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Picture of How to Write Poetry
Ever wondered how to write different styles of poetry? While the content of the poems is up to you, there are a variety of common styles that you can use.

Poetry, like other forms of creative writing, can be a great way to propose ideas, convey emotions, and entertain the audience all in one.

Important disclaimer: This is not, nor does it purport to be, the ultimate authoritative source about poetry. This is only a basic introduction to a variety of common styles of poetry. The goal of this Instructable is: to hopefully inspire those who have never written poetry before to try their hand at it and teach them enough to be able to do so, to encourage those who have tried some styles of poetry to expand their repertoire and try some of the others, or just shed a little more light about the subject of poetry and introduce the casual observer to the works of some very famous (and very talented) poets. Who knows? Maybe you'll like some of their poems enough to try your own.

Picture courtesy of http://www2.rccsd.org/RKeim/KEIM'S_POETRY_PAGE.htm
 
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Step 1: Free Verse

Picture of Free Verse
Very simply, poetry does not have to rhyme. While there are many more concrete styles of rhyming poetry, poets sometimes feel that non-rhyming poetry can express ideas in ways that rhyming can't. Neither rhyming or non-rhyming poetry is better than the other--it is a matter of personal preference.

Being unconstrained by a rhyme scheme may make it easier to find the right words for your thoughts; however, it is not necessarily easier to write non-rhyming poetry. Quality non-rhyming poetry requires as much effort and skill as good rhyming poetry.

Non-rhyming poetry is a blanket category: within it, there are many more specific types of poetry.

First, we will look at free verse, which is essentially no-rules poetry: no rhyme scheme, no meter, no syllable limits. The poet abides by his or her own boundaries while writing. The best way to get an idea of free verse poetry is to look at a few examples:

Earth, My Likeness
by Walt Whitman

EARTH, my likeness,
Though you look so impassive, ample and spheric there,
I now suspect that is not all;
I now suspect there is something fierce in you eligible to burst forth,
For an athlete is enamour'd of me, and I of him,
But toward him there is something fierce and terrible in me eligi-
ble to burst forth,
I dare not tell it in words, not even in these songs.

There is no given meter (or arrangement of the words in the line), and no rhyme scheme, yet Whitman manages to put strong emotional sentiment into his words. When writing poetry, you want to put your thoughts into words in whatever way you think most adequately displays them.

Let's look at one more example of free verse poetry:

The Garden
by Ezra Pound

Look at the original version because the formatting is crucial. Notice the tabs he uses--you should not feel forced to line everything up. You are allowed to arrange your poem in any manner you see fit. This can include determining which words are capitalized and which are not--the first word of every line does not always have to be capitalized. The best way to approach free verse may be to just get all of your ideas down on paper and then try to rearrange them to make them flow and give them maximum impact.

Check out these authors for more ideas of free verse (not all of their poems are free verse, though):

Ezra Pound
Walt Whitman
Carl Sandburg

Step 2: Blank Verse

Picture of Blank Verse
Poetry that doesn't rhyme doesn't need to be free verse, though. Many poets keep a structured meter pattern but do not rhyme the lines. This is usually called blank verse. The fixed meter usually means a set number of syllables per line and/or a consistent pattern of stressed syllables. If you are looking to make your poetry flow well and sound consistent, using meter is often a great way to do this.

Let's look at some examples: The first 13 lines of Andrea del Sarto by Robert Browning:

But do not let us quarrel any more,
No, my Lucrezia; bear with me for once:
Sit down and all shall happen as you wish.
You turn your face, but does it bring your heart?
I'll work then for your friend's friend, never fear,
Treat his own subject after his own way,
Fix his own time, accept too his own price,
And shut the money into this small hand
When next it takes mine. Will it? tenderly?
Oh, I'll content him,--but to-morrow, Love!
I often am much wearier than you think,
This evening more than usual, and it seems
As if--forgive now--should you let me sit

This poem follows pentameter--each line has ten syllables.

Another (a long one):

Birches
by Robert Frost

This is iambic pentameter: iambic means that every other syllable is stressed, starting with the second syllable. So the second, fourth, sixth, eighth, and tenth syllables of every line are stressed.

If you like blank verse, check out "Paradise Lost" by John Milton or
Alfred Lord Tennyson

Step 3: Haiku

Picture of Haiku
The haiku is a very simple and popular form of poetry, originating in Japan. A haiku is made up of three lines, with the first having 5 syllables, the second 7, and the third 5 again. Haikus are often centered around nature or related themes.

