Unseen Poetry


Poetry is one of the three genres of literature written in lines and stanzas. Historically, poetry is the oldest of the three genres of literature, having been practised since primordial times in songs and chants. Poetry is also the shortest of all the other genres, which explains why poets usually use imagery and symbol in conveying their ideas. This often leads to opacity which is observed in some poems. Despite its tendency to be opaque, poetry can be fun given its rhythmic nature. It is also why poetry is meant to be read aloud so as to maximise its musical and rhythmic potentials. In unseen poetry, the candidate is usually given a poem or a poetry extract which is assumed to be new and untaught. The candidate is to rely on her knowledge of poetry elements, types and literary style to comprehend the poetry passage.

Types of Poetry

There are many types of poetry. These include epic, mock epic, elegy, dirge, threnody, ode, lyric, ballad, sonnet, limerick, idyll, acrostic poetry, panegyric, narrative poem, lampoon, satirical poem, dramatic poetry, pastoral poetry, pastoral elegy, haiku, terza rima, clerihew, cinquain, didactic poetry.

Epic is one of the oldest forms of poetry. It can be defined as a long narrative poem that is written in an elevated style and which relates the heroic deeds of its characters. A good example is Homer’s Iliad. Epics are usually organised in books and cantos.

Mock epic uses the formal and dignified style of the epic to treat a trivial subject matter. It is also called mock heroic epic because it uses heroic couplets.

An elegy is a poem that mourns a loss. The loss could be a treasurable object, an abstract ideal or the passing away of a dear one. Elegy is characterised by a melancholic tone. An example of an elegy is Thomas Gray’s ‘Elegy on a Country Churchyard’.

A dirge is more spontaneous than an elegy though both are poetic forms that lament the demise of a loved one. Dirge is songlike. A threnody is a short poem that mourns the dead.

An ode is a praise poem written to eulogise a person or thing. There are three major types of ode. These are the Pindaric or the regular ode, the irregular ode and the Horatian ode. The Pindaric ode is named after its Greek originator Pindar. His odes were modelled on the songs sung by the Chorus in Greek drama. They were organised in three sets or stanzas known as strophe (sung when the dance rhythm moves right), antistrophe (sung when the dance rhythm moves left) and epode (when the dance rhythm stands still). In English poetry, the Pindaric or regular ode is modified so that all the strophes and antistrophes are written in one stanza pattern, while all the epodes are written in another stanza. Percy Bysshe Shelley’s ‘Ode to West Wind’ is an example of regular ode.

The irregular ode is more popular than the regular ode apparently because of its simplicity of the style. It was introduced by Abraham Cowley who imitated Pindar but allowed each stanza to establish its own rhythm and stanzaic structures. Horatian ode is named after its Roman originator by name Horace. Horatian ode is calm, meditative and colloquial. It is homostropic in the sense that it is written in a single repeated stanza form. John Keats’ ‘To Autumn’ is an example of Horatian ode.

A lyric is a short poem that expresses intense emotions. It is usually sung traditionally to the music of the lyre. Most church hymns are lyrical poems. Sonnets and odes all have lyrical qualities. 

A Ballad is a narrative poem which is often rendered in the form of a song. Also called popular ballad or folk ballad, traditional ballads were orally transmitted in song forms. Ballad is dramatic, condensed and impersonal. The story usually begins from the end and works its way back to the beginning. Dialogue is also one of the devices used in the story by a narrator who tries to be as objective and as impersonal as it is possible. Ballads are usually written in quatrains known as ballad stanza, where by the first and the third lines have eight syllables while the second and fourth lines have six syllables, all in iambic tetrameter. A broadside ballad is so called because it was printed on the side of a single sheet called ‘broadside’. It depicts a current topic. The literary ballad is written down and is influenced by the style and form of the traditional ballad. An example is Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s ‘Rime of the Ancient Mariner’, which can also be referred to as lyrical ballad because of its intensity of emotions, with the rhyme scheme: abcb.

A sonnet is a poem of fourteen lines written in iambic pentametre. An example is William shakespeare’s ‘Sonnet 116’.

A limerick is a short light-mood five-line poem written in anapaestic meter with the rhyme scheme: aabba. It has a ridiculous subject matter that tilts towards the obscene. An example of a limerick is Morris Bishop’s limerick about limerick.

The limerick is furtive and mean:

You must keep her in close quarantine,

Or she sneaks to the slums

And promptly becomes

Disorderly, drunk and obscene.

An idyll is synonymous with pastoral poetry. Pastoral poetry depicts the natural environment in its idyllic state. It is one of the oldest forms of poetry dating back to the classical period. It portrays shepherds (pastors) in rural or rustic setting taking care of their sheep, discussing their love life and singing in competitions for prizes. A good example is Christopher Marlowe’s ‘The Passionate Shepherd to His Love’.

