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What Are the Different Styles of Poetry?

A.E. Freeman
A.E. Freeman

There are many different styles of poetry. Some styles rhyme and have a meter, while others do not. Free verse is a type of poetry where there is no fixed meter and the words do not have to rhyme. More formal styles include the sonnet, which must have 14 lines and be written in iambic pentameter, and the sestina, which has six stanzas of six lines each. Styles of poetry can also fall between free verse and the more formal styles, such a haikus and limericks.

A common form of the sonnet is the Shakespearean sonnet. Shakespeare's poems feature an ABAB rhyming scheme, meaning the last word of the first line rhymes with the last word of the third line. The typical Shakespearean sonnet consisted of three four-line stanzas and a couplet at the end. The final words of the couplet rhymed with each other.

The majority of Shakespeare's sonnets were written with three quatrains, one couplet, and in iambic pentameter.
The majority of Shakespeare's sonnets were written with three quatrains, one couplet, and in iambic pentameter.

Sonnets usually are written in iambic pentameter, meaning there are five feet, or iambs, per line and a total of 10 syllables. The poems usually have a specific structure for content as well. For example, in the first stanza, the poet usually establishes an argument. In the next, he builds on the description and metaphor, and in the third he adds a twist. The final two lines of the sonnet summarize the poet's argument.

Poems may have a comedic tone.
Poems may have a comedic tone.

One of the most complex styles of poetry is the sestina, a French form. Sestinas do not need to rhyme, but the last word of each line must be repeated throughout the poem. Six words are repeated throughout the poem. For example, the final word of the last line of the first stanza needs to be repeated as the last word in the first line of the second stanza. The last word of the first line of the first stanza is then repeated as the last word of the second line of the stanza.

After the six stanzas, sestinas finish with a three-line envoy. The lines of the envoy need to end with the first, third, and fifth end words. The other three end words are also used in the course of the envoy, though not in last position.

Other styles of poetry include the haiku, a non-rhyming poem consisting of three lines that have five, seven, and five syllables. Usually, haikus have something to do with nature and the seasons. Free verse does not rhyme either and relies on cadence rather than meter for rhythm. The limerick does rhyme and consists of five lines. It usually a funny or nonsensical poem.

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Discussion Comments


@croydon - I don't really believe that. Poetry should be free to be written in whatever style it needs to be written in. I don't really see emulating, say, the Robert Frost style of poetry as any different from "copying" the sonnet form of poetry. It's only following a set of rules in order to put restrictions on a piece.

Working within those restrictions can be a real pleasure and it can strengthen the work. Even Marianne Moore, whose poems look as though they are free form, almost always picked a particular form, like a certain number of syllables per line, and stuck to it.

Not only can this improve the rhythm of your work, it forces you to consider every word with care. And to some extent, I believe that's the point of poetry. To create something beautiful and intricate from words, where every word counts towards the end.

If those words are chosen according to certain rules I don't think it changes the substance of the poem.


@browncoat - That's why it's so crucial for new poets to learn how to write in their own style. What set great poets like E.E. Cummings and Emily Dickinson apart was that they developed their own way of describing the world, that others could relate to.

But if you try to write in the Emily Dickinson style of poetry you'll end up with poems that feel contrived.

It's better to try and write from your own heart, and with your own style than copy the styles of others.


Style is so important to poetry sometimes you forget that even more important is the content.

In fact, paramount is the content, particularly in this day and age when there are very few people left to admire the style.

Hardly anyone is going to recognize that you've correctly used iambic pentameter but they will be able to see themselves in your poems, if they are successful poems about life.

This is why currently there is so much emphasis on free style poetry rather than poetry that fits a traditional style.

I'm not sure it matters, to be honest. The style should fit the poem subject, should be just another tool you use to get across your point or image or whatever you want to achieve with your words.

Just remember that what you want to do is transport the reader into the world of your poem. Not to leave them admiring it from the outside.

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    • The majority of Shakespeare's sonnets were written with three quatrains, one couplet, and in iambic pentameter.
      By: Georgios Kollidas
      The majority of Shakespeare's sonnets were written with three quatrains, one couplet, and in iambic pentameter.
    • Poems may have a comedic tone.
      By: blantiag
      Poems may have a comedic tone.