15 Different Types of Poem Everyone Should Know

There are many types of poem in the world, and even one particular verse form can be written in a variety of ways: to take just one example, there is the sonnet, but there are Petrarchan sonnets and Shakespearean sonnets and Spenserian sonnets, all of them requiring a rather different rhyme scheme.

Below, we introduce some of the commonest, and most important, types of poem there are, and provide an example of each poem type. This list shows just how multifarious the world of poetry can be. Below, we find poems that rhyme and poems that do not, short poems and longer poems, poems with a fixed length and those with no set number of lines whatsoever. It really does depend on the verse form.


Perhaps the most ubiquitous type of poem, and therefore the perfect place to begin our odyssey of verse forms and varieties, the lyric is named for the lyre, the harp-like instrument played since classical times. Sappho, the pioneering ancient Greek love poet, wrote short poems expressing her feelings of desire and love and regret and heartache and a myriad other things, and her poems were meant to be accompanied by music played on the lyre.

Thus the ‘lyric’ was born. These days, a lyric poem is essentially any poem which expresses the thoughts and feelings of a speaker, rather than telling a story, or teaching us a moral lesson, and so forth. As you can imagine, this is quite a broad definition, and that is why the lyric is literally everywhere in modern verse.

Here’s a brief example of a lyric poem: Edward Thomas’s ‘Tall Nettles’.


A lyric poem is a kind or type of poem, but it requires no specific form. One of the most popular forms that a lyric can take, however, is the sonnet. Sonnets are almost always fourteen lines (though Gerard Manley Hopkins experimented with a shorter form, and George Meredith with a longer), and usually (though not always) focus on a single speaker describing a scene or expressing their feelings.

Because love poets from Petrarch to Shakespeare have written them, sonnets are closely associated with love poetry in the popular imagination.

We describe the specific forms a sonnet can take in more detail in a separate post, and recommend this poem as an example of the form: Christina Rossetti’s ‘Remember’.

Blank Verse.

Sonnets are almost always written in iambic pentameter. This means that each comprises five metrical feet, and these feet are usually iambs. An iamb itself comprises two syllables: one carrying a light stress and the other a heavy stress. You can hear this alternation of light and heavy stresses in this line of iambic pentameter, from Romeo and Juliet:

But SOFT! what LIGHT through YON-der WIN-dow BREAKS?

Many lines in Shakespeare’s plays are written not just in iambic pentameter, but in unrhymed iambic pentameter. This is known as blank verse, because the rhymes are, as it were, left blank. We recommend Wordsworth’s ‘Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey’ as a fine example of the speechlike, even conversational, quality to blank verse.

Free Verse.

Often confused with blank verse, free verse goes one further than blank verse, we might say: it does without not only rhyme but a regular metre as well. Robert Frost memorably mocked free verse as ‘like playing tennis with the net down’, on the basis that a poet needs a structure to work within.

But the best poets who have written in free verse have used the form – or rather, this absence of form – intelligently and to their advantage. For one example, see Audre Lorde’s poem ‘Coal’.


The villanelle is very different from free verse, as it’s one of the tightest and most restrictive verse forms there is. Originating in Italy as a song which accompanied dancing, the villanelle is made up of nineteen lines and uses just two different rhymes throughout.

As if that isn’t demanding enough, the poem repeats the first and third lines multiple times throughout the poem, so these two lines serve as refrains. This can create a claustrophobic effect as the poem keeps circling back to the same preoccupations, but this can be used to the poet’s advantage, as in Sylvia Plath’s early poem ‘Mad Girl’s Love Song’.


However, the most famous example of a villanelle in English is surely Dylan Thomas’ 1952 poem about his dying father, ‘Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night’, where the two refrains serve as a rallying call to the poet’s father to keep up the fight to the very end.


The sestina is possibly even more demanding than the villanelle: put briefly, it consists of six six-line stanzas, with the lines of each stanza ending with the same six words used in rotation: so if the word cold is the last word of the first stanza, cold will also come at the end of the first line of the second stanza, and so on.

But the best way to see how the sestina works is to observe an example: we recommend Elizabeth Bishop’s poem, simply called ‘Sestina’, which shows how the six repeated words can take on new significance as they are repeated in each stanza.


