How to Write Lyric Poetry

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Lyric poetry is often contrasted with narrative or dramatic poetry. Rather than telling a story, lyric poetry expresses a poet’s thoughts and feelings. In ancient Greece, lyric poetry was set to musical accompaniment, and the style was a predecessor to song. As the form developed, poets like Francesco Petrarch and William Shakespeare applied the style to set forms, such as the sonnet. Lyric poetry is an overarching style that can be applied to nearly any poetic form.

Writing Romantic Sonnets

  • While Greek poets used the lyric style to praise their gods, European poets adapted the style to sonnets that praised their mistresses, according to the University of Chicago. Sonnets are 14-line poems in iambic pentameter, and each type of sonnet has its own set rhyme scheme. Shakespeare’s poem “Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer’s Day” is an ideal example of both the sonnet and lyric poetry. In this poem, Shakespeare immortalizes the beauty of the subject, especially in the final lines “So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see, / So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.” If you choose a Shakespearean sonnet, you will have three four-line stanzas called quatrains followed by a rhyming couplet, following the rhyme scheme ABAB, CDCD, EFEF, GG. Write in iambic pentameter, which uses five pairs of unstressed syllables followed by a stressed syllable. The final couplet is an arrival at a conclusion or even refusal of the prior stanzas.

Composing Ballads

  • A ballad was traditionally a song passed down orally, but poets have adapted the style into “literary” ballads. In the English tradition, ballads are written in quatrains that rhyme ABCB and alternate four- and three-stress line, as in John Keats’s “La Belle Dane sans Merci.” Ballads lend themselves to narrative poems, but lyrical ballads like Edgar Allen Poe’s “Annabel Lee” focus more on emotion rather than story. “Annabel Lee” expresses the love the poem’s speaker has for a woman, even long after she is dead. To write a ballad in lyric style, choose a theme, such as love. You can add some narrative elements, but keep the focus of the poem on your feelings for the subject rather than events. You can choose to follow the English traditional form of quatrains, which follow the rhyme scheme ABCB, or open your form to six- or eight-line stanzas, which rhyme ABCBDB or ABCBDBEB, as in “Annabel Lee.”

Crafting the Minimal Haiku

  • The haiku focuses on images from nature, and as a poem with only three lines, it is a direct and simple way of expressing your feelings. One translation of a haiku by Kobayashi Issa reads, “Don’t weep, insects -- / Lovers, stars themselves, / Must part.” The inspiration for this poem came from a romantic legend of two lovers separated by “Heaven’s River,” and Issa wrote it for his wife, who was ill, according to haiku scholar David G. Lanoue. You can write a haiku using the traditional syllable count of 5-7-5 syllables per line, although this practice is routinely broken. Draw a comparison from nature to the object or person you’re expressing emotion about, and use provocative and colorful images. Use this short form to express sudden enlightenment, according to the Academy of American Poets.

Creating a Ceremonious Ode

  • The ode is a long form of lyric poetry that is meant to convey strong emotions by addressing a specific person, event or event something that is not present, according to the Academy of American Poets. John Keats’s “Ode on a Grecian Urn” is an ode in which the speaker addresses the urn and examines its picture. Stanza forms vary for an ode, so you can write an ode if you’d rather "break the rules" of meter and rhyme scheme but keep the thematic elements of addressing strong sentiments. Many English odes follow the rhyme scheme ABABCDECDE, which is similar to a Petrarchan sonnet form. The Keats poem was actually written through his experiments with a sonnet, and while Keats maintains the first part of the rhyme scheme, he often swaps the rhymes in the last three lines. The most important component to an ode is intense emotion, often set off by a personal crisis, that leads to a realization.

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