12 Different Types Of Poems And How To Write Them

Last Updated on January 16, 2023

Different Types Of Poems And How To Write Them

Are you interested in poems and looking for how to write them? Writing good poetry can be incredibly challenging, and sometimes just trying to figure it out can be exhausting. However, there are so many different types of poems, and many have very few rules. All you have to do is choose a style you like and let your creativity run wild!

12 Different Types of Poems

Below is a list of some of the most common types of poetry, their main characteristics, and famous examples of each.

You may prefer to read certain types of poems, while for other types you may enjoy writing your own! Familiarize yourself with these different styles and see if any spark your imagination.

1. Sonnet

Sonnets are practically synonymous with Shakespeare, but there are actually two different kinds of this famous poetic form. Having originated in 13th century Italy, the sonnet usually deals with love and has two common forms: the Petrarchan (named for its famous practitioner, the poet Petrarch) and the Shakespearean (also known as the English sonnet). Each type contains 14 lines but comes with its own set of rules.

Petrarchan Sonnet

Characteristics and Rules:

  • 2 stanzas
  • Presents an argument, observation, or question in the first 8 lines
  • Turn (or “volta”) between 8th and 9th lines
  • Second stanza answers the question or issue posed in the first
  • Rhyme Scheme: ABBA, ABBA, CDECDE

Shakespearean Sonnet

  • 3 quatrains (4 lines each) and a couplet (2 lines)
  • Couplet usually forms a conclusion
  • Rhyme scheme: ABAB, CDCD, EFEF, GG

Example of a Sonnet

Shakespeare’s Sonnet 130

My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun;

Coral is far more red than her lips’ red;

If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;

If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.

I have seen roses damask’d, red and white,

But no such roses see I in her cheeks;

And in some perfumes is there more delight

Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.

I love to hear her speak, yet well I know

That music hath a far more pleasing sound;

I grant I never saw a goddess go;

My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground:

And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare

As any she belied with false compare.

2. Villanelle

Villanelles have even more specific rules than sonnets. Luckily, many of the lines are repetitions, but this means you’ll have to take care to make those lines meaningful.

Villanelle Characteristics and Rules

  • 19 lines
  • 5 stanzas of 3 lines each
  • 1 closing stanza of 4 lines
  • Rhyme scheme: ABA, ABA, ABA, ABA, ABA, ABAA
  • Line 1 repeats in lines 6, 12, and 18
  • Line 3 repeats in lines 9, 15, and 19

Examples of Villanelles

“The Waking” by Theodore Roethke

“Do not go gentle into that good night” by Dylan Thomas

3. Haiku

You might remember writing a few of these back in grade school, because not only are these poems short, but they can be very fun to write.

The haiku originated in 17th-century Japan. Although they usually refer to nature, the only real rule applies to the number of syllables in each line, so you can let your imagination run wild with this one.

Haiku Characteristics and Rules

  • 3 lines
  • Line 1 contains 5 syllables
  • Line 2 contains 7 syllables
  • Line 3 contains 5 syllables

Example of Haiku

Matsuo Bashō, “By the Old Temple”:

By the old temple,

peach blossoms;

a man treading rice.

4. Ekphrastic Poems

Ekphrastic poems don’t really have specific rules, but they do speak of another work of art.

Ekphrasis comes from the Greek word for “description,” and that’s exactly what this poem should do: vividly describe a painting, statue, photograph, or story. One famous example is found in the Iliad, where Homer refers to Achilles’ shield.

Examples of Ekphrastic Poetry

Tyehimba Jess, “Hagar in the Wilderness”

Rebecca Wolff, “Ekphrastic”

5. Concrete Poems

Concrete poetry is designed to take a particular shape or form on the page. Poets can manipulate spacing or layout to emphasize a theme or important element in the text, or sometimes they can take the literal shape of their subjects.

