Theory of Poetry

by jzr


by jzr

[meister_z Enterprises]


Poetry has perhaps always lay in some men's hearts. Perhaps, as seen from some of the evidence we have discovered in our times, even primitive man held close to him the origins of poetry. He had, for example, the pristine sky above him filled at night with such marvelous stars, such supernumerary lanterns and sparkling bits of sky, all suspended by who knew what, right in the middle of the overwhelming darkness and space of the night -- yes, right in the middle of that stunning vacuum and depth which seemed to go out deeper and deeper and forever. These sensational ideas and thoughts perhaps ran through the inexpert mind of the primordial being hundreds of thousands of years ago, when man was not even man yet, and when man was just on the evolutionary machinery and path of becoming what he has been since about ten or twenty thousand years ago.

These were surely the wonderments which captivated his mind and attention when outdoors at night. They must have been truly marvelous sights to look at in those times. Things have changed since then, and yet if we just take time when we are away from the city, or maybe even when we are in our own back yard, if we just look above us in total darkness, we will still be able to admire the depth of the starry skies which we look at. How much more marvelous must it have been for ancient and primitive man!

It is the sensations that were captivated by the formative human mind that were stored genetically in the remotest depths of the unconscious, that were evolutionarily reserved in the unconscious and instinctive part of the brain and mind. These sensations of admiration and awe for the stars and the wondrous things in nature were the ones responsible for the communion and romance between the very individual and nature; between a man and the world; between a person and the universe; yes, even between a person and God himself. It was the admiration itself which was also responsible for creating the feeling and knowledge of someone or something much, much greater than ourselves. And it was all these things combined, perhaps, which led some person to express these admirations and marvels through a special and very personal manner, the one which we now translate as poetry. He created a kind of expression which turned out to be externally a product or a form called "poetry."

This kind of expression was different from all the other kinds of expression which he had already accumulated. Even if it were in the form of pictographs or something of the like, this kind of expression was different from the rest. And thus poetry was born. Thus poetry came to be part of man's evolutionary heritage.

This is why we still study and enjoy of poetry. It became an intimate part of men's and women's cultures. It became an evolutionary asset, possession, of mankind. And even today we still feel, many of us, the sensations of communion and romance and love or strong feeling which lead us to yet create more and more poetry. Poetry is not only the heritage of mankind -- poetry is the music of the heart, the language of the soul, the expression of the parts we do not see in humans. And it is not only male possessed -- women are part of it, too. Even children form part of our poetry. Poetry is for everyone. /JZR



Poetry, as man's inherited possession, is the expression of strong feeling and thought which leads to a communion between the individual and his surroundings, but most usually between a person and nature, the world, or the universe. Poetry is the means of universalizing and perpetuating a thought, an idea, a feeling, sensation, or internal experience.



Whenever we look at a poem, the first thing we will probably notice is its form. In other words, poems have a given FORM. One poem will look very different from another, and still another poem will look very distinct from the second one, and so on. Each poet uses the "form" which will most effectively EXPRESS what he wants to convey to other human beings.

Traditional poetry used to follow very strict forms. People who still follow these forms nowadays are following the traditional manner and style. But nowadays we know that there is a strong tendency to break from the traditional and to become even very unorthodox, unconventional or even unusual. This kind of poetry is called FREE VERSE. It is most often used in modern times and presents a multitude of possibilities. The poet uses free form to make the poem fit the contents and to express the mood or feeling of his work.


After looking at a poem and seeing that it has some sort of FORM, we often notice that it also consists of LINES. These are the vehicle of the authors thoughts and ideas. These are the building blocks with which to create a poem. The WORDS of each line proceed as usual from left to right, but they curiously end where the poet wants them to stop. Therefore, you may have some lines that are of equal length and others which are not.

Besides the length and margining of the first word in each line, the PUNCTUATION at the end of each is also a major tool for the poet. At times he will want us to make a full stop, other times a gentle or slight pause, and even others perhaps a sudden break, and so on. Ultimately, then, poetry creates sensations, moods, and images in the reader's mind.



The lines in a poem are most often divided into sections looking as some sort of paragraphing. These we call STANZAS. A stanza, therefore, is the grouping of the lines, sort of like a paragraph.



