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Definitions of Poetry

It seems that poetry is the least favorable literary work. In fact, poetry can be regarded as the oldest as
literary genre. Poetry has already existed when the other genres have not invented yet. In British literary
history, the oldest literary work identified is in the form of a poem. Beowulf, an epic poem consisting of
thousands of line, is one of them.

Poetry is close to our life though we often do not realize it. The general assumption that poetry is the
most difficult work of literature often discourages people to know it better or to enjoy it at least. Poetry
is indeed different from the other genres of literature- prose and drama. But this difference is as
common as the difference of prose from drama.

Types of Poetry

In spite of the seemingly never-ending search for the definition of poetry, there are several types of
poetry to know. For the sake of clarification and simplification, poetry can be classified into three types:
lyric, narrative and dramatic. Classifications of this kind are not exclusive. Poems in each of these
categories may have elements characteristics of the other.

Basic Approaches to Poetry

Reading poetry is an activity that can be done by anyone, but analyzing it is another activity. The latter
one is not merely to know what it means but also to explain aspects embedded in a poem. To analyze
poetry can be carried out through various approaches. Even, we are supposed to examine a poem from
as many angles as possible to minimize the potential bias. However, there are only three approaches will
be discussed here because they are included the fundamental ones. They are: objective, subjective, and
thematic approaches.


1. Rhythm

In poetry, rhythm is created by the pattern of repeated sounds—in terms of both duration and quality—
and ideas. It is a combination of vocal speeds, rises and falls, starts and stops, vigor and slackness, and
relaxation and tension. Rhythm is significant because poets “invite” us to change speeds while reading—
to slow down and linger or pass rapidly over some words and sounds or to give more or less vocal stress
or emphasis on certain syllables. All these are related to emotions that are charged in the poem.

A.) Rhythm and scansion

Scansion is the act of scanning a poem to discover how the poem establishes a metrical pattern—which
syllables are accented (receive stress) and which are not (receive no stress).

1) Metrical feet
A line of a poem seems to be divided into a number of repeated units combining the same number of
accented and unaccented syllables. This unit is called a poetic foot. To separate one foot from another, a
slash (/) is used. Is a pattern of one foot is repeated or varied in the entire poem, the pattern for the
poem is established. The followings are some names of poetic feet.

2) Other rhythmic devices

(a) The caesura: The pause in a line, which is often best discovered by reading the poem aloud. The
pause is not necessarily punctuated. The caesura can be marked with (//).


Milton! Thou shouldst be living at this hour. (Wordsworth, London, 1802)The caesura in this line is after
the word Milton.

(b) End-stopped line: A line of poetry that naturally pauses at the end of the line (when it shows a
complete clause or sentence); it is the opposite of run-on line, where readers should not stop but read
through to the next line.


(1) End-stopped line:

My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun.

Coral is far more red than her lips red. (Shakespeare, Sonnet 130)

(2) Run-on lines:

Let me not to the marriage of true minds

Admit impediments. Love is not love

Which alters when it alteration finds

Or bends with the remover to remove… (Shakespeare, Sonnet 116)

2. Rhyme

Rhyme is the identical final syllables of words. Rhyme gives delight and strengthens a poem’s
psychological impact. The similar sounds help promote our memory on the poem. Most often, rhymes
are placed at the ends of lines. Rhymes may appear in two successive lines, in alternating lines, or at
intervals of four, five, or more lines. However, if rhyming sounds are too far away from each other, they
lose their immediacy and effectiveness.

When we want to describe the rhyme pattern in a poem of a stanza, we label the first sound at the end
of a line “a”, the next “b”, then “c”, “d”, and so forth. When a sound reappears, we use the same letter to
label the sound. We would then say that the pattern, or the rhyme scheme of a stanza or poem, is
abcbca, abba, etc.

There are several variations of rhymes. They are, among others:

 Perfect rhyme and half rhyme

 Masculine and feminine rhyme
 Internal rhyme
 Alliteration
 Assonance
 Consonance
 Onomatopoeia
 Blank verse
 Free verse

3. Stanzaic Forms

A stanza is a group of lines in a poem. Ordinarily, each stanza follows a

particular rhyme scheme. Some of the more common stanzas are:

1) Couplet—a stanza of two lines which usually rhymes.

