UNIT 11: Poetry
In this Unit, the following aspects will be covered:
- Introduction 
- Broad Types of Poetry
- Types of Poetry according to Form and Content
- Features of Poetry
- Conclusion 

Poetry is a form of literary expression that differs from prose in emphasizing the line as the unit of composition. Poetry is also defined as the literary genre that is presented in verses and stanzas as well as musical features. 
The origin and development of poetry.
The word itself, ‘Poetry’ is derived from a Greek term, ‘Poesis’ which means ‘making or creating’. Whereas ordinary speech and writing called ‘prose’ are organized in sentences and paragraphs, ‘poetry’ in its simplist definition, is organized in units called lines as well as sentences, and often in stanzas, which are the paragraphs of poetry.
The reader recognizes poems by their appearances on the page, and he responds to that convention when he recognizes them by reading them aloud in a quite different tone of voice from that which he applies to prose even in sentence he confers upon a piece of poetry an attention that differs from what he gives to prose in two ways, especially in tone an in pace.
The French poet Paul Valery said that prose was walking, poetry was dancing. Indeed, the original two terms, prosus and versus, meant respectively ‘going straight forth’ and ‘returning’-hence poetry’s tendency to incremental repetition, variation, and the treatment of many matters and different themes in a single recurrent form such as couplet, or stanza.
Poetry is different from the plain prose we speak and from the flat language of the committee report we read. Poetry has a beat or a roll, a melody and a texture. It is full of expressions that please us, surprise us, and make us laugh or cry. Our instincts alone tell us that when words are put together in a certain way, they are poetry. Yet we all know poetry when we hear it-whether it is a passage from the Bible, the chorus of a song, or some striking phrase overheard on a city street. 
Poetry may be written independently, as discrete poems, or may occur in conjunction with other arts, as in poetic drama, hymns, lyrics, or prose poetry.
Poetry may be narrative (telling a story as in a ballad or a long epic poem) or lyrical (shorter subjective or reflective poems that include specific types such as the sonnet, the ode and the elegy.)

Broad Types of Poetry
Traditionally, poems have been classified into two major types:
1. Traditional poems. These are also called closed poems, or formal poems. These poems follow the strict poetic principles and rules such as balance in the number of words for each stanza, rhyming, balance in rhythm as well as having equal number of words for each line in every stanza. However, some modern poems observe rhyme while others do not.
2. Modern Poems. These are also called Open, Free verse, or informal poems. These poems do not rhyme or they must not necessarily follow the strict poetic rules mentioned in the first category.
The situation of a poem to be traditional or modern does not have a direct relationship with time. A poem may be composed today and yet be regarded as traditional poem only because it follows formal poetic rules. Moreover, closed poems are also called formal poems because of conforming to the formalities and poetic standards, or in other words, poetic rules, as mentioned earlier.

Other ways of classifying poems: (Types of Poetry according to form and content)
Apart from the earlier categorization of poems into traditional and modern poems, there are other ways of classifying poems. These classifications are the ones that combine the elements of form and content as used in literature. They are as follows:

  1. Lyric poetry. Is the short poem which expresses strong and deep feelings. Is the poetry that focuses on expressing emotions or thoughts, rather than on telling a story. The term ‘lyric’ comes from Greek where in ancient time lyric poems were recited to the accompaniment of a stringed  instrument called the ‘lyre’.  Most lyrics are short and they usually imply rather than directly state a single strong emotion. Some examples of lyric poems are Eat More, The Trial, and You are Lost are lyric poems.
  2. Ballad. Is a poem in which there are two or more people speaking in turn. Thus, it is a song or songlike poem that tells a story. It is a dramatic type of poem as it is presented like a drama and in drama people talk to each other in turn. ( Also see Ballad, as a form of Oral Literature).
  3. Narrative poetry. Is a poem that tells a story on a certain event or issue that happened. The story is usually told by a persona. Narrative poems have a narrator (persona) and they often use literary devices such as dialogue and figurative language. Ballads and epics are all types of narrative poetry.
  4. Didactic poetry. Is the poetry designed to give instructions to the readers. It includes all the poems that teach lessons to the audience. Didactic poems are mainly for political or social messages. That means, they are dominantly about social and political changes. Your Pain, If We Must Die, and Sunrise are good examples of didactic poems.
  5. Epic. Is the poem that presents heroic characters or heroes. It is usually a long poem that deals with the actions or bravery of great men in the history of a certain society. For, instance, it can be for praising the great deeds of a soldier who went to a war and brought home victory.
  6. Sonnet. Is a lyric poem that contains fourteen lines in two stanzas. Is a fourteen-line lyric poem, that has one of several rhyme schemes. In  sonnet, the first stanza is an eight-line octave that usually presents a problem, poses a question, or expresses an idea, which the second six-line stanza (sestet) resolves, or answers.
  7. Elegy. Is a lyric poem that expresses sadness about someone who has died. Is a poem that mourns the death of a person or that laments something lost. It is a type of lyric that is usually written in formal language structure and is solemn or melancholy in tone.
  8. Ode. Is a poem that addresses a person or a thing or celebrates an event. Is a complex and long lyric poem on a serious subject. An ode can be in formal or dignified style used in ceremonial or public occasions or in much more personal and reflective style.

Features of Poetry that distinguish poetry from other genres of literature.
Poetry refers to the literary genre that is presented in verses and stanzas as well as musical features. Poems are meant to be sung or read aloud. The following are the features of poetry that make it a different literary genre:
1. Poetry is split into units called lines/verses and stanzas. Novels and plays are not split in these ways.
2. The character of a poem is the persona. He/she differs from the characters found in novels and plays in that a persona hardly bears a name.
3. Poetry is richer in imagery than any other literary genres. It very much appeals to senses of touch, hearing, sight ,smell, and taste than other genres.
4. Poetry uses figures of speech more plentifully than other literary genres.
5. Poetry consists of musical features such as rhyme and rhythm. But novels and plays are intended to be read silently and have no much musical features like those of poetry.
6. Poetry employs language economy. Poetry says much in few words. So, poets say much in few words. 

Poetry is mostly said to be complex. But it is a simple beginning for most students because most poems are short and hence they do not need to read for a long time or analyze them over many pages. It's really a starting point of most creative works and creative students of literature.

Abrahams, M.H (1971) A Glossary of Literary Terms, Holt, Rinehart and Winston Inc. New York.

Daniel, K et al (ed.) (2003) Elements of Literature: Fourth Course with Readings in World Literature; Florida Edition, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Austin.

Daniel, K et al (ed.) (2003) Elements of Literature: Sixth Course; Literature of Britain with World Classics; Florida Edition, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Austin.

Kinsella, K et al (2003) Prentice Hall Literature: Timeless Voices, Timeless Themes; Copper Level, Pearson, Upper Saddle River.


Emmanuel Kachele

Emmanuel Kachele is a founder and Blogger of KACHELE ONLINE Blog, an educational blog where 'O' Level English - 'OLE', 'A' Level English (ALE) and other related teaching and life skills are shared extensively. This is an online center for all Tanzanian Secondary School English Language students and teachers (Forms I-VI) and all interested English Language learners and teachers worldwide.

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