Rhyme is the SONIC imitation usually of end syllables of words. There are basically two kinds of rhyme used in poetry. The first is the most typical and best known by young people, END RHYME, in which the words at the end of a given line rhyme. The second kind of rhyme is called INTERNAL RHYME. This kind of rhyming is different from end rhyme in that the rhyming takes place somewhere within the line and not at the end. But most of us find it more natural to use rhyming at the end and not in the middle of our poem's lines. Still, the most widely read and enjoyed poetry artfully combines these and other patterns and techniques for the creation of the poems.

(Internal Rhyme):

It won't be LONG before my SONG ends the day,
And the FLOWERS near the TOWERS reach the sky.


Rhyme contributes in creating a pattern when read appropriately. It creates a special effect which results in being pleasant and motivating. Humans in general are susceptible to patterns. As a matter of fact, we live with all sorts of patterns every day of our lives. Our very lives are patterns themselves. The human mind itself has an inherent (internal) patterning force and capacity which allows the individual to perceive and create the patterns inherent in poems. And it is rhyme which is one of the contributors to the pattern created in reading or writing a poem:


    RUN ... FUN;


Another contributor to pattern is the number of syllables, as can be seen in the third set of the examples given right above. DE-MONS-TRATE as imitated by WHAT-SHE-ATE. Still another element which contributes to pattern is the accomodation and distribution of the lines. The reader is thus led or even forced into following a given pattern, and BEAT.

But the ultimate creator of pattern is the combination of the STRESSED SYLLABLES IN ANY PARTICULAR LINE of a poem.


This brings us to the topic of RHYTHM, perhaps the pivot point of all the elements, because it is rhythm which creates the pleasant gliding effect when we read a poem. It helps us as readers to travel along the lines of the poem with a certain enjoyable tempo created by the components of rhythm.

Never in my lonely life,
Could you make it -- be my wife.


If only then she had seen,
That crime and anger were to have been.


The length of the lines are different, but it is the combination that creates a certain rhythm.


Now, if the poet just repeats the same pattern with every set of lines in a stanza, and from stanza to stanza, then he will be effectively creating a rhythm. It is the REGULARITY of the REPETITION that tends to create the rhythmical pattern. A BEAT is created when we analyze the STRESSED and UNSTRESSED SYLLABLES within the lines of a poem.

Observe the following lines from a poem:

And as she WALKED to the MOON,
We could ALL hear her SWOON,
To the MARvelous SIGHTS,
In which she NOW so deLIGHTS,


EUPHONY is simply the combination of agreeable and melodious sounds which make a poem pleasant to listen to. It is the nice- sounding tone of a poem when read. This is the reason why a poem is never as effective as when read aloud -- simply because poetry in general deals a lot with the euphonic sounds contained within it. EUPHONY is perhaps one ultimate aim of poetry. The esthete -- the beautiful. It is poetry which allows mankind to express such beauty from within. Poetry itself is beauty created.


Poetry, like every other art, has its techniques and DEVICES. Becoming a poet liked by others is not always an easy thing to do, and it so happens that the cause of this is the way the author of a poem uses the available devices to his advantage or purposes. Below are some of the major devices used in many of the poems we encounter as students of poetry.


The purposeful repetition of a consonant sound in two or more consecutive words, usually at the beginning of such words.




The repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of successive lines or stanzas.

Tomorrow when the sun comes out,
Tomorrow when the birds sing out,
Tomorrow it will come to be,
Tomorrow, when you'll come to me.


The repetition of a word or phrase at the end of one line and at the beginning of the next; or, at the end of the last line in a stanza or verse, and at the beginning of the next stanza.

She will never come to this my land,
To this my land where I belong.


The use of words which imitate the sounds they stand for.



To the sea she went,

Without smiling they parted,

b) HYSTERON-PROTERON (the last first):

Then came the thunder.

Out she went.

Fear she felt.








The use of language, sensory language, language which stimulates the reader's imagination. The use of the sensory language which serves to transmit or invoke the same or similar images in the reader's mind.


The use of variety in length of lines, rhythm, rhyme, distribution of lines and words, and anything else which adds to the EFFECTIVENESS of the poem. Variety may be used to create humor, depression, or many other moods or sensations. The effective poet learns to use variety whenever and wherever it serves his purposes of expression and externalization of internal experiences.


