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Poetry is a special kind of writing that uses the sound and rhythm of words to tell a story and to make the reader feel a certain way. These feelings are created through setting, mood, and tone. Setting is the time and place a story or poem takes place in. Mood and tone have to do with how the poem makes you feel. It could be a funny, silly poem or a dark, sad one.
Sometimes, poems rhyme, but sometimes they don’t. Sometimes, poems follow specific rules, like how many words are in each line, but not always. Some poems have several stanzas or sections, and other don't. Some poems have a specific number of syllables in each line, but some poems have no rules at all.
Here are some different types of poems with examples of each one.
A ballad is a narrative poem written in a rhythmic verse that may be sung. Ballads tell a story, often one that is dramatic or emotional.
Ballads are often written in quatrains that have alternating rhymes and patterns of stressed syllables.
Here is an example of a famous ballad. This is about the outlaw Jesse James. No one knows who originally wrote this, because it was passed down as a song for many years before being written down. Since then, many famous singers like Van Morrison have sung variations of this ballad. Try reading this aloud and notice the patterns of rhyme and stressed patterns.
The Ballad of Jesse James
Jesse James was a lad that killed many a man.
He robbed the Danville train.
He stole from the rich and he gave to the poor
He'd a hand, a heart, and a brain.
It was Robert Ford, that dirty little coward
I wonder how he does feel
For he ate Jesse's bread and he slept in Jesse's bed,
And he laid Jesse James in his grave.
Jesse was a man, a friend to the poor,
He couldn't see a brother suffer pain
And with his brother Frank he robbed the Springfield bank
And he stopped the Glendale train
It was with his brother Frank he robbed the Gallatin Bank
And carried the money from the town
It was in this very place they had a little chase
And they shot Captain Sheets to the ground.
Jesse leaves a wife, that'll mourn all her life
His three children they were brave
For that dirty little coward, he shot Mr. Howard
And lay poor Jesse in his grave
It was on a Wednesday night the moon was shining bright
They robbed the Danville train.
The people they did say for many miles away
It was robbed by Frank and Jesse James
It was on a Friday night when the moon was shining bright
They robbed the Glendale train
For the agent on his knees, delivered up the keys
To the outlaws Frank and Jesse James
Twas on a Saturday night and Jesse was at home
A-talking to his family so brave
Bob Ford came along like a thief in the night
And laid Jesse James in his grave.
Oh, they laid poor Jesse in his grave, yes lord
They laid Jesse James in his grave.
Oh, he took from the rich and
he gave to the poor
But, they laid Jesse James in his grave
The people held their breath when they heard of Jesse's death
And wondered how he came to die
For the big reward, Little Robert Ford
Shot Jesse James on the sly
Jesse went to rest with his hand on his breast
And there are many who never saw his face
He was born one day in the county of Clay
And he came from a solitary race.
Jesse leaves a wife, that'll moan all her life
The children that he left will pray
For Robert Ford the coward that shot Mr. Howard
And lay poor Jesse in his grave
Now men, when you go out into the west,
Never be afraid to die
They had the law in their hands
but they didn't have the sand
To take Jesse James alive.
This song was made by Billy Gashade
As soon as the news did arrive
He said there's no man with the law in his hand
Can take Jesse James alive
1. Do you like this poem? Why or why not?
2. Why is this poem a ballad? How is it similar or different from the description of the ballad given above?
3. Think of modern songs that you know. Are any of them ballads? What makes them a ballad?
An epic poem is generally long and tells a story, often of a hero or a very significant event. Epic poetry is not typically sung.
Famous epic poems include Homer’s “The Odyssey” and “Paradise Lost” by John Milton.
A lyric poem is generally short and expresses deep personal feelings. Lyric poems may be sung or accompanied by music, but may not. Lyrics often have a refrain or a line or lines that are repeated throughout the poem.
An elegy is a very sad poem, often expressing sorrow over someone who has died. Elegies are typically written in couplets that have a specific pattern of meter.
This is a famous elegy written about Abraham Lincoln.
O Captain! My Captain!
by Walt Whitman
O Captain! my Captain! our fearful trip is done;
The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won;
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring:
But O heart! heart! heart!
O the bleeding drops of red,
Where on the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.
O Captain! my Captain! rise up and hear the bells;
Rise up—for you the flag is flung—for you the bugle trills;
For you bouquets and ribbon’d wreaths—for you the shores a-crowding;
For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning;
Here Captain! dear father!
This arm beneath your head;
It is some dream that on the deck,
You’ve fallen cold and dead.
My Captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still;
My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse nor will;
The ship is anchor’d safe and sound, its voyage closed and done;
From fearful trip, the victor ship, comes in with object won;
Exult, O shores, and ring, O bells!
But I, with mournful tread,
Walk the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.
4. Do you like this poem? Why or why not?
5. What makes this poem an elegy? How is it similar or different from the description of an elegy given above?
An ode is a lyric poem with a complicated structure that praises a person or marks an important event. Odes are generally meant to be performed with music.
Pindar was an ancient Greek who wrote great odes. Some of them were about the Olympic games. More recently Chilean poet Pablo Neruda wrote odes to a variety of topics.
The poem below appeared in the book The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
Ode to Stephen Dowling Bots
by Mark Twain
And did young Stephen sicken,
And did young Stephen die?
And did the sad hearts thicken,
And did the mourners cry?