Example of Concrete Poetry

“The Altar” by George Herbert was intended to resemble a church altar:

A broken ALTAR, Lord, thy servant rears,
Made of a heart and cemented with tears;
Whose parts are as thy hand did frame;
No workman’s tool hath touch’d the same.
A HEART alone
Is such a stone,
As nothing but
Thy pow’r doth cut.
Wherefore each part
Of my hard heart
Meets in this frame
To praise thy name.
That if I chance to hold my peace,
These stones to praise thee may not cease.
Oh, let thy blessed SACRIFICE be mine,
And sanctify this ALTAR to be thine.

6. Elegy

The elegy is another type of poem that lacks particular rules, but it usually is written in mourning following a death. They can be written for a particular person, or treat the subject of loss more generally.

Example of an Elegy

One famous example of an elegy is Walt Whitman’s “O Captain, My Captain,” which Whitman wrote following the assassination of Abraham Lincoln:

O Captain! My Captain! rise up and hear the bells;

Rise up—for you the flag is flung—for you the bugle trills;

For you bouquets and ribbon’d wreaths—for you the shores a-crowding;

For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning;

Here captain! dear father!

This arm beneath your head;

It is some dream that on the deck,

You’ve fallen cold and dead.

My Captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still;

My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse nor will;

The ship is anchor’d safe and sound, its voyage closed and done;

From fearful trip, the victor ship, comes in with object won;

Exult, O shores, and ring, O bells!

But I, with mournful tread,

Walk the deck my captain lies,

Fallen cold and dead.

7. Epigram

Epigrams are short, witty, and often satirical poems that usually take the form of a couplet or quatrain (2-4 lines in length).

Example of an Epigram

An example of this wit is provided by Samuel Taylor Coleridge:

Sir, I admit your general rule,

That every poet is a fool,

But you yourself may serve to show it,

That every fool is not a poet.

Epigrams are not exclusive to poetry. They are also commonly used as literary devices and in speeches. John F. Kennedy’s famous quote, “Mankind must put an end to war, or war will put an end to mankind” is one such example.

8. Limerick

Limericks are humorous poems that have a more distinct rhythm. Their subject matter is sometimes crude, but always designed to offer laughs.

Limerick Characteristics and Rules

  • 5 lines
  • 2 longer lines (usually 7-10 syllables)
  • 2 shorter lines (usually 5-7 syllables)
  • 1 closing line to bring the joke home (7-10 syllables)
  • Rhyme scheme: AABBA

Examples of Limericks

There once was an old man of Nantucket

Who kept all his cash in a bucket

His daughter, called Nan,

Ran away with a man,

And as for the bucket, Nantucket.


A wonderful bird is the pelican,

His bill can hold more than his beli-can.

He can take in his beak

Food enough for a week

But I’m damned if I see how the heli-can.

—Dixon Lanier Merritt

9. Ballad

Ballads usually take a narrative form to tell us stories. They are often arranged in quatrains, but the form is loose enough that writers can easily modify it.

Ballad Characteristics and Rules

  • Typically arranged in groups of 4 lines
  • Rhyme scheme: ABAB or ABCB

Examples of Ballads

“Annabel Lee” by Edgar Allan Poe (first two stanzas):

It was many and many a year ago,

In a kingdom by the sea,

That a maiden there lived whom you may know

By the name of Annabel Lee;

And this maiden she lived with no other thought

Than to love and be loved by me.

I was a child and she was a child,

In this kingdom by the sea,

But we loved with a love that was more than love—

I and my Annabel Lee—

With a love that the wingèd seraphs of Heaven

Coveted her and me.

Some songs fit the ballad definition and have been passed down today. See this excerpt from the Irish ballad “Danny Boy”:

Oh Danny boy, the pipes, the pipes are calling

From glen to glen, and down the mountain side

The summer’s gone, and all the flowers are dying

‘Tis you, ‘tis you must go and I must bide.