FORMS (of poetry):


TYPES (of poetry):




There are many kinds or types of poems. Some describe what poets see; some what they remember; and others what they perceive through other senses. But other poems are intended to tell a story. These are called NARRATIVE POEMS. Just like the regular stories which you read in your literature courses, a narrative poem also has the same basic elements. It has a setting, one or more characters in it, usually a conflict, a plot which builds up to a climax, and even a conclusion, oftentimes. The story which the narrative poem tells can also be about almost anything.


LYRIC poetry, also called DESCRIPTIVE poetry, is a very personal kind of poetry. It is usually brief, melodic, and very expressive. It is descriptive in essence, and conveys IMPRESSIONS, FEELINGS, EMOTIONS, SENSATIONS, and very personal and INTIMATE VIEWS concerning an experience. Lyric or Descriptive poetry may touch such themes as: nature, beauty, love and friendship, the joy of life, death, patriotism, and the like.


It is probable that you, as student of literature, have never really stopped to think how versatile poetry is. But it is because poetry is so FLEXIBLE, so PLASTIC, that there are so many varieties of poetry in the world or nation. The plasticity of poetry makes it possible therefore for author's to bend and shape this kind of written expression to suit their needs or purposes.

It is no wonder then that some poets should choose HUMOR as their main purpose in writing a poem.


As seen from the introduction of this document, poems possess form. And we also now understand that poems have different forms. Four of these forms will be studied in the course, and they are briefly presented and described in the following and last section.



A LIMERICK is a special type of poem intended to be humorous. It consists of five lines only. It is usually a nonsense verse which often concerns something ridiculous. But even so, it follows a regular and distinctive pattern. Of the five lines, the FIRST, SECOND, and FIFTH lines have the same length. Each one of these contains NINE SYLLABLES, ... and they RHYME. The THIRD and FOURTH lines, which are shorter, contain only FIVE syllables, and they too rhyme. Also, these third and fourth lines are slightly indented -- that is, they are indented by three letters. Following is an example.

There once was a pretty young girl Who had pretty teeth like a pearl, But her fortune did change, When her mom dis-ar-ranged, The nice girl, and her teeth and a curl. This limerick form probably originated in the old town of Limerick in Ireland, and thus borrowed the name from it. But limericks are just for fun and laughter. Here is another example.

A puppy whose hair was so flowing,
There really was no means of knowing
    Which end was his head,
    Once stopped me and said,
"Please, sir, am I coming or going?"


This is a traditional form of poetry which originated in Japan. In form, it is apparently a very simplistic sort of poetry, but the truth is that it is an art trying to create Haiku poetry with the beauty and effectiveness it requires. Haiku poetry consists of only THREE lines in all. Incredible! But, the "trick" here is trying to create as much beauty in such few words as possible.

The first line of the Haiku poem must have FIVE syllables; the second line must have SEVEN syllables; and finally, the third must consist of another FIVE, just like the first. (5/7/5). Thus, the Haiku poet is obliged to describe as vividly as possible, in only seventeen syllables, a picture or IMAGE or SCENE which beautifully forms sharply in the reader's mind. To do this well is a true challenge!

HAIKU may seem like child's play at first... especially to most of us who look on it as merely a game or sort of toy to fool around with. But on closer study and relaxed scrutiny, anyone can easily begin to discover that HAIKU is absolutely NOT mere child's play, but, rather, an ART form -- a POETIC-ART form which requires INTERNAL expression of sensed feelings, impressions, images, colors, visions, and, ultimately, authentic and legitimate Internal, SPIRITUAL and SPONTANEOUS EXPERIENCES which have blended and communed with the elements of Nature, and the universal components of the Cosmos, of the Whole, of the Tao, of the Sacred or Refined blendings with the Absolute and God himself, all expressed in these transcendental sensations and impressions acquired through the oneness with the Natural. Naturalness, Spontaneity, and letting go are therefore crucial to the EXPERIENCE of Haiku.

Below are some samples of Haiku to easily begin to discover that HAIKU is in fact an ART form -- a POETIC-ART form -- which has developed and remained for hundreds of years. Last, notice how Haiku is a very personal event achieved artfully by only a very few, as are all Arts. Only some are gifted or destined to become Masters of the Art. Nevertheless, we can all enjoy of attempting to follow in the footsteps of the Exalted and enjoy making our very own Haiku when we feel ready for it.

