A poem is a difficult term to define—literature resources differ in
their definitions of poetry. In Rodenese, a poem is a carefully formed
writing that presents an idea in a memorable way—it’s an emotions and
senses-targeted bomb that explodes with meaning and targets truth and
beauty. It‘s the packaging of the idea that differentiates poetry from
prose, which refers to every type of writing but poetry. Good
poetry has a definite meaning that the vast majority of readers
discover sooner or later. It makes an impression.
The Meaning of Poetry
The best part of poetry is discovering its meaning; the worst part,
discovering its meaning. It’s not always obvious what the poet
was trying to convey, and they always assume the reader will understand
and are too proud to put a caption below the poem that reads “This
poems means…” However, if a poet paraphrased each poem, that
would make the poem itself a waste of time. One misconception about
poetry is that they can mean anything the reader wants them to
mean. The poet always has an idea to share. The reader of poetry
has to be willing to read the poem several times to take in all the
poem has to offer. Since it’s easy to be distracted by the sounds
of the words themselves and the figurative language used, the reader
has to look beyond that and discover the meaning or meanings.
Because of figurative language, a poem that appears to be about a
partially snow-covered mountain can represent something as dissimilar
as the conscious and subconscious mind. Consequently, sometimes
understanding comes with patience and a detective’s spirit to decipher
the clues hidden in the figurative language. In short, reading,
thinking, feeling, and deciphering are the steps to understanding.
- Read the poem several times and appreciate the sounds of the words and the imagery of the poem.
- Discover the figurative language and other tools the poet used.
- Consider the possibility that the poem’s meaning goes beyond its literal meaning. Some do.
- Try to paraphrase what the poem means in a few sentences.
The Form of Poetry
Once upon a time, poetry and verse were more or less synonymous.
Today, the term verse applies to poetry that follows a regular pattern
to create a rhythm and often rhymes. This type of poetry made
capturing an idea even more challenging. However, when free
verse, poetry that doesn’t follow a rigid pattern, became popular, the
poet could write without worrying about rhythm or rhyme, and a poem was
no longer automatically verse. This doesn’t mean that the poet
who writes in free verse doesn’t pay attention to the sound of his or
her poetry—rhythms do occur, but not in such a rigid pattern.
Regardless of which form is chosen, it’s the presentation of the poem’s
idea that is nearly as important as the idea itself since the form
makes the poem memorable.
traditional verse, poems are described in an odd mixture of terms that
seem to target distance rather than words. A foot is based on the
pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables of words. The
poet uses the natural emphasis or stress that we place on certain
syllables to create a rhythmic pattern. (In the dictionary the
pronunciation guide for each word shows which syllables are accented or
stressed and which are not using accent marks.) In the guide
below, I will use u to represent unstressed syllables and / to
represent the stressed syllables.
Iambic- u / as in
Trochaic- /u as in old-er
Anapestic- uu/ as in
Dactylic-/uu as in o-pen-ly
Spondaic- // as in
Pyrrhic- uu (very rarely occurs)
The number of feet in a line of
verse determines its meter. Monometer has one; dimeter, two;
trimeter, three; tetrameter, four; pentameter, five; hexameter, six;
heptameter, seven; and octometer, eight. To describe the pattern
of verse, combine the type of foot with the number of feet per line or
meter. For example in a line of verse that this pattern,
u/u/u/u/u/u/, each foot is iambic or u/, and since there are five feet,
the meter is pentameter. Put these two terms together to describe
the single most popular type of verse—iambic pentameter. These
terms can’t be applied to free verse, which follows no definite regular
When a poem rhymes, a rhyme
scheme develops. Each line is assigned a letter. Lines that
rhyme are assigned the same letter. Consequently, a poem has a
rhyme scheme that might look like abab cdcd with the space between
letters representing where the stanzas (poetry’s paragraphs)
separate. Here are other poetry terms:
- Blank verse is unrhymed poetry written in iambic pentameter.
- A canto is a division of a long poem.