10. Epitaph

An epitaph is much like an elegy, only shorter. Epitaphs commonly appear on gravestones, but they can also be humorous. There are no specific rules for epitaphs or their rhyme schemes.

Examples of Epitaphs

From William Shakespeare’s gravestone:

Good friend for Jesus sake forbeare,

To dig the dust enclosed here.

Blessed be the man that spares these stones,

And cursed be he that moves by bones.

“Epitaph” by Edna St. Vincent Millay

Heap not on this mound

Roses that she loved so well:

Why bewilder her with roses,

That she cannot see or smell?

She is happy where she lies

With the dust upon her eyes.

11. Ode

Odes address a specific person, thing, or event. The ode is believed to have been invented by the ancient Greeks, who would sing their odes. Modern odes follow an irregular pattern and are not required to rhyme.

Example of an Ode

“Ode to the West Wind” by Percy Bysshe Shelley

Scatter, as from an unextinguish’d hearth

Ashes and sparks, my words among mankind!

Be through my lips to unawaken’d earth

The trumpet of a prophecy! O Wind,

If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?

12. Free Verse

Free verse is exactly what its name implies. There are no rules, and writers can do whatever they choose: to rhyme or not, to establish any rhythm. Free verse is often used in contemporary poetry.

Example of a Free Verse Poem

“A Noiseless Patient Spider” by Walt Whitman

A noiseless patient spider,

I mark’d where on a little promontory it stood isolated,

Mark’d how to explore the vacant vast surrounding,

It launch’d forth filament, filament, filament, out of itself,

Ever unreeling them, ever tirelessly speeding them.

And you O my soul where you stand,

Surrounded, detached, in measureless oceans of space,

Ceaselessly musing, venturing, throwing, seeking the spheres to connect them,

Till the bridge you will need be form’d, till the ductile anchor hold,

Till the gossamer thread you fling catch somewhere, O my soul.

How To Write A Poem

Poetry can be a wonderful outlet for expressing your feelings and putting those experiences into words.

Unfortunately, just the thought of sitting down and writing a poem can be extremely intimidating, which is why so few of us actually try it.

We let those little everyday moments of inspiration float away, never giving them a chance to become words that live forever.

But once you learn a few poetry basics, you’ll find that with practice anyone can be a poet.

It probably won’t be easy at first, and you might not even like much of what you write—but even at the very worst, you’ll have an excellent base from which to build your skills.

Tips for writing Poetry

While there’s no perfect formula for a great poem, these ten steps can help you get off to a great start.

1. Find Inspiration in the Ordinary

If you want to try your hand at poetry but aren’t quite sure what to write about, don’t fret.

As with any kind of creative writing, you don’t have to look much farther than the places, things, and people in your everyday life to find inspiration.

You can write about your backyard, a day at the beach, a memory of your mom—your options are endless, and there are no “wrong” subjects.

The important thing is that your topic is accessible to the reader. Find something universal—something that anyone can relate to or understand—and put a creative spin on it.

2. Know Your Goal

Ask yourself why you’re writing a poem. Is it to capture a special moment forever? To describe the beauty of nature, or the essence of a person? Do you want to make readers laugh, cry, think, or feel inspired?

Determine a clear purpose before you start your first draft. Keep your goal in mind as you compose each verse—every line you write should serve the poem’s main purpose.

Having a clear goal will also help you determine which images and literary devices might best suit your poem.

3. Develop Strong Images

You’ve probably heard about the importance of showing, rather than telling, in literature. The same idea applies to poetry.

Rather than telling your readers about a moment or experience, show them by using detailed imagery. Make them feel as if they’ve just entered the scene with you and can see everything themselves.

Use vivid descriptors to appeal to readers’ senses. Don’t go straight for the big picture or general feeling that you want to convey—describe how something feels, smells, sounds, or tastes to help you get there.

Also keep in mind that with each word comes an opportunity to add meaning. You can study some of the most common symbols in literature to choose images that will bring added depth to your poem.

