Fact Checked

What Is Neoclassical Poetry?

Meghan Perry
Meghan Perry

Neoclassical poetry is characterized as such because it reflects the ideas of the neoclassical period in history, which occurred in the 17th and 18th centuries. Some of the major themes during this period included the importance of reason, morality, and order. In both content and form, these themes were emphasized in neoclassical poetry.

Another belief during the neoclassical period was that human nature is unchanging. This is one of the reasons that the works of the classical Greek and Roman writers became popular once again as well as how the time period got its name. Rather than focusing on individual expression, the content of much neoclassical poetry was an imitation or revision of classical works. In other words, writing about new ideas was not encouraged but finding new ways to express classical ideas was.

Alexander Pope is a well-known writer of neoclassical poetry.
Alexander Pope is a well-known writer of neoclassical poetry.

Another common feature of neoclassical poetry is the importance of subject matter. It was also important for neoclassical authors to focus on generalities as opposed to specifics. This type of poetry was written with the intention that it would be public, not a private expression of ideas or emotion. The purpose of literature, and poetry specifically, during this time was to provide moral instruction to readers.

Jonathan Swift is a well-known writer of neoclassical poetry.
Jonathan Swift is a well-known writer of neoclassical poetry.

The form of neoclassical poetry is also important. The types of poems that one could write were somewhat limited to the same types written during the classical period, and it was important that the poets adhered strictly to the meter and rhyme of the specific type of verse. Some pieces written during this time included tragedies, comedies, odes, and pastorals, to name a few. The dominant type of writing during this time period, however, was satire.

Satire is a type of writing in which something is ridiculed. This can be done in a number of ways. One example of satire would be the mock epic, which is when a long epic poem is written about a subject that is not really worthy of an epic. Satire is often a form of social commentary. Despite the strict adherence to the rules in most forms of neoclassical poetry, satire offered a relatively large amount of freedom for the writers.

While restraint and order were emphasized, wit was also an important element during this time. There are several well-known writers of neoclassical poetry. John Dryden, Alexander Pope, and Jonathan Swift were all popular writers of the time period. John Milton, author of Paradise Lost, was also a writer during this time.

You might also Like

Discussion Comments


I love how popular culture swings back and forth - for example the NeoClassical period was followed by the Age of Reason, and these two eras of logic and reason were sandwiched by the Renaissance Period and Romantic Period both periods which were about creativity and emotion.

It seems if Neo Classicism was a person they would probably be picking on Mr. Renaissance and Mr. Romantic!

But now if you fast forward even more, we are now in the Postmodernism Era of literature which is, I think, best defined as "difficult to define." So what does that mean for our next period of literature will it be "easy to define, clear and concise?"


@Speechie - A specific poem I have heard suggested is called the “Rape of the Lock”, and considering you enjoy satire, you will probably love this poem which has been described as "witty."

Some other authors that have been noted as famous during the period are John Donne, George Herbert, and Andrew Marvell.


I have not read any poems that involve neo classicism. I greatly enjoyed a class that was entirely devoted to Yeats poetry which covered romantic and turmoil poetry so not exactly neoclassic, but I am a huge fan of satire, as Jonathan Swift's, "A Modest Proposal" left quite an impression on my high school self!

What are some poetry authors or neoclassical literature titles that are must-reads?


@KaBoom - While morality isn't the biggest theme in modern literature, I think you could easily find some books that do more than just entertain. Or you could always take up reading neoclassical poetry!

I for one am glad the satire has survived. Now, I know satirical poetry isn't too popular these days, but I think the genre is alive and well. There have been a lot of satirical movies made in the last couple of years and I hope they keep making more!


I think it's interesting that morality and reason were important subject matters in neoclassical poetry. I feel like most of the writing people do these days is meant simply to entertain.

Don't get me wrong, I don't think everything should have a moral message. But it would be nice if some pieces of modern literature did!


@SkyWhisperer - I think The Canterbury Tales take the prize for English poetry with a plot, although they are by no means concise.

I had to plod through the Tales in one of my English literature classes in college, and when I say plod, I mean exactly that. It was tough going, because a lot of the old English was hard to understand and pronounce as well.

Also, I had a teacher who seemed particularly fond of making us miserable – or trying to make us appreciate the poetry, one of the two. She would randomly call on us to read portions of the Tales; I think it became a contest of who could complete their reading without stumbling over every other word. I never won.


@Charred - There’s no doubt it about it. You will find a wide range of styles in classical poetry and in poems of other eras as well.

The most compelling poems to me, however, are not simply poems that evoke vivid imagery or use fancy conceits. Instead, it’s the narrative poems.

These are simply poems with a plot. They tell a story, in poetic form. Like stories, they have a beginning, middle and end, but they are concise and somewhat suspenseful.

I remember years ago reading one such poem, “The Cremation of Sam McGee,” which true to its title, was about a guy who was frozen and cremated near a lake in Canada. To read it, you’d think you were reading Edgar Allen Poe’s The Raven; that’s the kind of suspense it had for me, although it was less frightening.


@David09 - That's great. My favorite was John Keats. I read a lot of his poems in college. He was a fine stylist, and a master with metaphors and conceits.

He wrote poems about physical and abstract subject matter as well. It’s from Keats that we get the famous line, “A thing of beauty is a joy forever.” I think a lot of people are familiar with that line, even people who have never heard of him or read his poetry.

Keats also wrote about the British throne too, with poems like “Old Meg” which was about Queen Margaret. His span of subject matter and style was vast, in my opinion, and he rightly belongs as one of the finest British poets of all time.


I took a class in Baroque literature in college and it was one of the most interesting classes I have ever taken.

It was taught by a professor who sat under C.S. Lewis in Oxford, and so he brought a unique perspective to our studies. I loved reading Milton’s Paradise Lost, and wrote a paper on it.

One of the most fascinating group of poets were called the Metaphysical Poets. Among these were people like John Donne, Andrew Marvell and George Herbert. They were called Metaphysical because they were able to write about other worldly matters in a very concrete manner.

They tackled subjects like love, spirituality, and other poems about life from a metaphysical point of view. I still have my paperback copy of the book on the subject, and I consider it to be one of the greatest collections of English poems ever assembled.

Post your comments
Forgot password?
    • Alexander Pope is a well-known writer of neoclassical poetry.
      By: Georgios Kollidas
      Alexander Pope is a well-known writer of neoclassical poetry.
    • Jonathan Swift is a well-known writer of neoclassical poetry.
      By: Georgios Kollidas
      Jonathan Swift is a well-known writer of neoclassical poetry.