Strictly speaking, a cinquain should conform to the ‘rules’ set out by the American poet Adelaide Crapsey (1878-1914) in her five-line poems: the first line has one heavy stress, the second line two, and third three, and fourth four, and the fifth and final line has just one heavy stress.

We have collected some of Crapsey’s best cinquains together in a separate post.

Narrative Poem.

A narrative poem is, in the broadest sense, any poem which tells a story. This means that some of the greatest narrative poems are fairly long. What they all have in common is a recognisable story that goes beyond the brief tableau (or series of tableaux) we might get in a lyric poem.

See John Keats’s great Halloween poem ‘The Eve of St. Agnes’ for a fine example from the era of Romanticism.

Epic Poem.

Some of the oldest poems in various cultures are epics: stories which tell of the founding of a great city or empire, or which provide a shared narrative to bring a particular people together. But strictly speaking, an epic poem is a long narrative poem dealing with ‘epic’ themes and subject-matter: war, adventure, a clash of civilisations, and many other things.

Epic poems, then, feature extraordinary characters doing extraordinary things, usually with a quick visit to the underworld slotted in somewhere on the itinerary. They are narrative poems, but on an ‘epic’ scale.

Ancient Rome has Virgil’s Aeneid, about the Trojan adventurer who, according to legend, travelled to Italy after the Trojan War; Greece has Homer’s Iliad, about the war between the Greeks and Trojans; and England has Beowulf, one of the earliest Anglo-Saxon poems. Going back even further, the Descent of Inanna – which predates even Homer by more than a thousand years – is a kind of proto-epic, and a sacred poem to the long-vanished Sumerian civilisation.


Like epic poems, ballads may be regarded as a subset of narrative poetry. They usually have a very specific form: quatrains of alternating lines of tetrameter (four feet per line) and trimeter (three feet per line), rhymed abcb.

We have selected ten of the most famous ballads here. Ballads were a popular form of poetry in the Middle Ages – popular with the lower classes perhaps even more than with the upper classes – because they could be sung in taverns by travelling singers, and thus enjoyed even by people who had never been taught to read.


Although there are various kinds of ode, at the fundamental level an ode is a poem written to something or someone. It has a clear and recognisable subject. So Keats’s ‘Ode to a Nightingale’ is a poem of praise addressed to the bird, for instance.

The two main classical kinds of ode were the Pindaric (which was rather lofty and high-flown) and the Horatian (named after Horace). Horatian odes were much more down-to-earth and intimate than the more formal and public nature of the Pindaric ode.


An elegy is a poem about someone who has died. There are many great examples in English literature: W. H. Auden’s ‘Funeral Blues’ is a popular modern example (featured in the film Four Weddings and a Funeral).

Elegies are usually mourning the person who has died, but sometimes they can be satirical, as in Jonathan Swift’s ‘A Satirical Elegy on the Death of a Late Famous General’, about John Churchill, Duke of Marlborough, which mocks the late duke rather than mourning his death.


Probably the best-known five-line poem in English, although nobody is quite sure how this type of poem came to be named after a place in Ireland. A limerick tends to be comical and much of the humour turns on the build-up to the rhyme in the last line (which also rhymes with the first two lines).

However, when the children’s writer Edward Lear popularised the form in the 1840s, he offered clean versions (of course!), although his limericks were marred by a sense of anticlimax (in that the last line shared the same last word as the first line). We have collected some of the funniest limericks in a separate post.


Not to be confused with an epigraph (a quotation which prefaces a book, poem, or chapter) or an epitaph (an inscription on a gravestone), an epigram is a short, pithy poem which usually makes a wise and/or witty point. Many of the poems of Ogden Nash can be categorised as epigrams.


A Japanese form which, when used in English at least, contains three lines, with the lines comprising five syllables, seven syllables, and five syllables respectively, adding up (always) to seventeen.

Strictly, a haiku should take nature as its theme, as we’ve discussed in our separate article about the form. Here’s an example from the Japanese master of the haiku, Bashō (1644-94):

A caterpillar,
this deep in fall –
still not a butterfly.

Comments are closed.