Poetry: GED Test Prep
Poetry shares many of the same elements as fiction, but poetry is a unique genre with its own styles and conventions. This article explains what makes poems different from stories and how to read and understand poems.
Poetry is often easy to recognize but not as easy to define. Poems are usually short, and often rhyme, but not always. The beauty (and, for many, the difficulty) of poetry is its brevity. The writer must convey an idea or emotion in a very short space. Because there are so few words in a poem, every word counts, and poems are often layered with meaning. That's where a poem gets its power.
One fundamental difference between poetry and prose is structure. Poems, of course, are written in verse. They are meant to be heard as well as read. The meaning in a poem comes not just from the words, but also from how the words sound and how they are arranged on the page.
Types of Poems
While poems are often categorized by structure (e.g., sonnets or ballads), a more fundamental way to classify poems is by their general purpose. Poems can be emotive, imagistic, narrative, and argumentative. They can also mourn or celebrate.
An emotive poem aims to capture a mood or emotion and to make readers feel that mood or emotion. Here is an untitled poem by the Russian poet Alexander Pushkin:
- I have loved you; even now I may confess,
- Some embers of my love their fire retain
- but do not let it cause you more distress,
- I do not want to sadden you again.
- Hopeless and tongue-tied, yet, I loved you dearly
- With pangs the jealous and the timid know;
- So tenderly I loved you—so sincerely;
- I pray God grant another love you so.
An imagistic poem aims to capture a moment and help us experience that moment sensually (through our senses). Here is a powerful two-line imagistic poem by Ezra Pound:
In a Station of the Metro
The apparition of these faces in the crowd; Petals on a wet, black bough.
Narrative poems tell stories, while argumentative poems explore an idea (such as love or valor). Here's a poem by Robert Frost that does both:
The Road Not Taken
- Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
- And sorry I could not travel both
- And be one traveller, long I stood
- And looked down one as far as I could
- To where it bent in the undergrowth;
- Then took the other, as just as fair,
- And having perhaps the better claim,
- Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
- Though as for that the passing there
- Had worn them really about the same,
- And both that morning equally lay
- In leaves no step had trodden black.
- Oh, I kept the first for another day!
- Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
- I doubted if I should ever come back.
- I shall be telling this with a sigh
- Somewhere ages and ages hence:
- Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—I took the one less traveled by,
- And that has made all the difference.
Elegies and odes are two other common types of poems. An elegy is a poem that laments the loss of someone or something. An ode, on the other hand, celebrates a person, place, thing, or event. Here are a few lines from John Keats' (1795–1821) famous "Ode on a Grecian Urn":
- Ah, happy, happy boughs! that cannot shed
- Your leaves, nor ever bid the spring adieu;
- And, happy melodist, unwearied,
- For ever piping songs for ever new;
- More happy love! more happy, happy love!
- For ever warm and still to be enjoy'd,
- For ever panting, and for ever young;
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