The sea at springtime.
All day it rises and falls,
yes, rises and falls.

by Buson

Over the wintry
forest, winds howl in rage
with no leaves to blow.

by Natsume Soseki

The earliest haikus were written in Japanese, so the translated versions sometimes do not keep the 5-7-5 syllabic count.

Step 4: Rhyming Couplet and Quatrain

Picture of Rhyming Couplet and Quatrain
A rhyming couplet is a set of lines, back to back, that rhyme. Usually they have the same meter so that they appear as a coherent whole.

Example: Geoffrey Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales is written in rhyming couplets. (Beware, though: it is in Middle English).

From the prologue:
Singing he was, or fluting all the day;
He was as fresh as is the month of May.

This couplet is in iambic pentameter.

A rhyming quatrain is a set of four lines that follow a rhyme scheme. The rhyme schemes could be:
AABB--(the first and second lines rhyme with each other and the third and fourth lines rhyme with each other. In other words, a pair of rhyming couplets together)
ABAB--(the first and third lines rhyme with each other and the second and fourth lines rhyme with each other)
ABBA--(the first and fourth lines rhyme with each other and the second and third rhyme with each other)
ABCB--(the second and fourth rhyme with each other).

Again, quatrains usually have a given meter so that they sound like they flow together.

Some examples: The Hippopotamus by Ogden Nash (my favorite poet of all time)

Behold the hippopotamus!
We laugh at how he looks to us,
And yet in moments dank and grim,
I wonder how we look to him.

Peace, peace, thou hippopotamus!
We really look all right to us,
As you no doubt delight the eye
Of other hippopotami.

Note the AABB rhyme scheme.

Here's Look Back on Time with Kindly Eyes
by Emily Dickinson

Look back on time with kindly eyes,
He doubtless did his best;
How softly sinks his trembling sun
In human nature's west!

This is an ABCB rhyme scheme.

The couplet and the quatrain can be used as building blocks for your poems, as we will see next.

Step 5: Sonnet

Picture of Sonnet
A sonnet is a poem in iambic pentameter made up of fourteen lines. The Elizabethan, or English, sonnet uses quatrains and a couplet following this given pattern:

ABAB CDCD EFEF GG

It is three individual quatrains followed by a couplet (GG).

Shakespeare was an extremely prolific writer of sonnets, and some of his are extremely famous. Let's look at Sonnet 18, "Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer's Day?"

Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer's lease hath all too short a date:
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimm'd;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance or nature's changing course untrimm'd;
But thy eternal summer shall not fade
Nor lose possession of that fair thou owest;
Nor shall Death brag thou wander'st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou growest:
So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this and this gives life to thee.

Notice that each line has ten syllables and every other syllable is stressed. Reading it aloud will help you identify these traits.

The other type of sonnet is the Italian Sonnet, also known as the Petrarchan sonnet. It follows a rhyme scheme of:

ABBA ABBA CDE CDE

This sonnet remains 14 lines all in iambic pentameter. Let's look at "Thou Art Not Lovelier Than Lilacs" by Edna St. Vincent Millay:

Thou art not lovelier than lilacs,--no,
Nor honeysuckle; thou art not more fair
Than small white single poppies,--I can bear
Thy beauty; though I bend before thee, though
From left to right, not knowing where to go,
I turn my troubled eyes, nor here nor there
Find any refuge from thee, yet I swear
So has it been with mist,--with moonlight so.
Like him who day by day unto his draught
Of delicate poison adds him one drop more
Till he may drink unharmed the death of ten,
Even so, inured to beauty, who have quaffed
Each hour more deeply than the hour before,
I drink--and live--what has destroyed some men.

Some poets rearrange the rhyme scheme of the last six lines in their sonnets, so be on the lookout when reading them.

Other famous sonnet writers are John Donne and Elizabeth Barrett Browning.

Step 6: Limerick

Picture of Limerick
The limerick is a five line poem that has a very distinctive rhythm. It follows a rhyme scheme:
AABBA, with the first, second, and fifth rhyming lines being longer than the third and fourth. Limericks are often comical (and sometimes dirty).

This one, from Wikipedia, is very appropriate:

The limerick packs laughs anatomical
In space that is quite economical,
But the good ones I've seen
So seldom are clean,
And the clean ones so seldom are comical.

