Types of Poetry for AP English Literature (page 3)

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Updated on Apr 4, 2011

The Elegy

The elegy is a formal lyric poem written in honor of one who has died. Elegiac is the adjective that describes a work lamenting any serious loss.

One of the most famous elegies is by Percy Bysshe Shelley. It was written to mourn the loss of John Keats. Here is the first stanza of "Adonais." It contains all the elements of an elegy.


      I weep for Adonais—he is dead!
      O, weep for Adonais! Though our tears
      Thaw not the frost which binds so dear a head!
      And thou, sad Hour, selected from all years
      To mourn our loss, rouse thy obscure compeers,
      And teach them thine own sorrow, say: "With me
      Died Adonais; till the Future dares
      Forget the Past, his fate and fame shall be
      An echo and a light unto eternity!"


* An Elegy on the death of John Keats, author of "Endymion," "Hyperion," etc.

Read this stanza several times. Try it aloud. Get carried away by the emotion. Respond to the imagery. Listen to the sounds; let the meter and rhyme guide you through. Consider the following:

  1. Adonais, Shelley's name for Keats, is derived from Adonis. This is a mythological allusion to associate Keats with love and beauty. (The meter will tell you how to pronounce Adonais.)
  2. Check the rhyme scheme. Did you come up with a b a b b c b c c? See how the last two lines are rhymed to set this idea apart.
  3. Line 1 contains a major caesura in the form of a dash. This forces the reader to pause and consider the depth of emotion and the finality of the event. The words that follow are also set off by the caesura and emphasized by the exclamation point. Notice that the meter is not interrupted by the caesura. (The Elegy is perfect iambic pen ta meter.) This line is a complete thought which is concluded by punctuation and is an example of an end-stopped line.
  4. Line 2 utilizes repetition to intensify the sense of loss. Here the caesura is an exclamation point. Notice that the last three words of the line fulfill the meter of iambic pentameter but do not express a complete thought as did line 1. The thought continues into line 3. The thought continues into line 3. This is an example of enjambment.
  5. Lines 2 and 3 contain alliteration ("Though," "tears," "Thaw," "the") and consonance ("not," "frost," continuing into line 4 with "thou").
  6. Line 3 contains imagery and metaphor. What does the frost represent? _______________
  7. Line 4 contains an apostrophe which is a direct address to the sad Hour, which is personified. To what event does the "sad Hour" refer? _______________
  8. Lines 4, 5, and 6 incorporate assonance. The vowel sounds provide a painful tone through "ow" sounds ("thou," "Hour," "our," "rouse," "sorrow").
  9. Notice how the enjambment in lines 7–9 speeds the stanza to the final thought. This helps the pacing of the poem.
  10. Reread the poem. Choose images and lines you respond to.

Have you read any elegies? List them here. Jot down the poet, title, and any images and lines you like. Add your own thoughts about the poem.

Following is a list of some of the most beautiful elegies in the English language. Make it a point to read several. You won't be sorry.

"Elegy for Jane" by Theodore Roethke—a teacher's lament for his student.

"Elegy in a Country Church Yard" by Thomas Gray—a reflective look at what might have been.

"When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloomed" and "O Captain, My Captain" by Walt Whitman—tributes to Abraham Lincoln.

"In Memory of W. B. Yeats" by W. H. Auden—a poet's homage to a great writer.

The Dramatic Monologue

The dramatic monologue relates an episode in a speaker's life through a conversational format that reveals the character of the speaker.

Robert Browning is the acknowledged master of the dramatic monologue. The following is an example of both the dramatic monologue and Browning's skill as a poet.

