Elements of Poetry; Meaning, Sounds Patterns & Structure


Poetry engenders certain expectations in the readers like hidden messages, metaphors, flowery language and symbolic words that carry deeper connotations. Often the language used is indirect, descriptive and subjective in the way it is experienced by different people.

Thus, poetry is often regarded as more exhaustive and demanding than other forms of literature like prose, etc. Here are the main elements of Poetry:

Meaning of Poetry

A poem can have a hidden meaning play or implicit meanings. Usually, poems address particular things in concrete subjects. For abstract messages and general meaning, it employs images, makes comparisons like the hardness of steel represents resolve, etc.

A great poem is able to incorporate powerful and enticing is great imagery. Apart from the denoted concrete meanings, devices like allegory, metaphor, and symbolism are used to provide figurative depth or metaphorical dimension to the language of the poem.

Other tools like synecdoche, metonymy, personification, and irony add more complexity and mischief to the experience of the reader. Thus, density in a poem is greater than prose as it can be liberal with metaphors, grammar styles, sounds, and rhythms, etc.

Poetry Sound Devices

The sound play of any poem consists of a meter, rhyme scheme, and word sounds. They provide a sense of musicality to the poem and its ability to be spoken.

The changing inflection of sounds or the flow of words is often referred to as cadence. It brings an element of drama, provocation of thought and elicits emotional responses like laughter, sadness, etc.

One way to provide cadence is to use a rhyme scheme. Rhyme, different from rhythm, is basically any repetition in a poem. Usually, it happens at the end of two or more lines.

The sounds are repeated in a pattern that provides rhythmic repeatability to different lines in succession. It is denoted by letters like a,b,c, etc.

Meter is the systematic rhythm (or sound pattern) or regularity of rhythm in a poem and is examined in terms of the type of “foot” which is the rhythmical unit of measurement like feet number.

The foot refers to a pattern of two or three syllables. It could be an Iamb (Iambic) i.e. weak syllable followed by strong syllable, a Trochee i.e. strong syllable followed by a weak syllable, an Anapest i.e. two weak syllables followed by a strong syllable and so on.

The number of feet can also vary from a manometer to hexameter (6 feet in a line). Thus, poems have meters like iambic pentameter, trochaic hexameter, etc.

Blank Verse has a metrical pattern (usually iambic pentameter) but lacks rhyme whereas Free Verse has neither and follows no set rules of meter or rhyme.

It lacks a formal structure. There can also be stress on certain words in the form of alliteration, assonance (vowel repetition), consonance (consonant repetition) or repetition of entire lines.

While harmonious sounds are called euphony (soft and melodious), the harsher sounds are called cacophony (hard and unpleasant).

Poetry Structure and Form

The structure or style is determined by how the poem is organized in terms of lines and patterns. It is usually done in terms of stanzas which are groupings of lines differentiated from other stanzas by a line, just like paragraphs work in prose.

The stanzas could be a couplet (2 lines), tercet (3 lines), quatrain (4 lines) to the octave (8 lines).

In terms of organization and style poems can broadly be lyrical expressing profound emotions or the internal world of a person, narrative i.e. telling a story or descriptive, which describes the outward or external world.

There are other forms like Ode (an elaborate tribute to a thing etc), elegy (about the dead), ballad (having musicality), epic (historical context), Limerick (humorous) or sonnet (either Elizabethan or Petrarchan).

The Elizabethan sonnet or the Shakespearean sonnet or the English sonnet has an iambic pentameter and consists of 14 lines with a rhyme scheme of ABAB CDCD EFEF GG. These are called three quatrains and a couplet.

In Petrarchan or Italian form, there are 14 lines of iambic pentameter divided into the “octet” or the first 8 lines and the “sestet” (the next six). There is a turn or “volta,” between the octet and sestet.

Here the poet gives a different perspective or argument and it occurs between the octet and the sestet. The verses in a poem represent the unit of aggregated thought and thus engage the reader as a whole.

The deep-seated meaning and metaphorical depth are unique to a line and a grouping of coherent lines helps build the strength of a stanza.