The Nature of Poetry: Genres and Subgenres
Introduction, Out of Chaos
Order and Pattern formed by Rhyme:
Order and Pattern formed by Rhythm:
The student should also recall that many of these terms can be found in Prof. Rearick's literary glossary at this link.
Introduction, Out of Chaos
Poetry is as old as the human heart. Long before there were libraries, before people were writing down lines, before there were even cities, commerce or any manifestation of what we think of as culture, there was poetry.
More than one critic has noted that literary works are, in some way, an attempt by writers to take the unacceptable chaos of human life and bring order into it. An overt reference to this is Wilde's famous observation given through the voice of Miss Prism, describing her own three volume novel: "The good ended happily, and the bad unhappily. That is what fiction means." (The Importance of Being Earnest, Act II, Emphasis Mine). To ...view middle of the document...
Meanwhile, the kind of poetry we are used to has end rhyme. Even this pattern can be slightly altered by having the end words match in two syllables [singing and flinging]. This is named feminine rhyme (why, I don't know), and while there are times that it appears in serious works, most often this type of matching of two last syllables creates a light fun touch.
The pattern of rhyme can also vary:
The "Sonnet," the Heroic and Ballad all by their nature lay out very specific patterns of rhyme within and between stanzas (or verses).
Also students should know that rhyme has been discarded entirely, called free verse, leaving only the beat or rhythm of the words to create a sense of pattern.
Order and Pattern formed by Rhythm
While I will not go into this at the present the student should also know that poetry can be categorized by its method of rhythm and time. . .in other words its beat.
• Epic -- The epic poem is the granddaddy of all poetry. The actual subjects and the original forms are lost in antiquity because they come from the oral period of a culture's development. Only late do authors like Homer gather together and weave into a cohesive whole an epic work. The epic poem can be defined partly by its length and its usual heroic subject matter. However, the epic also serves the listeners by defining their role within the cosmos. Thus a Greek understood better what it meant to be a Greek by hearing the stories of Achilles and Odysseus, a Roman understood what being a Roman by reading the story of Aeneas and the ancient Anglo Saxon warrior class understood their role in culture by hearing the story of Beowulf.
• Narrative -- The narrative poem in some ways could be seen as an over-umbrella of the epic. But its roots do not go back as deep. Simply put it is a poem which tells a story. Thus both Tennyson's Lady of Shalott as well as Chaucer's Wife of Bath's Tale or Knight's Tale can be viewed as narrative poems. (Remember that both of Chaucer's poems are also catalogued as medieval Romances).
• Lyrical -- This is the kind of poetry that most students think of when they think of the genre. These are expressions of strong emotional events--love, sorrow, religious joy, anger at injustice--recollected by the poet and expressed in tranquility of thought. In this I am drawing from Wordsworth's definition.