- A caesura is a pause or sudden break in a line of poetry.
- End rhyme is when the words at the end of line rhyme.
haiku is a three-line poem in which the first line has five syllables;
the second line, seven; the third line, five. This Japanese poem
is unrhymed and typically about nature.
- A heroic couplet is two consecutive rhyming lines containing a complete thought and written in iambic pentameter
- Internal rhyme occurs when words inside one line rhyme.
- A lyric is a short verse intended to express the emotions of the author.
- An ode is a lyric poem written to someone or something. It has a serious tone.
- A paradox is a seemingly contradictory statement that is true.
- A pastoral is a poem that deals with the subject of rural life.
- A psalm is a religious song or lyric poem.
- A refrain is the repetition of a line or phrase at regular intervals like the chorus in a song.
stanza is a division in poetry analogous to the paragraph in prose.
Stanzas have their own names based on the number of lines they
have. Beginning with the couplet, which has two lines, and
continuing to add a line: triplet, quatrain, quintet, sestet, septet,
The Tools of PoetryPoets have many tools
in their figurative toolbox such as figurative language itself.
Not limited to poetry, figurative language is also heavily used in good
- A simile is a comparison between two things using like or as. “You run like a giraffe” is a simile.
metaphor makes the same comparison but it doesn't use like or as; it
says one thing is another or implies it. "Her eyes were like daggers"
is a simile. "Her eyes were daggers" is a metaphor using the past
tense if is. "Daggers shot from her eyes and I knew I was in trouble"
is an implied metaphor with her anger compared to daggers without any
form of is.
- A symbol is something that stands for itself and for something broader as well.
flag is not only a piece of multi-colored fabric, but also a symbol of
an entire country. Rain can become a symbol of death or strong
emotion. Colors often symbolize emotions: red is passion, white
is purity or friendliness, and black is grief.
personification occurs when a writer speaks of an inanimate object as
if it were a person or had human qualities. "The pencil sharpener
grew tired of chewing" is a personification.
- Hyperbole, the
counterpart of understatement, deliberately exaggerates conditions for
emphasis or effect. In formal writing the hyperbole must be clearly
intended as an exaggeration and shouldn’t be used often. “I’ve
told you a thousand times…” and “my teacher yelled at me” are good
- An oxymoron is putting two opposites together like icy hot.
Poetic tools aren’t limited to figurative language. Some poetic devices target the sounds of words.
is similar vowel sounds repeated in words containing different
consonants. Speech therapists and language coaches sometimes use
exaggerated examples of this to help people develop their vowel
pronunciation. “The rain in Spain falls mainly on the plain” from
My Fair Lady is fiction’s example of exaggerated assonance.
is the recurrence of initial consonant sounds. When the words that have
the same beginning sound are back to back, the words are limited to
two. For example, consider “Ah, what a delicious day!” If
the words are separated, the writer can use more than two but must
avoid the comical effect of “Peter Piper picked a pail of pickled
peppers.” A good example of comedy-free, multiple-word
alliteration is “All beauty comes from beautiful blood and a beautiful
brain.”- Walt Whitman
- In onomatopoeia by saying the word, the
reader makes a sound similar to what the word describes. Slam,
buzz, screech, whirr, crush, sizzle, crunch, grind, bang, blam, pow,
zap, fizz, urp, roar, growl, blip, click, whimper, and, of course,
snap, crackle, and pop are examples.
- Repetition is a great
tool to modify one’s style. To add emphasis, rhythm, and focus to
a poem, repeat a word with the repetitions in close proximity.
- Consonance-the repetition of consonants inside words and at the ends of words.
Some poetic tools fall into their own categories.
- Imagery-words and phrases that appeal to a reader’s senses. Another term that applies to both fiction and poetry.
- Mood refers to the emotions that the author makes the reader feel through his choice of images, words, etc.
persona is the person the poet/writer pretends to be as they
write. It’s often referred to as a mask. A fifty-year-old
poet can write with the persona of a ten-year-old.