Lyric Poetry: Expressing Emotion Through Verse (2023)

A lyric poem is short, highly musical verse that conveys powerful feelings. The poet may use rhyme, meter, or other literary devices to create a song-like quality.

Unlike narrative poetry, which chronicles events, lyric poetry doesn't have to tell a story. A lyric poem is a private expression of emotion by a single speaker. For example, American poet Emily Dickinson described inner feelings when she wrote her lyric poem that begins, "I felt a Funeral, in my Brain, / And Mourners to and fro."

Key Takeways: Lyric Poetry

  • A lyric poem is a private expression of emotion by an individual speaker.
  • Lyric poetry is highly musical and can feature poetic devices like rhyme and meter.
  • Some scholars categorize lyric poetry in three subtypes: Lyric of Vision, Lyric of Thought, and Lyric of Emotion. However, this classification is not widely agreed upon.
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Origins of Lyric Poetry

Song lyrics often begin as lyric poems. In ancient Greece, lyric poetry was, in fact, combined with music played on a U-shaped stringed instrument called a lyre. Through words and music, great lyric poets like Sappho (ca. 610–570 B.C.) poured out feelings of love and yearning.

Similar approaches to poetry were developed in other parts of the world. Between the fourth century B.C. and the first century A.D., Hebrew poets composed intimate and lyrical psalms, which were sung in ancient Jewish worship services and compiled in the Hebrew Bible. During the eighth century, Japanese poets expressed their ideas and emotions through haiku and other forms. Writing about his private life, Taoist writer Li Po (710–762) became one of China's most celebrated poets.

The rise of lyric poetry in the Western world represented a shift from epic narratives about heroes and gods. The personal tone of lyric poetry gave it broad appeal. Poets in Europe drew inspiration from ancient Greece but also borrowed ideas from the Middle East, Egypt, and Asia.

Types of Lyric Poetry

Of the three main categories of poetry—narrative, dramatic, and lyric—lyric is the most common, and also the most difficult to classify. Narrative poems tell stories. Dramatic poetry is a play written in verse. Lyric poetry, however, encompasses a wide range of forms and approaches.

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Nearly any experience or phenomenon can be explored in the emotional, personal lyric mode, from war and patriotism to love and art.

Lyric poetry also has no prescribed form. Sonnets, villanelles, rondeaus, and pantoums are all considered lyric poems. So are elegies, odes, and most occasional (or ceremonial) poems. When composed in free verse, lyric poetry achieves musicality through literary devices such as alliteration, assonance, and anaphora.

Each of the following examples illustrates an approach to lyric poetry.

William Wordsworth, "The World Is Too Much With Us"

The English Romantic poet William Wordsworth (1770–1850) famously said that poetry is "the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility." In "The World Is Too Much with Us," his passion is evident in blunt exclamatory statements such as "a sordid boon!" Wordsworth condemns materialism and alienation from nature, as this section of the poem illustrates.

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"The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;—
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!"

Although "The World Is Too Much with Us" feels spontaneous, it was clearly composed with care ("recollected in tranquility"). A Petrarchansonnet, the complete poem has 14 lines with a prescribed rhyme scheme, metrical pattern, and arrangement of ideas. In this musical form, Wordsworth expressed personal outrage over the effects of the Industrial Revolution.

Christina Rossetti, "A Dirge"

British poet Christina Rossetti (1830–1894) composed "A Dirge" in rhyming couplets. The consistent meter and rhyme create the effect of a burial march. The lines grow progressively shorter, reflecting the speaker's sense of loss, as this selection from the poem illustrates.

"Why were you born when the snow was falling?
You should have come to the cuckoo’s calling,
Or when grapes are green in the cluster,
Or, at least, when lithe swallows muster
For their far off flying
From summer dying."

Using deceptively simple language, Rossetti laments an untimely death. The poem is an elegy, but Rossetti does not tell us who died. Instead, she speaks figuratively, comparing the span of a human life to the changing seasons.

Elizabeth Alexander, "Praise Song for the Day"

American poet Elizabeth Alexander (1962– ) wrote "Praise Song for the Day" to read at the 2009 inauguration of America's first Black president, Barack Obama. The poem does not rhyme, but it creates a song-like effect through rhythmic repetition of phrases. By echoing a traditional African form, Alexander paid tribute to African culture in the United States and called for people of all races to live together in peace.