You will need to read and learn about the Masters, especially the original creator of the genuine HAIKU, Basho, along with a couple of others who aided furthering Basho's Art into a Traditional form of Japanese and worldly poetry. These you will find in another Section of this Site. You may wish to continue this document on the theory of poetry -- or you may wish now to go on to more learning and information on this POETIC-ART form called Haiku. [Click Here.]



|Dampness and clear dew                | Warmth against my skin         |
|pine smell, grass smell fill the air, | sand dust in the warm moist air,
|sun star bright above.                | sounds of sea water.           |
|No mo yama mo     | Mountains and plains,           |  Japanes Haiku:  |
|  yuki ni torareta|   all are taken by the snow,    |  by Naito Joso   |
|    nani mo nashi |     nothing remains.            |   (1661-1704)    |
|- - - - - - - - - | - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - | - - - - - - - - -|
|Samidare ya       | All the rains of June,          |  Japanese Haiku: |
|  aru yo hisoka ni|   and then one evening, secretly|  by Oshima Ryota |  
|    matsu no tsuki|     through the pines, the moon!|   (1718-1787)    |


As a note of interest, HAIKU was developed during the Tokugawa period in Japan (1603-1620) for the townspeople (commoners), then growing in wealth and power, but whose education was informal: 2 lines set a scene; and the third ends with a sort of spiritual "twist." The third line SPIRITUALIZES the EXPERIENCE and scene depicted through the (first two lines of the) HAIKU.

[End of Haiku Section.]



One of the oldest types of poetry is a special kind of Narrative poem known as the BALLAD. The Ballad tells a story and happens to be quite lengthy. As a rule, a Ballad is concerned with a sharp CONFLICT and with deep HUMAN EMOTION. Once in a great while, though, a ballad here and there will deal with the funnier side of life. But, as a rule ballads dealt with love, honor, courage, and death. Characteristics of a Ballad include the following.

1) They usually involve the common people (although there are some about nobles, too).
2) They usually deal with physical courage and tragic love.
3) They contain little characterization or description.
4) The action in ballads usually moves forward through dialogue.
5) Much of the story is IMPLIED or suggested, forcing the listener to fill in the details.
6) They tell the story in ballad stanzas.

The BALLAD STANZA contains FOUR LINES. The FOURTH line rhymes with the SECOND. The FIRST and THIRD lines usually have FOUR ACCENTED SYLLABLES while the SECOND and FOURTH have THREE each.

BALLAD RHYTHM: Lines 1/3 = 4 BEATS; Lines 2/4 = 3 BEATS.

Come LISten to ME,
you GALlants so FREE,
All YOU that love MIRTH for to HEAR,
And I will you TELL of a BOLD outLAW,
That LIVED in NOTtinghamSHIRE.

As ROBin Hood IN the FORest STOOD,
All UNder the GREENwood TREE,
There WAS he WARE of a BRAVE young MAN,
As FINE as FINE can BE.

[Note: The capitalized syllables are stressed.]
[These stressed syllables create the BEATS.]


The poet uses free form to make the poem fit the contents and to express the mood or feeling of his intentions or purposes. The length of the lines is irregular, the indentation of the lines may also vary from one to the next, it does use rhythm, but it seldom uses end rhyme nor regular stanzas. Capitalization of the first letter in each line and proper nouns is unorthodox or conveniently changed. Punctuation is equally affected, and the distribution of the lines and words is entirely in the hands of the writer. Most poetry we read today, therefore, is Free Verse.


Synoptic Chart

Elements: Lines/ Stanzas/ Rhyme/ Rhythm/ Beat/ (Un)Stressed Syllables/ Euphony/ Pattern.

Forms: Limerick/ Haiku/ Ballad/ Free Verse.

Types: * Narrative/ * Lyric-Descriptive/ Humorous/ Parody

Devices: Simile/ Metaphor/ Personification/ Repetition/ Anaphora/ Anadiplosis/ Alliteration/ Inversion/ Onomatopoeia/ Imagery/ Refrain/ Variety.

jzr TCM

July 18, 1996...
Adapted for this meister_z Site on Fri April 7, 2000.





April 7, 2000.
Updated July 22, 2000.

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