The Craft of Poetry - Poetic Structures ~~
The Bedford Online Glossary defines closed form, or "fixed form" poetry
[Closed or fixed form poems are those] that may be categorized
by the pattern of its lines, meter, rhythm, or stanzas. A sonnet is a fixed
form of poetry because by definition it must have fourteen lines. Other fixed
forms include limerick, sestina, and villanelle. However, poems written in
a fixed form may not always fit into categories precisely, because writers
sometimes vary traditional forms to create innovative effects.
closed form poems is that they develop regular patterns with regard to lines,
meter, rhythm and stanza. When we discuss a poem's structure, we're observing
its pattern of lines and stanzas.
THE LINE: A line
of poetry is characterized by its length and meter, which are created by the
number of syllables and where their stresses fall.
THE STANZA: A stanza
is a group of lines, visually distinguished from other groups of lines by white
space. Fixed form poetry usually maintains regular stanza pattern, and there
are a lot to choose from:
two line stanza, rhyming aa
The Tercet: three line stanza, rhyming varies
The Quatrain: four line stanza, various rhyming patterns
Ballad quatrain: rhymes abcb
Heroic quatrain: rhymes abab
Rhyme Enclosure: rhymes abba
Triple quatrain: rhymes aaba
Double couplet quatrain: rhymes aabb
five line stanza
The Sextain (sestet): six line stanza
Chaucerian Stanza (Rhyme Royal): seven line stanza, rhyming ababbcc
The Ottava Rima (octave or octet): eight line stanza, rhyming abababcc
The Spenserian Stanza: eight iambic pentameter lines followed by a hexameter
line, rhyming ababbbcbbc
The Fourteener: iambic heptameters, as many as it takes
Poems with CLOSED
FORM STRUCTURES are those with predetermined patterns of lines and stanzas.
These are some
of the better known structures with their definitions (in italics) from the
Bedford Online Glossary:
The Epic A
long narrative poem, told in a formal, elevated style, that focuses on a serious
subject and chronicles heroic deeds and events important to a culture or nation.
The oldest piece of literature is the Epic of Gilgamesh. Homer's Iliad and
Odyssey are epics. In English literature, John Milton's Paradise Lost is an
The Ode A
relatively lengthy lyric poem that often expresses lofty emotions in a dignified
style. Odes are characterized by a serious topic, such as truth, art, freedom,
justice, or the meaning of life; their tone tends to be formal. There is no
prescribed pattern that defines an ode; some odes repeat the same pattern
in each stanza, while others introduce a new pattern in each stanza. Some
of the oldest odes are probably those written by the Greek poet, Pindar (Victory
Odes). A couple of my favorites are written by two 19th century English poets,
both romanticists -- John Keats' "Ode
to A Nightingale" and Percy Bysshe Shelley's "Ode to the West
Wind" (p. 723).
Traditionally, a ballad is a song, transmitted orally from generation to generation,
that tells a story and that eventually is written down. As such, ballads usually
cannot be traced to a particular author or group of authors. Typically, ballads
are dramatic, condensed, and impersonal narratives, such as "Bonny Barbara
Allan" or "House Carpenter." A literary ballad is a narrative
poem that is written in deliberate imitation of the language, form, and spirit
of the traditional ballad, such as "Ballad
of Birmingham" by Dudley Randall or "Ballad of the Landlord"
by Langston Hughes (p. 828).
A fixed form of lyric poetry that consists of fourteen lines, usually written
in iambic pentameter. There are two basic types of sonnets, the Italian and
the English. The Italian sonnet, also known as the Petrarchan sonnet, is divided
into an octave, which typically rhymes abbaabba, and a sestet, which may have
varying rhyme schemes. Common rhyme patterns in the sestet are cdecde, cdcdcd,
and cdccdc. Very often the octave presents a situation, attitude, or problem
that the sestet comments upon or resolves, as in John Keats's "On First
Looking into Chapman's Homer." The English sonnet, also known as the
Shakespearean sonnet, is organized into three quatrains and a couplet, which
typically rhyme abab cdcd efef gg. This rhyme scheme is more suited to English
poetry because English has fewer rhyming words than Italian. English sonnets,
because of their four-part organization, also have more flexibility with respect
to where thematic breaks can occur. The several sonnets we'll study are "My
Mistresses Eyes Are Nothing Like the Sun" (p. 712), "Ozymandias"
(p. 903); "The World is Too Much with Us" (p. 710), and "Unholy
Sonnet" (p. 714).
A type of fixed form poetry consisting of nineteen lines of any length divided
into six stanzas: five tercets and a concluding quatrain. The first and third
lines of the initial tercet rhyme; these rhymes are repeated in each subsequent
tercet (aba) and in the final two lines of the quatrain (abaa). Line 1 appears
in its entirety as lines 6, 12, and 18, while line 3 reappears as lines 9,
15, and 19. Dylan Thomas's "Do not go gentle into that good night"
is a villanelle.
A style of lyric poetry borrowed from the Japanese that typically presents
an intense emotion or vivid image of nature, which, traditionally, is designed
to lead to a spiritual insight. Haiku is a fixed poetic form, consisting of
seventeen syllables organized into three unrhymed lines of five, seven, and
five syllables. Today, however, many poets vary the syllabic count in their
Bedford Online Glossary defines open form, or "free verse" poetry
"free verse," open form poetry does not conform to established patterns
of meter, rhyme, and stanza. Such poetry derives its rhythmic qualities from
the repetition of words, phrases, or grammatical structures, the arrangement
of words on the printed page, or by some other means. The poet E. E. Cummings
wrote open form poetry; his poems do not have measurable meters, but they do
open form poems is that they do not develop regular patterns with regard to
lines, meter, rhythm and stanza. Their structure is more "organic"
instead of being predetermined, following its own inner logic according to the
emotion or thought expressed.
A few open form
poems to consider are Two E. E. Cummings poems to study are "l(a"
(p. 547) and "In just-" (p. 729). We'll also look at Walt Whitman's
"When I Heard the Learned Astronomer" (p. 907). Can you identify whether
the other poems on the exam study guide are open or closed forms, and why?
Study the following
terms/pages in The Compact Bedford Introduction to Literature, 6/e.
A simple way of thinking about a poem's "structure" is to see it as
"open" or "closed." Open form poems are sometimes called
"free form" or "free verse" and closed form poems are sometimes
called "fixed form."
Fixed Form Poetry