Reading it aloud will give you a sense of how limericks sound. Limericks can be great fun to write and they have plenty of comic potential. See more of Edward Lear for some of the origins.

Step 7: Villanelle

Picture of Villanelle
The villanelle is a less common and much more difficult form, but it yields very interesting results. It follows a complex scheme of ABA ABA ABA ABA ABA ABA A (and no space between last two lines) with the first line repeated as the third line of the second, fourth, and sixth stanzas. The third line is repeated at the end of the third, fifth, and sixth stanzas.

Let's illustrate this with a very famous villanelle, Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night by Dylan Thomas:

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

The lines "Do not go gentle into that good night" and "Rage, rage against the dying of the light" are repeated in the mentioned pattern, and all of the opening lines of the other stanzas rhyme with them. The middle lines of each stanza rhyme with each other. A very tough style to work with, but it can yield great results.

Step 8: Final Advice and Strategies

Picture of Final Advice and Strategies
Just a little advice before you begin writing--say what you've written out loud! It will help you figure out what sounds good and whether or not the poetry flows well.

Similarly, if you are trying to write in meter, one of the easiest ways is to read the line out loud and see if the stressed syllables fall in the right places while counting total syllables with your fingers.

Writing in fixed meter, though, is very difficult and often time consuming. Trying to write in iambic pentameter is probably not the best place to start; only get there after you are comfortable with keeping lines consistent in terms of number of syllables only.

The best styles to start with are haiku or simple couplets and quatrains. If you give each rhyming line in the couplet/quatrain the same number of syllables without worrying about where the stress falls, it should sound relatively coherent.

If you want a little more of a challenge, you could try free verse or limericks. Free verse is very much in its own category: some people swear by it and others hate it. Try it, see if you like it after a few attempts, and proceed from there.

The hardest of those mentioned here are the sonnet, blank verse, and the villanelle. Again, fixed meter is not easy--so if you are trying these make sure to be patient.

There are other styles besides these as well, and you can always invent your own. If something strikes your fancy, go for it. Poetry should act as a way for you to get an idea across, convey emotion, or put thoughts into words in a way that makes them poignant and entertaining. Poetry often is more memorable than prose, and it can stick in the mind of the reader or the listener for a long time.

When writing, you want to find a quiet place where you won't be distracted. Allotting yourself a given amount of time (during the time of day in which you prefer to write) sometimes helps a writer be more productive.

If you want to check out more good poets and interesting poems, look at these this site:
Shel Silverstein, Langston Hughes, Maya Angelou, e.e. cummings, Pablo Neruda, Edgar Allen Poe, Edward Arlington Robinson are great poets to check out, as are all of the ones mentioned on previous pages.

Other sources to look at and sources I used to help me with this are:
Wikipedia
Poemhunter
Project Gutenberg (a great source for full-length texts)
Walt Whitman Archive
And all of the pictures:
1 2 3 4 5 6 7

Enjoy the poetry!
Edbed21 hours ago
This instructable
delights me, It is good.
Very detail'd and covers all,
The relevant poetic points.
davidmdaye2 months ago

A great article for anyone looking to write poetry I'd also recommend some of the videos here.https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC11Q4-Nq-QjUHcz_gnQJqmQ to help with creativity in your poetry.

JazzmineT made it!7 months ago

HeHe! This is so me!

31.png
ewcrew1 year ago

when we parted I was good and you were dead,

now I'm as good as dead

ewcrew ewcrew1 year ago

I've got another one:

Here I lie,

With nothing
left.

There you
die,

Of life
bereft.

sabu.dawdy1 year ago
gooooooooooooooooooood
This really helped thank!
Truefriend3 years ago
Good article on writing poetry. There's so many kinds of poetry out there. You are right that poetry is a great way to express emotions, get ideas out there and entertain all at once. There's also a new social media site for poets to write and post their poetry on and to show it off to the world. it's www.Pondrin.com
Sarah34 Clark_M3 years ago
Wow, you know about ReadandWritePoems.com too! Ben Grove Has the best bar none poem writing help. And now his ebooks are FREE!