2) Triplet/tercet—a stanza of three lines

3) Quatrain--—a stanza of four lines

4) Sestet—a stanza of six lines

5) Septet—a stanza of seven lines

6) Rhyme royal—a stanza of seven lines written in iambic pentameter and rhyming ababbcc

7) Octave—a stanza of eight lines

8) Sonnet —a stanza of fourteen lines

9) Spenserian stanza

10) Ottava rima—a stanza of eight lines


1. The Meaning of Words

One of the characteristic of poetry is the use of words in a new way. The word is uniquely used that a
reader or listener may not understand what it means. How can a poet make his reader understand words
with a new way? How can he make a word that first sounds dull become alive, how can his words appeal
the readers?

Our understanding of language, whether as readers or listeners, relies almost on two factors: our
knowledge of the meaning of individual words and our recognition of context. At first, we concern with
the meaning of individual words, but soon we become aware that meaning is largely determined by
context and by the interrelationship of words in a sentence. Each word in a language is distinguished
from every other word by its unique combinationof denotation and connotations. Poetry is the form of
writing that welcomes the eccentricities of word. Therefore, no word in great poetry can be moved or
replaced without changing and perhaps harming the whole. An understanding of the meaning of
individual words, therefore, is the first step in understanding poetry.

a) Denotation

A word is only an accurate tool of communication if it conveys the same idea to both the speaker and the
listener; yet the meanings of words continually change and, despite the existence of dictionaries, can
only be said to mean what people think they mean. New words are continually entering the language
and old words dropping out or changing their implications.

b) Connotation

As it is well-known, denotation refers to the dictionary meaning of a word. Connotation, on the other
hand, is determined by the ideas associatedwith or suggested by the word. Denotation is the meaning a
word gives to a sentence; connotation is the verbal coloring a word takes on from those sentences in
which it is commonly used. Denotative meaning is closely related to the history, association and the
environment where the word is used.

2. Tone

The tone of a poem is the attitude that we feel in it. It is the writer's attitude and feeling toward the
subject. Neglecting the existence of tone in poetry can mislead our understanding of the poem.
Sometimes tone is fairly obvious but sometimes it is not. Thus, we have to read the poem carefully to be
able to discover its tone. How can we find the tone of a poem? A poet can put forward his/her
underlying sentiments through the rhythm, images and word choices. So, by analyzing those aspects we
can figure out the attitude of the poet. Indeed, poets refine their language, but they usually wish to
achieve the spontaneity of sincere expression. (Bergman and Epstein, 1987)

1. Simile, Metaphor, Allegory, and Antithesis

Figurative language is a way to deliver meaning other than the literal meaning of the words. Sometimes,
the words are used to describe thing or condition by comparing it to something else. In short, figurative
language is a kind of language which employs various figures of speech. Using figurative language is a
way to captivate readers’ interest. It allows us to deliver our idea and imagination in more entertaining
way.There are a lot of kinds of figurative language. Some of them are:
1. Simile

2. Metaphor

3. Allegory

4. Antithesis

5. Personification

6. Apostrophe

7. Hyperbole

8. Euphemism

9. Irony




a) Simile

Simile is a figure of speech in which two things are compared using ‘as’, as when’, ‘like’, ‘than’, or other
equivalent constructions. Simile asserts similarity.

Example: "My love is like a red, red rose" (Robert Burn).

b) Metaphor

Metaphor is a figure of speech which directly compares one thing to another. It is used when a writer
feels that two terms are identical instead of merely similar. It established an analogy between two
objects. Generally, it is formed through the use of some form of the verb “to be”.

Example: All the world’s a stage” (Shakespeare).

c) Allegory

Allegory is an extended or prolonged metaphor. We can say that an allegory has two meanings, the
literal meaning and the symbolic one. The literal meaning is a metaphor for the real meaning behind it.
Using allegory, an auhor can present one thing in the guise of something else. A story which contains of
allegory usually contains a series of actions which are in fact represent other actions.

Example: Animal Farm by George Orwell

d) Antithesis

Antithesis is a condition where a pair or more of strongly contrasting ideas or terms are presented
togetherdeas or terms are presented together. It produces an effect of tension caused by the
contradiction of the words.

Example: “In doubt to deem himself a God, or Beast; In doubt his Mind or Body to prefer; ( Alexander
Pope )