Pastoral elegy combines all the characteristics of pastoral poetry and those of the elegy, which means that it mourns the passing of a shepherd in a pastoral setting. A good example is pastoral elegy is John Milton’s ‘Lycidas’.

Acrostic poetry is based on the letters of a particular word or group of words. In other words, the initial letters of the poem usually spell a word when put together. Note how the following poems are written based on the letters of the words ‘Poems’ and ‘Poetry’ in an attempt to define or explain the word itself.

Personal thoughts

Original ideas

Expressive language

Mental images

Sensory details

Putting words

On paper to

Express in part,

Thoughts from me

Right to

Your heart.

Panegyric poetry is a praise poem which has a formal and public outlook and is often used to eulogise kings and persons of noble birth.

A narrative poem is so called because it tells a story. A lampoon is not restricted to poetry as it can be prose. It is satiric in tone and directed at individuals or institutions. Like caricature, lampoon takes a swipe at the physical appearance and character of the individual. A satirical poem ridicules its object’s weaknesses in order to correct them. Dramatic poetry combines the characteristics of drama and poetry. Dramatic poems are usually performed.

Haiku is a Japanese poem organised in three lines and seventeen syllables with the first line having 5 syllables, the second line seven syllables and the third line five syllables. It can be also called hokku and expresses in terse and epigrammatic style the emotional and spiritual response of the poet to nature or an object in a natural environment. A good example of haiku is Matsuo Bashō’s ‘The Old Pond’:

An old silent pond

A frog jumps into the pond –

Splash! Silence again.

A terza rima has an Italian origin and is a poem composed of tercets with the rhyme scheme: aba bcb cdc, ded, and so on.

A cinquain /singkein/ is an American poem invented by Adelaide Crapsey. Like the haiku, a cinquain is epigrammatic in nature. It comprises five lines with 2, 4, 6, 8 and 2 syllables. It has 22 syllables in all. This is called a syllable cinquain. An example is:

Spring time

Fresh smelling air

Play in the rain and sun

Crisp, cool air feels good on my skin


A didactic poem aims to teach moral lessons.

A clerihew is a humorous four line poem with the rhyme scheme aabb written about a person. It was invented by Sir Edmund Clerihew Bentley (1875-1956) when he was only sixteen years old. The poem is biographical in nature and usually mentions its subject in the first line. An example of Clerihew is rendered below:

Sir Humphrey Davy

Abominated gravy.

He lived in the odium

Of having discovered sodium.

Elements of Poetry

By elements of poetry it is meant those resources, tools and concepts that are germane to poetry. Poetry elements are also interpretive tools for poetry critique. A poem is usually a collection of poetry elements. One needs to be armed with poetry elements in order to effectively discuss poetry. There is a long list of poetry elements some of which will be discussed shortly.

Among the many poetry elements are lines and stanzas, rhyme, meter, scansion, rhythm, persona, blank verse, free verse, end-stopped-line, run-on-line, alliteration, assonance, consonance, onomatopoeia, imagery, symbolism, tone and mood.

Lines and Stanzas are the basic organising units of poetry. A stanza is a group of lines that forms a division of poetry. A line is a word or a group of words that makes up a stanza of poem. A two-line stanza is called couplet, a three-line stanza is called a triplet or a tercet. A four-line stanza is a quatrain. A five-line stanza is a quintet/quintain. A sestet is a six-line stanza. An octave is an eight-line stanza. A sonnet is a fourteen-line stanza. A poem of nineteen lines is called a villanelle.

Rhyme refers to the similarity or harmony in the phonetic shape of two or more words. Rhyme can be perfect, true, full or absolute as in when the rhyming words are homophonic words like see/sea, weak/week, or they can be relative or partial as in when the rhyming words share similarities only in parts like praying/shouting, often/listen. There are also internal and end rhymes. Internal rhyme occurs when within a line of poetry. For example: the cost of deer is so dear this year in my area/My son is my sun; he cannot take the rear. Partial rhyme can also be called imperfect rhyme, slant rhyme, near rhyme or pararhyme. End rhyme occurs at the end of the lines of a poem as the name rightly suggests. An example of end rhyme is in ‘area/rear’ in the lines:

The cost of deer is so dear in my area

My son is my sun; he cannot take the rear.

End rhyme can further be classified into masculine, feminine, alternate and eye rhyme. Masculine rhyme is made of a single stressed syllable words. For example, ‘still/hill’ are single stressed syllables in the lines below:

I listened, motionless and still

And as I mounted up the hill

Feminine rhyme is made up of two syllable words where the first syllable is stressed and the second syllable is unstressed. Feminine rhyme is also called double rhyme as it involves the repetition of two syllables. For instance, ‘ending/bending’ constitute feminine rhyme in the lines:

As if her song could have no ending;

And o’er the sickle bending.

