What Is Poetry?

Poetry /~[poh-i-tree]


Poetry is an art-form.

It can be interpreted by the viewer in any artistic way; just as art can be. If one wants to paint a flower upright and then turn the beautiful painting upside-down and call it their work of art, they can do that; it's still art.

On the flip side, if one wants to write a ballad, then sing it instead of read it, that's up to their own interpretation. If one wants to make a haiku about the stars, or about plants, that can be done too. It's still poetry.

However, there are certain techniques and structures to each poem.

So what is poetry exactly and how can we better understand it? Let's determine what poetry is.


What Makes a Poem a Poem?

Generally, a poem has stanzas, verses and meter (length). Stanzas form a rhythm or a literary structure that's comprised of phrases (like sentences to a paragraph) and meter, which is the length in poetic terminology. Poetry is mostly a lyrical form of literature where we write in a rhythmic sense. Some poems must rhyme, but not all. The number and format of the stanzas is dependent on what basic structure of poetry you've decided to write. There are many structures of poetry and about a dozen most common types.

Stanza or Verse?

  • The word 'stanza' is the technical term for poems. There're particular characteristics and techniques to a stanza that a poetic verse otherwise wouldn't have. A verse is specific to poetry with rhythm. The technique for each one is the differentiator. For example, stanzas have a certain 'meter', a certain rhyming scheme, or a certain way of being spoken - while a verse should be sung and doesn't always have to be a certain 'meter'. Verses are still considered a part of poetic literature.

There Are Many Types of Poetry

Firstly, there's over 100 structures of poetry! Poetry is considerably admirable. What makes this number so high? The list consists of both old and modern-day formats of literature. In the olden-times, a poem was mostly summarized as literature that rhymed and consisted of stanzas that can be sung or spoken.

These days, poetry can be considered as many new literary structures such as: an article list written in an alphabetical order, or even, a short "bio" about a person written with just a few sentences.

Given that there're so many different types of poetry, for now let's take a closer look at seven basic forms of poetry.


Seven Basic Structures of Poetry


A Haiku is a Japanese three stanza poem. This type of poem needs to be written in a '5, 7, 5' stanza format. Meaning one block of text is five phrases, the next block is 7 phrases, then the last is 5 phrases again. Altogether there are 17 lines. Typically, this type of poem is written about something beautiful in nature.


A Narrative poem tells a story in third person. It doesn't have to rhyme and there's usually one character in the tale. The meter of a narrative isn't strict however, it must be at least six phrases.


This is a very traditional form of poetry which is most commonly sung as hymns. The stanza (or in this case, verse) is one, consisting of 14 lines. Each line holds a certain rhyme or rhythm. For example, one line is a short syllable while the next line in the verse is a long syllable. (Since this is a lyrical form of poetry we can refer to 'stanzas' in this case as, 'verses'.) Each line in this verse is normally sung monotone/consistent as the structure creates this type of rhythm; otherwise known as 'iambic meter', where one line ends with a short syllable and the next line ends with a longer syllable than the last. This poetic structure was traditionally written about something divine or empowered.

Free Verse

Lines in this type of poem are structured in a way that doesn't need to rhyme, nor do the lines have to be similar in meter. That choice is mostly up to the poet there. Mostly, because the number of stanzas is more technical here. Free Verse requires one, three, or seven stanzas. Each has a different number of lines in them.


Also known as 'Quintet'. A Quintain poem has only five lines of no specified meter. Poems that follow this type of structure rule are:

  • Couplet: Two Lines

  • Triplet (or Tercet): Three Lines

  • Quatrain: Four Lines

  • Sestet (or Sextet): Six Lines

  • Septet: Seven Lines

  • Octave: Eight Lines


A Limerick is a type of Quintain/Quintet. The first, second, and fifth line need to rhyme in this structure. The third and fourth must be shorter in meter than the other three lines and rhyme with each other. The pattern can be described as: 'AABBA', since the third and fourth lines rhyme with each other, while those other three lines, AA and A rhyme with each other.


Ballads are mostly lyrical forms of poetry. The verses in a ballad are sincere and evoke emotion. Ballads are comprised of couplets that rhyme with each other. The structure of this13 liner can be done in two ways: One is where the ballad doesn't have a break in between, (aka a chorus), and the other does. In one that doesn't, the rhyming scheme is: 'ABABBCBC', while the one that does have a break between is schemed as follows: 'ABAB or ABCB'.


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