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"Say it plain: that many have died for this day.
Sing the names of the dead who brought us here,
who laid the train tracks, raised the bridges,
picked the cotton and the lettuce, built
brick by brick the glittering edifices
they would then keep clean and work inside of.
Praise song for struggle, praise song for the day.
Praise song for every hand-lettered sign,
the figuring-it-out at kitchen tables."

"Praise Song for the Day" is rooted in two traditions. It is both an occasional poem, written and performed for a special occasion, and a praise song, an African form that uses descriptive word-pictures to capture the essence of something being praised.

Occasional poetry has played an important role in Western literature since the days of ancient Greece and Rome. Short or long, serious or lighthearted, occasional poems commemorate coronations, weddings, funerals, dedications, anniversaries, and other important events. Similar to odes,occasional poems are often passionate expressions of praise.

Classifying Lyric Poems

Poets are always devising new ways to express feelings and ideas, transforming our understanding of the lyric mode. Is a found poem lyric? What about a concrete poem made from artful arrangements of words on the page? To answer these questions, some scholars utilize three classifications for lyric poetry: Lyric of Vision, Lyric of Thought, and Lyric of Emotion.

Visual poetry like May Swenson's pattern poem, "Women," belongs to the Lyric of Vision subtype. Swenson arranged lines and spaces in a zigzag pattern to suggest the image of women rocking and swaying to satisfy the whims of men. Other Lyric of Vision poets have incorporated colors, unusual typography, and 3D shapes.


Didactic poems designed to teach and intellectual poems such as satire may not seem especially musical or intimate, but these works can be placed in the Lyric of Thought category. For examples of this subtype, consider the scathing epistles by 18th-century British poet Alexander Pope.

The third subtype, Lyric of Emotion, refers to works we usually associate with lyric poetry as a whole: mystical, sensual, and emotional. However, scholars have long debated these classifications. The term "lyric poem" is often used broadly to describe any poem that is not a narrative or a stage play.



What is ode in poetry? ›

A formal, often ceremonious lyric poem that addresses and often celebrates a person, place, thing, or idea.

What are the 3 types of poetry? ›

There are three main kinds of poetry: narrative, dramatic and lyrical. It is not always possible to make distinction between them. For example, an epic poem can contain lyrical passages, or lyrical poem can contain narrative parts.

What emotions does poetry make you feel? ›

Poetry stimulates feelings (passions), and intellectual ideas and self-recognition, for example, which are cognitive events. Poetry does not happen to the reader, as Plato implies. It is an interactive process.

What is an example of an ode poem? ›

'Ode to a Grecian Urn' by John Keats. 'Ode to the West Wind' by Percy Bysshe Shelley. 'The Lady to Her Guitar' by Emily Brontë 'Ode to Thread' by Pablo Neruda.

What is a elegy poem? ›

In traditional English poetry, it is often a melancholy poem that laments its subject's death but ends in consolation.

What is a Villanelle in poetry? ›

A French verse form consisting of five three-line stanzas and a final quatrain, with the first and third lines of the first stanza repeating alternately in the following stanzas.

What are the 3 features of poetry? ›

Rhyme - Words that end with similar sounds. Usually at the end of a line of the poem. Rhythm - A pattern created with sounds: hard - soft, long - short, bouncy, quiet - loud, weak - strong . Stanza - A part of a poem with similar rhythm and rhyme that will usually repeat later in the poem.

What is the types of poetry? ›

Popular poetry types include haiku, free verse, sonnets, and acrostic poems. It's one thing to define each type; it's another to enjoy a sample platter.

Why poetry is used to express emotions? ›

Images and metaphors embedded within a poem in a rhythmic pattern create a similar effect to music: the poetic format enables the expression of emotion that might otherwise be hard to verbally express or may have felt too threatening to do so in a direct way.

How do you analyze emotions in a poem? ›

Poets might begin with emotion, but how does that inspirational feeling show up in their poems? The main sources of emotion are word choice, sound choice, imagery, and the way all those combine to create mood. A poet's first line of attack is diction, or word choice.

How does poetry affect us emotionally? ›

Poetry triggers an emotional response like music.

When a person reads or listens to poetry, MRIs have shown that the certain regions in the brain's right hemisphere that are linked to reward and emotion light up from being activated.