The explanation is really good. I see dedication in the author while he was writing this. I've been looking for this post eversince. This is perfect for my study. :)
by the way I've been studying haiku poems and I'm loving haiku poems examples made by famous poets like basho.
tmoler013 years ago
my poem so far
My lips are the gun,
My smile, tha trigger,
My kisses are the bullets,
Label me a killer
Some time love go's that far, So go ahead and pull tha trigger, Put tho's bullets in my heart so you can keep it forever, SO i mite be a killer if it means being a lover so go on and LABEL ME A KILLER
froper tmoler013 years ago
I like that. I couldn't come up with something like it. It's good so far. :)
hcollins14 years ago
Great article Josh. here are also the best poems of Carl Sandburg , Ezra Pound and Whitman. Keep up the great work...
tpinoy4 years ago
I've been writing poetry for quite some time now but I never stop on searching for more tips to improve my craft. And when I stumbled upon this thread, I can't just resist but to read it. Thanks. By the way this resource maybe of help
How to Write Simple Poems
bowmaster6 years ago
My free verse: I am a butt and I smell like cheese.
My free verse: Run, or the monster will eat...
Cooks99996 years ago
Hello! This picture is..........................................lovely!?
Cooks99996 years ago
Yeah............... keep it up!
This is excellent. I had it in my head to do something similar, but found that it had already been done, and far beyond my capacity. Good job.
fabs6 years ago
Hey, great overview of various kinds of poetry.

Whilst writing poetry can be simple, it can also be very complex, it really depends on how much of a challenge you're up for. Furthermore, it really depends on how much you expect from yourself. As ascii said, don't worry if what you think you've written is really bad... most of the time, other people will enjoy it. On top of that, getting feedback is the only way you're going to get better. :)

Also, if you're looking for inspiration or finding it hard, there are plenty of places on the net to get you started. I was involved at http://www.readwritepoem.org for a while, they have great weekly prompts, and have an emphasis on collaboration, which is a great way to get started if you're feeling shaky.
fabs6 years ago
a bit of a techincal explanation on rhythm here: 'pentameter' refers to the fact that each line has five (penta) metric feet. For example, iambic pentameter indicates that there are 5 iambs in the line. As each iamb has two syllables, every second syllable stressed, that makes 10 syllables per line. note also that there are other kinds of 'meter', such as tetrameter (4 feet).
fabs6 years ago
That's a really good point about "not having to line everything up". In one of my poems, the only difference between 2 drafts was the fact that some lines had one or two spaces at the start of them. I think it's really effective when used well, especially if you're trying to assist some kind of rhythm or conduce your reader into reading it in a particular way.
good job man keep up the good work
crizzsavo6 years ago
This was very helpful for writing poetry! The only thing is can you add the poem Nothing Gold Can Stay by Robert Frost? I was wondering what type of poem that is and I really want to write like that! Thx!
ascii6 years ago
Nice post. I would add a couple of bits of advice for those who want to write poetry: the first is that it is very simple - most people don't do it and anything you write at all will impress people. I only write rhymed verse, because it is a bit more difficult but a lot more impressive. (Just my opinion.) A lot of people write four line verses, with the rhyme scheme AABB. If you change this to ABAB it usually sounds much better, and often little or no changes are needed other than swapping the lines. Don't force a rhyme - if you have to end a line with something like "We did eat" then you need to rewrite it, because it sounds clunky. Similarly given a few minutes thought you can generally swap words out and fix lines with too many or too few syllables. If this doesn't work, put it aside for half an hour and try again. While a specific time and quiet surrounding are nice, I write at work in an engineering office, in rapid email exchanges against a group of people who are probably a lot better than I. The best poems are published in the company newsletter, not because they are good but because I am the editor. Remember, don't worry if it's perfect, just keep at it.
lawizeg7 years ago
Funny, cause i just did a report on John Keats, a famous poet.
kevmalone7 years ago
Excellent. Great examples
skunkbait7 years ago
I'm very sleepy I ate way too much turkey My pants, oh so tight!
Good job..this is one of my favorites from a shirt on threadless: Haikus are easy But sometimes they don't make sense Refrigerator.
hahaha :P
I once thumbtacked myself to the wall of my refridgerator
dude i love threadless!! i want to get some of the shirts that are on there monkey
hay_jumper7 years ago
very nice 'ible thoughtful, linked, and thorough. I henceforth write some.
korculablue7 years ago
Wow! Loved this! As a keen writer of poetry I found much to absorb and lots of useful and/or fascinating tips. Thank you so much