Poetry uses the power of words to evoke a large variety of feelings, both happy and sad. There are as many different types of poems and poetry as there are book genres. Let’s take a few minutes to examine some favorites.
The first poems we are usually introduced to as children, although at the time we wouldn't know to call them poetry, are nursery rhymes. Nursery rhymes are usually brief, fun, silly and full of rhymes. Some nursery rhymes were recited along with games such as “Pat-a-cake, Pat-a-cake.” Others told stories of history such as “Ring Around the Rosie” which was a poem about the Bubonic plague. It’s hard to pinpoint the origins of nursery rhymes. Many times they were simply passed down verbally from generation to generation. The most widely known author of nursery rhymes was Mother Goose, whose book of poems for children was published in England in 1781. Of course, historians don’t even agree whether or not Mother Goose was a real person, and if she was, if she was English or French!
Villanelles were first used by both Italian and French poets in the 1800s and 1900s. A villanelle follows a strict set of rules. It is made up of six stanzas, five of which are triplets, three lines each, and the last a quatrain. It has two main lines that are used repeatedly throughout the poem as a sort of chorus. The rhyming structure is very specific as well. The first and third lines of each stanza rhyme, and that rhyme is carried throughout all the stanzas that way. In addition, the second line of each stanza rhymes with all the other second lines. One of the most famous villanelles was published by Dylan Thomas in 1951. It was called “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night.”
Another form of poetry with strict rules is the Haiku. The haiku originated in Japan in the 16th and 17th centuries and were made popular by three famous poets: Matsuo Basho, Yosa Buson, and Kobayashi Issa. The traditional subject of the haiku was nature and the seasons. The haikus described a single image, for example a bright orange pumpkin, that was to bring to mind a certain time of year and the special feelings brought about by each season. The haiku has only three short lines. The first line is 5 syllables, the second is 7, and the third, 5.
The ballad was a type of narrative verse that was popular during the Middle Ages that told a story and was often put to music. Ballads most likely originated as part of Germanic folklore with stories like Beowulf. There are often lessons to be learned from the stories in ballads, and they are usually full of action and excitement. One famous ballad is Robert Browning’s “The Pied Piper of Hamelin” in which the people of Hamelin learned the hard way the importance of keeping their promises.
The first collection of limericks was published by the poet Edward Lear in 1846. Limericks are witty five-lined poems written in an easy-to-follow structure. The first and second lines rhyme. The third and fourth lines rhyme with each other as well, but are shorter than the first two lines. Then the final line rhymes with the first two lines. Often, the limerick starts with the phrase “There was,” and utilizes fun wordplay and has a humorous punchline.
The Italian word “sonnetto” means “little sound” and it’s where we get the word “sonnet” today. Italian poets began writing sonnets in the 14th century, but they became a widely popular way for poets to express their love in the 16th century in England. Of course, the most famous sonnets were penned by none other than William Shakespeare, who wrote over 150 of them, not counting the ones found in his plays. The sonnet’s fourteen lines are made up of three quatrains and a couplet and follow a specific rhyming and metrical pattern. Most English sonnets are written in iambic pentameter, but not all follow that specific pattern. A sonnet is full of passion and feeling, building up slowly from the beginning of the poem to its end.
The pastoral poem is a lyrical poem written about nature, country living, or shepherds. They paint an idealistic, romanticized view of things in the country, woods or farms. The pastoral poem is one of the older forms of poetry, found as early as 750 B.C. in Greece. Hellenistic Greeks like Hesiod and later, the Roman Virgil both wrote pastoral poems. The pastoral poem reappeared during the Renaissance in both Italy and England. Famous poets who wrote pastoral poems include Christopher Marlowe, Percy Shelley, Sir Walter Ralegh, John Milton and William Blake.
These are just a few examples of different types of poetry. It is so exciting to read a well-written poem, and one often takes for granted how much masterful work is put into writing them. Think about it next time when you read a poem. Better yet, try your hand at writing your own!
—Brian Scott, creativegenius101.blogspot.com