What is the difference between an ode and a poem? ›

An ode is not just any poem, but specifically a: lyric poem, serious in subject, elevated in style, and elaborate in its stanzaic structure.

What are the 4 types of odes? ›

There are three main types of odes: Pindaric, Horatian, and irregular.

What is the synonym of ode? ›

synonyms for ode
  • ballad.
  • composition.
  • limerick.
  • lyric.
  • poesy.
  • rhyme.
  • song.
  • sonnet.

What is Enjambment poem? ›

Enjambment, from the French meaning “a striding over,” is a poetic term for the continuation of a sentence or phrase from one line of poetry to the next. An enjambed line typically lacks punctuation at its line break, so the reader is carried smoothly and swiftly—without interruption—to the next line of the poem.

What is a free verse poem? ›

Nonmetrical, nonrhyming lines that closely follow the natural rhythms of speech. A regular pattern of sound or rhythm may emerge in free-verse lines, but the poet does not adhere to a metrical plan in their composition.

What is free verse and blank verse? ›

Blank verse: Poetry that has a consistent meter but no formal rhyme scheme. Meter: The pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables in a poem. Free verse: Poetry that does not have a rhyme scheme or a consistent metrical pattern.

What is a 19 line poem called? ›

Villanelle A 19-line poem consisting of five tercets and a final quatrain on two rhymes. The first and third lines of the first tercet repeat alternately as a refrain closing the succeeding stanzas and joined as the final couplet of the quatrain.

What is a 27 line poem called? ›

Trijan Refrain. The Trijan Refrain, created by Jan Turner, consists of three 9-line stanzas, for a total of 27 lines.

What is the sestina? ›

A complex French verse form, usually unrhymed, consisting of six stanzas of six lines each and a three-line envoy.

What is a ode simple definition? ›

An ode is a short lyric poem that praises an individual, an idea, or an event. In ancient Greece, odes were originally accompanied by music—in fact, the word “ode” comes from the Greek word aeidein, which means to sing or to chant. Odes are often ceremonial, and formal in tone.

How many lines is an ode? ›

Odes often consist of stanzas (or groupings of lines of poetry) of ten lines each. The Pindaric ode, which follows the strophe, antistrophe, and epode structure, has three stanzas, usually totaling thirty lines. However, even Pindaric odes can be as short as four lines.

What is ode and its types? ›

It is an elaborately structured poem praising or glorifying an event or individual, describing nature intellectually as well as emotionally. A classic ode is structured in three major parts: the strophe, the antistrophe, and the epode. Different forms such as the homostrophic ode and the irregular ode also enter.

How do you make an ode? ›

3 Tips for How to Write an Ode
  1. Use quatrain stanzas. Classic odes (Pindaric and Horatian) use four-line stanzas known as quatrains. ...
  2. Choose a grand or intensely personal subject. ...
  3. Be precise about the length of your lines.
7 Jun 2021

Does ode mean tribute? ›

An ode is a poem written in tribute to a person, a place, a thing or even an idea. Examples include Ode to the West Wind by Percy Bysshe Shelley and Ode on a Grecian Urn by John Keats.

What is the difference between an ode and a sonnet? ›

Both the sonnet and the ode are formal poems, but for the most part the ode is a more open form in English than the sonnet. The poet is freer to choose the length and the stanza and the rhyme scheme. (But the poet may have less room for choice in the subject matter or tone.)

What is the difference between an ode and an elegy? ›

Main Difference – Ode vs Elegy

An ode is a formal, often ceremonious lyric poem that glorifies an individual, event, or a concept. An elegy is a poem of serious reflection, characteristically a lament for the dead.

What are poems with 12 lines called? ›

Stanzas in poetry can consist of a multitude of lines from two-line stanzas to 14-line stanzas, and can be named after the poet who used them most frequently, such as Edmund Spenser, whose namesake is the influence for the Spenserian stanza.

What are the rules of an ode poem? ›

Modern odes are usually rhyming — although that isn't a hard rule — and are written with irregular meter. Each stanza has ten lines each, and an ode is usually written with between three and five stanzas. There are three common ode types: Pindaric, Horatian, and irregular.

What is the synonym of ode? ›

synonyms for ode
  • ballad.
  • composition.
  • limerick.
  • lyric.
  • poesy.
  • rhyme.
  • song.
  • sonnet.


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