4. Use Metaphors and Similes

Metaphors and similes are two ways to create imagery in your writing without simply listing adjectives.

Metaphors can be quite poetic themselves, as they directly compare two unlike objects.

The expression “love is a battlefield” is an example of a metaphor.

However, if we were to say “love is like a battlefield,” we would be dealing with a simile, which compares two objects using words like “like” or “as.”

Both are handy tools that can help your poems draw comparisons and make suggestions for added depth.

5. Avoid Clichés

A cliché is a phrase or thought that is overused and fails to contribute an original thought.

While similes and metaphors are incredibly useful tools, some have also become clichés.

For example:

Without her glasses, Velma was as blind as a bat.

When he was hungry, David could eat like a pig.

But clichés aren’t just limited to overused phrases. You might have noticed that many films or books repeat the same tired themes that you’ve already seen dozens of times. Try not to do the same in your poetry.

To avoid clichés, write about what only you can. Brainstorm a list of ideas based on your experiences, or topics that you feel very strongly about.

If you can put your feelings or experiences into words without reusing cookie cutter phrases or themes, that’s what you should write about.

6. Use Concrete Language

Concrete words describe things we can feel or sense, whereas abstract language describes concepts or feelings.

The problem with abstract language is that many concepts or feelings carry different meanings for different people.

For example, the sentence “Sarah was happy that it was a beautiful day” contains abstract words.

What is a beautiful day? If asked individually, each one of us would probably offer a different definition.

A more concrete example would be:

Sarah’s heart was warm with joy because after a long winter, the sun was finally shining bright, birds were signing, and a gentle sea breeze caressed her face.

From the sentence above, readers will get a much clearer idea of what Sarah’s “beautiful day” looks like. Thanks to the sensory details, they can also imagine what she sees, hears, and feels.

7. Aim for Minimalism

In poetry, every word should be essential. Once you’ve written a first draft, go back and cut out any words or phrases that don’t contribute to your original goal.

If you can do away with a word without losing any of the emotion or meaning behind your poem, then that word isn’t necessary.

We’ve mentioned that imagery and vivid language are essential for good poetry—but sometimes it’s easy to get carried away with fancy adjectives.

Strip your poem down to the words that are absolutely essential. Being descriptive doesn’t mean adding in discardable fluff.

8. Revise

Once you have a first draft, put your poem aside for a few days before coming back to it.

(If you spend days scrutinizing the same few sentences over and over, you might miss something important, or lose sight of the big picture.)

With fresh eyes, look for anything that could be confusing or hard to follow for your readers. Remember that they aren’t mind readers, so just because something is clear to you doesn’t mean it will be so self-evident to everyone else.

Try reading your poem aloud to see if it flows the way you intended, or maybe let a friend read it and provide feedback. Give yourself as much time as you need for the revision process—good poetry is something that can’t be rushed.

9. Break the Rules

Very few people stand out enough to make it as a poet (or much else in the art and literature space) by doing what everybody else does. Very few people successfully break out with marketing themselves by following all the basic rules all the time.

Throughout your poetry career, break the rules. Shatter the conventions. Spit in the face of the norms. Go nuts. Most of these experiments will fall flat, but a few could help you make your name. Of course, you first have to know all the rules cold. Otherwise you won’t know which rules to break, and how best to break them.

10. Write Fearlessly

The best poetry says the things people are afraid to say, and explores emotions most of us want to pretend aren’t there.

Your best poetry will come when you tackle topics, experiences, styles, and themes that scare you. That’s true of every kind of writing, but especially true of poetry. It’s how you make that little handful of words so powerful and compelling.

Don’t be afraid to fail. Too many poets never really “go for it” because they fear they’ll miss their shot. Forget that. It’s better to try and fail than to chicken out. Besides, it makes a great story. Or even great inspiration for your next poem.

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