The Elements of Poetry

Poetry is the genre of literature which uses language in its most unique, creative, and innovative ways to clarify and intensify human experience.  Language has its own rhythms.  It has words that rhyme.  Words can be blended together to produce sensory images.  Poets exploit the aesthetic properties of language to intensify the human experience they are presenting.


This insight into human experience the poet offers is called the theme of the poem.  Recurring themes in poetry comment upon, explain, clarify, intensify, and offer insights into:

  • aspects of love,
  • work and leisure,
  • family ties,
  • the pursuit of happiness,
  • social justice,
  • the horror of war,
  • the promise of faith,
  • the nature of death and the quest for eternal life.

In this Chapter, we will read and study a variety of poems which deal with these and other themes which inspire poets.

Form and Genre

There are three major forms or genres of poetry:

  • regular verse,
  • blank verse,
  • free verse.

There are a variety of other minor forms of poetry, usually forms of regular verse.  They include the:

  • sonnet,
  • ballad,
  • ode,
  • dramatic monologue,
  • villanelle,
  • elegy,
  • haiku.

In this Chapter, we will learn about the conventions of the various forms of poetry, through a close reading of iconic examples of each genre.

Figurative Language

Poetry is also distinguished by its use of figurative language.  Figurative language is the blending of words in ways to create a special effect, which intensifies and heightens the aesthetic appeal and the theme of the poem.  There are a variety of forms of figurative language.  The forms of figurative language we will define, learn about, and consider examples of, in this Chapter, include:

  • simile,
  • metaphor,
  • alliteration,
  • assonance,
  • irony,
  • imagery,
  • hyperbole,
  • symbolism,
  • onomatopoeia,
  • metonymy,
  • oxymoron,
  • personification.


Many poems, and works of literature, in general, are based upon the author’s personal experience or on historical circumstances within which the author lived.  Knowledge of historical and biographical context can help enrich our enjoyment, appreciation, and understanding of a poem.  In this Chapter we will read and study some poems, whose meanings are enhanced by our knowledge of the author’s life and times.

In the first section—the Introduction—of this Chapter, we will examine closely poems by a diverse group of authors, in order to further our knowledge of:

  • common themes in poetry;
  • the major and minor forms of poetry;
  • the use of the forms of figurative language;
  • the role of biographical and historical context in enjoying and understanding poetry.

This introductory first section is followed by an Anthology of Poetry by a diverse group of authors. Each poem is followed by Questions for Study and Discussion, activities, and links designed to facilitate understanding, enjoyment, and appreciation.


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Composition and Literature Copyright © 2019 by James Sexton and Derek Soles is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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