Porphyria's Lover

      The rain set early in tonight,
      The sullen wind was soon awake,
      It tore the elm-tops down for spite,
      And did its worst to vex the lake:
      I listened with heart fit to break.
      When glided in Porphyria; straight
      She shut the cold out and the storm,
      And kneeled and made the cheerless grate
      Blaze up, and all the cottage warm;
      Which done, she rose, and from her form
      Withdrew the dripping cloak and shawl,
      And laid her soiled gloves by, untied
      Her hat and let the damp hair fall,
      And, last, she sat down by my side
      And called me. When no voice replied,
      She put my arm about her waist,
      And made her smooth white shoulder bare,
      And all her yellow hair displaced,
      And, stooping, made my cheek lie there,
      And spread, o'er all, her yellow hair,
      Murmuring how she loved me – she
      Too weak, for all her heart's endeavor,
      To set its struggling passion free
      From pride, and vainer ties desever,
      And give herself to me forever.
      But passion sometimes would prevail,
      Nor could tonight's gay feast restrain
      A sudden thought of one so pale
      For love of her, and all in vain:
      So, she was come through wind and rain.
      Be sure I looked up at her eyes
      Happy and proud; at last I knew
      Porphyria worshipped me: surprise
      Made my heart swell, and still it grew
      While I debated what to do.
      That moment she was mine, mine, fair,
      Perfectly pure and good: I found
      A thing to do, and all her hair
      In one long yellow string I wound
      Three times her little throat around,
      And strangled her. No pain felt she;
      I am quite sure she felt no pain.
      As a shut bud that holds a bee,
      I warily oped her lids: again
      Laughed the blue eyes without a stain.
      And I untightened next the tress
      About her neck; her cheek once more
      Blushed bright beneath my burning kiss:
      I propped her head up as before,
      Only, this time my shoulder bore 50
      Her head, which droops upon it still:
      The smiling rosy little head,
      So glad it has its utmost will,
      That all it scorned at once is fled,
      And I, its love, am gained instead!
      Porphyria's love: she guessed not how
      Her darling one wish would be heard.
      And thus we sit together now,
      And all night long we have not stirred,
      And yet God has not said a word!

Read the poem aloud, or have someone read it to you. Try for a conversational tone.

  1. Concentrate on following the storyline. (Were you surprised by the concluding events?) _____
  2. Once you know the "story," look closely at the poem for all the clues concerning character and episode.
  3. Automatically check for the relationship between form and content. Quickly scan for rhyme scheme and meter. You should notice a definite presence of rhyme in an unusual form a b a b b c d c d d e f e f f, etc. You should be able to recognize that the meter is iambic tetrameter. Rather than scan the entire poem, try lines throughout to see if a pattern exists.
  4. Lines 1–5: What does the setting indicate or foreshadow? _____
      Lines 6–9: What diction and imagery is associated with Porphyria? _____
      Lines 10–12: Why are we told her gloves were soiled? _____
    • Lines 20–25: Try to understand what the narrator is telling you here.
      This reveals what is important to him. _____
      Lines 30–37: Have you found the turning point? _____
      Remember, literary analysis is like unraveling a mystery. Find motivational and psychological reasons for the narrator's behavior. __________
      Line 41: Notice how the caesura emphasizes the finality of the event. You are forced to confront the murder directly because of the starkness of the syntax. This is followed by the narrator's justification.
  5. Line 43: Did you catch the simile? It's a little tricky to spot when "as" is the first word. _____
      Line 55: What character trait is revealed by the narrator? _____
      Lines 59–60: Notice how the rhyming couplet accentuates the final thought and sets it off from the previous lines. Interpret the last line. Did you see that the last two lines are end-stopped; whereas, the majority of the poem utilizes enjambment to create a conversational tone. _____
  6. Did you enjoy this poem? Did you feel as if you were being spoken to directly? _____

The AP often uses dramatic monologues because they can be very rich in narrative detail and characterization. This is a form you should become familiar with by reading several from different times and authors. Try one of these: Robert Browning—"My Last Duchess," "The Soliloquy of the Spanish Cloister," "Andrea Del Sarto"; Alfred Lord Tennyson—"Ulysses."

How many dramatic monologues have you read? List them here and add details and lines that were of interest and/or importance to you.

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