Eye rhyme refers to words that appear to rhyme but whose phonetic shapes do not actually match. Examples of words that constitute eye rhyme include: mayor/major, prove/love, rough/bough.

Rime riche is also known as identical rhyme in which the rhyming elements include matching consonants before the stressed vowels. Examples are night/knight, scene/seen, compare/despair, allowed/aloud.

A rhyme involving three syllables is called triple rhyme.

Persona refers to the voice speaking in the poem. This voice is said to represent the poet and should not be confused with the poet.

Imagery refers to the conscious use of words to appeal to the senses. Note that ‘imagery’ is always singular and that ‘images’ is plural. There are visual (sight), auditory (hearing), tactile (touch), gustatory (taste), olfactory (smell), and kinesthetic (movement). 

A symbol is a word whose referent points to another object as its meaning. For instance, In Okara’s ‘Piano and Drums’, the word ‘piano’ which usually means a musical instrument from the West symbolises western culture while ‘drum’, a traditional musical instrument is used to represent African culture. At the same time, the poem draws its imagery chiefly from music to convey the sense of chaos as the two cultures clash. Thus, the imagery in the poem is mostly auditory, which is combined with visual and other forms of imagery.

Consonance refers to the repetition of consonant sounds in a line of a poem at the ends of words in such pairs as little/title, troupe/soup, hustle/jostle, etc.

Tone and Mood

Tone refers to the attitude of the speaker towards the subject matter in a work of art as can be inferred by diction. Mood, on the other hand, refers to the totality of the feeling, emotion and atmosphere in a work as can be inferred from tone. The tone of a work of art can be ironic, light, solemn, satiric, didactic, sentimental, indifferent, plaintive, hilarious, defiant, condescending, admonitory, cynical, fatalistic, melancholic and mysterious, among others.

It should be noted rhythm can signal meaning and tone in a work of art. For instance, if the rhythm of the work is fast and lively, it is likely to convey a happy tone. On the other hand, if the rhythm of the work is slow or dragging, it is likely to convey a sorrowful tone resulting in a mood of despair.

Again, candidates should pay attention to how the persona perceives himself in the poem because that is important in determining. The situation that the persona finds himself also determines the persona’s attitude or reaction to it. It is necessary to pay attention to the modulation of tone. A whole poem or even prose work is not likely to have a single tone. Rather it is usually observed that the tone may shift from stanza to stanza. 

The mood of a work of art can be that of love, joy, happiness, rhapsody, excitement, disappointment, militancy, vigour, anguish, despair, sadness, sorrowful, anger, fear, awe, disgust, hate, anxiety, disillusionment, dejection, resignation, among others.

Unseen Poetry

Let’s study the poem below and then answer the Questions on it

I’m going soldiering:

Mad the rhythm runs

With drumming and with trumpeting

And glory of the guns.

I’ve come home again:

I know that blood is red;

I know how sodden falls the rain

Where flesh lies dead.

The theme of the poem is best described as the A. Love of war B. Glory of war C. Excitement of war D. Reality of war

‘Mad the rhythm runs’ is an example of A. pathos B. oxymoron C. bathos D. inversion

The dominant device in the second stanza is A. alliteration B. assonance C. onomatopoeia D. repetition

The rhyme scheme in the first stanza is A. aabb B. abab C. abaa D. aabc

The two contrasting moods in the poem are A. sadness and hope B. bravery and cowardice C. excitement and disappointment D. calmness and anxiety


Read the passage below and answer the Questions on it

I wonder how long, you awful parasite

Shall share with me this little bed,

And make me, from sweet dreams be lost

By sucking blood from my poor head.

I should but say man has much

Blood, which you and your families do feed

On, for supper, dinner, and lunch,

And besides, you do in my bed breed.

Clever thou art, tiny creature;

You attend me when I am deep asleep

When thou art sure, I can’t you capture,

Just at the time I snore deep.

‘Tis so strange that before twilight,

The bed clear of you would seem;

For not one of you is in my sight

As if your presence was a dream.

  1. The poem is about a A. nightmare B. dream C. raid of bugs D. raid of mosquitoes
  2. The poem is generally made up of A. rhyming couplets B. heroic couplets C. end-stopped-lines D. run-on-lines
  3. The poem is a/an A. monologue B. dialogue C. epilogue D. prologue
  4. The poet’s mood is one of A. sarcasm B. indifference C. joy D. despair
  5. The dominant attitude of the poet is one of A. amazement B. pity C. regret D. nonchalance

Related Posts

3 thoughts on “Unseen Poetry

  1. It is educative and interesting as well. It is simplified in away that will arouse the interest of even those who run or shy away from poetry. Keep it on, Doc.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

error: Content is protected !!