No; such was not the fate of
Young Stephen Dowling Bots;
Though sad hearts round him thickened,
'Twas not from sickness' shots.
No whooping-cough did rack his frame,
Nor measles drear, with spots;
Not these impaired the sacred name
Of Stephen Dowling Bots.
Despised love struck not with woe
That head of curly knots,
Nor stomach troubles laid him low,
Young Stephen Dowling Bots.
O no. Then list with tearful eye,
Whilst I his fate do tell.
His soul did from this cold world fly,
By falling down a well.
They got him out and emptied him;
Alas it was too late;
His spirit was gone for to sport aloft
In the realms of the good and great.
6. Do you like this poem? Why or why not?
7. What makes this poem an ode? How is it similar or different from the description of an ode given above?
A sonnet is a fixed verse lyric poem that has 14 lines. Sonnets are often about a thought or feeling and have a final line that summarizes the theme.
There are different types of sonnets. The English sonnet has three quatrains and a final separately rhymed couplet.
The most famous writer of sonnets is Shakespeare, who wrote over 150 sonnets.
Modern poets like Robert Frost, Pablo Neruda, and Rainer Maria Rilke have also written sonnets.
Here are a few examples of sonnets.
by William Shakespeare
Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate.
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer's lease hath all too short a date.
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimmed;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance, or nature's changing course, untrimmed;
But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow'st,
Nor shall death brag thou wand'rest in his shade,
When in eternal lines to Time thou grow'st.
So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.
Sonnet – To Science
by Edgar Allan Poe
Science! true daughter of Old Time thou art!
Who alterest all things with thy peering eyes.
Why preyest thou thus upon the poet's heart,
Vulture, whose wings are dull realities?
How should he love thee? or how deem thee wise,
Who wouldst not leave him in his wandering
To seek for treasure in the jewelled skies,
Albeit he soared with an undaunted wing?
Hast thou not dragged Diana from her car?
And driven the Hamadryad from the wood
To seek a shelter in some happier star?
Hast thou not torn the Naiad from her flood,
The Elfin from the green grass, and from me
The summer dream beneath the tamarind tree?
Time does not bring relief
by Edna St. Vincent Millay
Time does not bring relief; you all have lied
Who told me time would ease me of my pain!
I miss him in the weeping of the rain;
I want him at the shrinking of the tide;
The old snows melt from every mountain-side,
And last year's leaves are smoke in every lane;
But last year's bitter loving must remain
Heaped on my heart, and my old thoughts abide!
There are a hundred places where I fear
To go,--so with his memory they brim!
And entering with relief some quiet place
Where never fell his foot or shone his face
I say, "There is no memory of him here!"
And so stand stricken, so remembering him!
Into My Own
by Robert Frost
One of my wishes is that those dark trees,
So old and firm they scarcely show the breeze,
Were not, as 'twere, the merest mask of gloom,
But stretched away unto the edge of doom.
I should not be withheld but that some day
Into their vastness I should steal away,
Fearless of ever finding open land,
Or highway where the slow wheel pours the sand.
I do not see why I should e'er turn back,
Or those should not set forth upon my track
To overtake me, who should miss me here
And long to know if still I held them dear.
They would not find me changed from him they knew--
Only more sure of all I thought was true.
8. Find the quatrain(s) and couplet(s) in these sonnets. Does this match the definition of an English sonnet?
9. What is the single important idea in each of these poems?
10. Which of these poems is your favorite? Why?
11. Which type of poem is likely to be longer?
12. Which of these is not a type of lyric poem?
13. Which type of poem has 14 lines?
14. What unit of poetry has two lines?
15. Which type of poem is often sung?
16. What type of poem expresses sadness over someone who has died?
17. How do rhythm and rhyme affect the way a poem makes you feel?
18. Choose one of the types of poems discussed here and write one of your own.
accent pattern – the way in which certain words or syllables are stressed or said more loudly or emphatically
alliteration – the repetition of the first letter in several words used to give writing a poetic sound; example: The cat was slinking along in its slim, sleek manner.
ballad – a narrative poem that is often sung and has a dramatic or emotional theme
couplet – two lines of poetry that form a unit with rhythm or rhyme
elegy – a sad poem expressing sadness for someone who has died
epic poem – a long poem that tells a story, often of a great hero or a very significant event
figurative language – using metaphors and other words to mean more than their literal meaning
free verse – poetry that has no regular rhythm or meter
haiku – a poem with 3 lines, containing five, seven, and five syllables each, often concerning a theme in nature
imagery – the use of figurative language to paint a vivid picture
lyric poem – a short poem that has a deeply personal theme
metaphor – a figure of speech that states two unlike things are the same in a figurative way (without using “like” or “as”); example: She was the wind.
mood – emotions; feelings
ode – a lyric poem that praises a person or something important
onomatopoeia – the use of words that imitate or suggest a sound; example: hiss, buzz
personification – a description of something that is not a person as though it were a person; example: The stream made a happy, singing sound through the forest.
quatrain – four lines of poetry that form a unit
rhyme – words that end in the same sound but have a different beginning sound; examples: cat/hat, toy/joy
rhythm – tempo or beat
setting – the time and place in which a story takes place
simile – a figure of speech comparing two unlike things using “like” or “as”; example: She was as fast as the wind.
sonnet – a fixed verse poem that has 14 lines and often is about a feeling ot idea
stanza – a section of a poem with lines grouped together
tone – mood; quality or manner of expression