Elements of Poetry

Imagine how life would be without poetry. Not a lot of people seem to recognize how poetry has influenced our lives in various ways. It allows us to better understand how language and symbols work creatively with one another. It values the expression of emotions and aesthetics, showing us the world from a different perspective as well. But what exactly adds to the beauty of poetry?

Poetry is composed of various elements which form its structure and meaning. Unlike prose, the content of a piece follows a flow that can create a great impact on the writing template. From its rhythm to the lines of your poem, every poet must learn about these elements in order to create a piece that’s worth remembering.

What Is Poetry?

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When we were first introduced to poetry, we have developed assumptions on how poems are meant to be. We often perceived these poems to possess a hidden meaning we’re meant to decipher on our own. It’s not unusual for people to consider its complexity as a hindrance, as the language used in poetry is usually indirect. But poetry is a precise reflection of our experiences in life, from everything we think to the things we do. In simple terms, poetry is a form of literature that follows a flow of rhythmic lines. It uses descriptive language that offers readers an emotional insight on a given subject. Poets play around with words and sound to create a written masterpiece that reflects their thoughts and emotions. While there are various approaches to poetry, none of them require an extensive process of analysis to understand what the poem really means.

Basic Elements of Poetry

Whether you’re writing sonnets for your literature class or lyrics to your next big single, understanding these basic elements of poetry is essential.

Line

It’s not hard to understand what a line is in poetry. It’s similar to a sentence, except that writers aren’t obliged to use periods to end each line. This functions as a natural pause to signal a break in the flow. In most cases, this is considered to be a tool that controls the rhythm of your piece. Remember, the way you break up these lines can greatly impact the overall essence of the poem.

Stanza

Stanzas are basically the equivalent of a paragraph in an essay or short story. This is composed of a series of lines that are grouped together to form the structure of a poem. These lines may vary depending on the type of poem being crafted. For instance, a poem with a stanza comprised of two lines is called a couplet, while three-line stanzas refer to a tercet. Other examples include quatrain (4 lines), cinquain (5 lines), sestet (6 lines), septet (7 lines), octave (8 lines). Quatrain is considered to be one the most popular of all, considering how easy it is to group rhyming words in such structure.

Rhythm

Rhythm and rhyme refer to two different concepts, wherein rhythm can include rhyme but does not need to. Including similar sounding words or sounds to make each line of your piece match is an excellent way to make your poem memorable for your audience. However, there are also a number of well-crafted poems out there that do not have rhyme. These type of poems are often more difficult to craft, as they do not rely on rhyme to make it colorful.

The following example follows an AABB rhyme scheme:

And so our start was touch of dawn,
with amber hue, for I was drawn
to eyes so welcoming and warm
I never guessed you’d do me harm.

Cinder Girl by Geraldine Taylor

To make a poem rhythmic without the use of rhyme, you can add a recurring pattern of syllables into a single line. The best way to determine whether or not this rhythmic meter exists is to read the poem aloud, and then pay close attention to the stressed and unstressed syllables included. There are various poems that do not contain rhyming words, but do make use of consonance and assonance examples to add rhythm.

Imagery

Imagery plays a significant role in poetry. It is a figurative language used to represent a certain action, object, and idea in a way that would appeal to the five senses. Instead of telling an audience what happens in its literal sense, readers are fed with an arrangement of figurative words. The creative use of imagery makes a poetic piece sound even more powerful and enticing when conveying a message. For a poet, this can help create a mental picture that readers form through their imagination.

Example:

The winter evening settles down
With smell of steaks in passageways.
Six o’clock.
The burnt-out ends of smoky days.
And now a gusty shower wraps
The grimy scraps
Of withered leaves about your feet
And newspapers from vacant lots;
The showers beat
On broken blinds and chimney-pots,
And at the corner of the street
A lonely cab-horse steams and stamps.
And then the lighting of the lamps.

Preludes by T.S. Eliot

Based from the example given above, the clever choice of words is enough to ignite various emotions. You could almost picture out every detail from the scene portrayed by the writer. So instead of saying something as simple as “Love is kind”, go beyond what is expected. You can use different metaphor and simile examples to add color to your poems.

Theme

What’s a poem without a theme? This element is the general idea that a poet wants his or her readers to grasp. This could be anything from a story to a thought that is being portrayed in the poem. Without such, it would be difficult for readers to understand the overall purpose and message that a poet wishes to convey.

Symbolism

Symbolism in poetry is used to express one’s thoughts gracefully, yet gently as well. It is a reflection of our emotions written artistically to keep readers engaged as they embark on a journey inside a poet’s complex mind. As human as we are, we find it difficult to portray how we truly feel through the mere use of words. This is because the standard language we speak can never interpret our thoughts in a way that can make the people around us understand. So instead, we use symbols to give our words the effect it needs.

Example:

How the Chimney-sweeper’s cry

Every blackning Church appalls,

And the hapless Soldier’s sigh

Runs in blood down Palace walls.

London by William Blake

The excerpt above talks about the sentiments shared by the people who work in a palace. The last line simply states how men die for the victory of a ruler that does not care for his men. The use of symbolism enhances the writing, allowing a poet to depict a particular idea differently than what one would expect.

Density

Aren’t you amazed by how poets have the ability to share so much of their thoughts, using only a limited number of words per line?

Density is what makes poetry different from the normal speech and writing patterns. As you describe an image, you’re meant to use figurative language while still following a certain sound and rhythm to make a reader feel a certain way. Even if you don’t conform to the traditional grammar styles, the piece remains clear and understandable enough to the average reader. It’s safe to say that this wise use of words is what makes poetry unique.

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However, it’s also important to remember that you can’t force something to be dense. Refrain from using a metaphor if it doesn’t suit the flow of your piece. In writing your poem, you’re bound to have multiple drafts of your work before you end up with the final piece. This involves a thorough process of cutting off what is referred to as “extra fat”, without affecting the logical progression of your poem.

Rather than using mere words to share stories and ideas, people turn to poetry to express themselves in ways that their audience can relate to. But poetry is not as easy as it seems, considering how there are specific elements that must be incorporated towards one’s writing. These elements play an important role in the structure, sound, and meaning of the piece. So the next time you consider drafting your own poem, make sure to have these basic elements of poetry in mind.

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