In addition to specific forms of poems, poetry is often thought of in terms of different genres and subgenres. A poetic genre is generally a tradition or classification of poetry based on the subject matter, style, or other broader literary characteristics. Some commentators view genres as natural forms of literature. Others view the study of genres as the study of how different works relate and refer to other works.
Narrative poetry is a genre of poetry that tells a story. Broadly it subsumes epic poetry, but the term "narrative poetry" is often reserved for smaller works, generally with more appeal to human interest. Narrative poetry may be the oldest type of poetry. Many scholars of Homer have concluded that his Iliad and Odyssey were composed from compilations of shorter narrative poems that related individual episodes. Much narrative poetry—such as Scottish and English ballads, and Baltic and Slavic heroic poems—is performance poetry with roots in a preliterate oral tradition. It has been speculated that some features that distinguish poetry from prose, such as meter, alliteration and kennings, once served as memory aids for bards who recited traditional tales.
Notable narrative poets have included Ovid, Dante, Juan Ruiz, Chaucer, William Langland, Luís de Camões, Shakespeare, Alexander Pope, Robert Burns, Fernando de Rojas, Adam Mickiewicz, Alexander Pushkin, Edgar Allan Poe and Alfred Tennyson.
- Epic poetry
Epic poetry is a genre of poetry, and a major form of narrative literature. This genre is often defined as lengthy poems concerning events of a heroic or important nature to the culture of the time. It recounts, in a continuous narrative, the life and works of a heroic or mythological person or group of persons. Examples of epic poems are Homer's Iliad and Odyssey, Virgil's Aeneid, the Nibelungenlied, Luís de Camões' Os Lusíadas, the Cantar de Mio Cid, the Epic of Gilgamesh, the Mahabharata, Valmiki's Ramayana, Ferdowsi's Shahnama, Nizami (or Nezami)'s Khamse (Five Books), and the Epic of King Gesar. While the composition of epic poetry, and of long poems generally, became less common in the west after the early 20th century, some notable epics have continued to be written. Derek Walcott won a Nobel prize to a great extent on the basis of his epic, Omeros.
Dramatic poetry is drama written in verse to be spoken or sung, and appears in varying, sometimes related forms in many cultures. Greek tragedy in verse dates to the 6th century B.C., and may have been an influence on the development of Sanskrit drama, just as Indian drama in turn appears to have influenced the development of the bianwen verse dramas in China, forerunners of Chinese Opera. East Asian verse dramas also include Japanese Noh. Examples of dramatic poetry in Persian literature include Nizami's two famous dramatic works, Layla and Majnun and Khosrow and Shirin, Ferdowsi's tragedies such as Rostam and Sohrab, Rumi's Masnavi, Gorgani's tragedy of Vis and Ramin, and Vahshi's tragedy of Farhad.
Poetry can be a powerful vehicle for satire. The Romans had a strong tradition of satirical poetry, often written for political purposes. A notable example is the Roman poet Juvenal's satires.
The same is true of the English satirical tradition. John Dryden (a Tory), the first Poet Laureate, produced in 1682 Mac Flecknoe, subtitled "A Satire on the True Blue Protestant Poet, T.S." (a reference to Thomas Shadwell). Another master of 17th-century English satirical poetry was John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester. Satirical poets outside England include Poland's Ignacy Krasicki, Azerbaijan's Sabir and Portugal's Manuel Maria Barbosa du Bocage.
Lyric poetry is a genre that, unlike epic and dramatic poetry, does not attempt to tell a story but instead is of a more personal nature. Poems in this genre tend to be shorter, melodic, and contemplative. Rather than depicting characters and actions, it portrays the poet's own feelings, states of mind, and perceptions. Notable poets in this genre include John Donne, Gerard Manley Hopkins, and Antonio Machado.
An elegy is a mournful, melancholy or plaintive poem, especially a lament for the dead or a funeral song. The term "elegy," which originally denoted a type of poetic meter (elegiac meter), commonly describes a poem of mourning. An elegy may also reflect something that seems to the author to be strange or mysterious. The elegy, as a reflection on a death, on a sorrow more generally, or on something mysterious, may be classified as a form of lyric poetry.
Notable practitioners of elegiac poetry have included Propertius, Jorge Manrique, Jan Kochanowski, Chidiock Tichborne, Edmund Spenser, Ben Jonson, John Milton, Thomas Gray, Charlotte Turner Smith, William Cullen Bryant, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Evgeny Baratynsky, Alfred Tennyson, Walt Whitman, Louis Gallet, Antonio Machado, Juan Ramón Jiménez, William Butler Yeats, Rainer Maria Rilke, and Virginia Woolf.
- Verse fable
The fable is an ancient literary genre, often (though not invariably) set in verse. It is a succinct story that features anthropomorphized animals, plants, inanimate objects, or forces of nature that illustrate a moral lesson (a "moral"). Verse fables have used a variety of meter and rhyme patterns.
Notable verse fabulists have included Aesop, Vishnu Sarma, Phaedrus, Marie de France, Robert Henryson, Biernat of Lublin, Jean de La Fontaine, Ignacy Krasicki, Félix María de Samaniego, Tomás de Iriarte, Ivan Krylov and Ambrose Bierce.
Prose poetry is a hybrid genre that shows attributes of both prose and poetry. It may be indistinguishable from the micro-story (a.k.a. the "short short story", "flash fiction"). While some examples of earlier prose strike modern readers as poetic, prose poetry is commonly regarded as having originated in 19th-century France, where its practitioners included Aloysius Bertrand, Charles Baudelaire, Arthur Rimbaud and Stéphane Mallarmé. Since the late 1980s especially, prose poetry has gained increasing popularity, with entire journals, such as The Prose Poem: An International Journal, Contemporary Haibun Online devoted to that genre.
- Speculative poetry
Speculative poetry, also known as fantastic poetry, (of which weird or macabre poetry is a major subclassification), is a poetic genre which deals thematically with subjects which are 'beyond reality', whether via extrapolation as in science fiction or via weird and horrific themes as in horror fiction. Such poetry appears regularly in modern science fiction and horror fiction magazines. Edgar Allan Poe is sometimes seen as the "father of speculative poetry".
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