develops a situation to a climax and then in the final lines (the couplet) he springs a pleasant surprise by giving the situation a new and unexpected turn.
Milton’s On His Blindness and Keats’s On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer are examples of the Italian form of the sonnet. All the sonnets of Shakespeare are examples of the English form. There is a Spenserian variety of the sonnet, too but it is not so popular.
The Dramatic Monologue-
As its name suggests, it is a poetic form having a bit of the dramatic element in it. It is cast in the form of a speech addressed to a silent listener or a group of silent listeners. In it the poet takes a character at some crisis of his life and tries to analyse his inmost feelings and thoughts. This kind of poetry aims at character study. The person in question tries to reveal himself before his audience. The audience is some time real, sometimes shadowy; often it is reader himself who makes up the audience. It bears comparison with the soliloquy (in Shakespearean drama especially, in which a single character present on the stage speaks out). The main difference between the two is that the soliloquy is not meant to be heard (even though the audience hears it) while the dramatic monologue is supposed to be heard its audience. Much of Browning’s finest poetry is in the form of the Dramatic Monologue. Tennyson, too, attempted his hand with great skill in this form in a few of his poems. Browning’s most famous in this form are Rabbi Ben Ezra., Prospice, My Last Duchess, The Lost Leader, Andrea del Sarto and Ulysses.
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