What is a Poem? Definitions, Examples of Literary Poems

Poem definition: A poem is one of the main literary genres that distinguishes itself based on its structure and form.

What is a Poem?

Poems are pieces of literature that follow a particular structure. Poetry allows for the writer to explore his thoughts and feelings regarding a particular subject in a manner that evokes emotion from a reader; therefore, many times poetry is not meant to be critically analyzed rather it is for the reader to experience in a deeper manner that speaks to him or her.

Example Poem

Here is an example of a poem from “Mother to Son” by Langston Hughes:

“Well, son, I’ll tell you:

Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.

It’s had tacks in it,

And splinters,

And boards torn up,

And places with no carpet on the floor—


Types of Poems

Haiku: A haiku is a type of poetry that originated in Japan. This type of poetry is structured and includes three lines that do not rhyme. The first line has five syllables, the second has seven, and the last has five.

Free Verse: This type of poetry utilizes the freedom of not following any particular structure or rhyme scheme such as other types poems. By not following a structure, it allows the poet to display his ideas without having the follow particular guidelines regarding structure and to instead rely on devices such as repetition and figurative language to emphasize the theme.

Epic: An epic is a long narrative poem. This type of poetry tells a story through the course of the piece that revolves around a hero and his journey. The hero of the piece often encounters help as well as struggles with mythical creatures such as gods and goddesses or monsters.

Ballad: A ballad is a type a poetry that is composed with the intention that they will be sung. Oftentimes, these stories are dramatic in nature.

Sonnet: A sonnet is poem that consists of fourteen lines. Sonnets often follow a rhyme scheme dependent on the type of sonnet such as an Italian or Shakespearean sonnet. Sonnets display clear themes, and many times love is the subject of the poem.

Elegy: Elegy poems are reflective in nature. They are a type of poetry that expresses the emotions felt due to the loss of someone or something.

Epitaph: The epitaph is another type of poetry connected to death. These poems discuss the death of a person in either a humorous or solemn manner.

Limerick: A limerick is a type of poem that is lighthearted in nature. This type of poetry follows a particular structure and rhyme scheme. The rhyming of the poem follows the pattern of aabba. The poem is structured using trimeter in lines one, two and five and dimeter in lines three and four.

Villanelle: The villanells is another structured poem. In this type of poetry, the writer uses nineteen lines. These lines are divided into five tercets and a concluding quatrain. The rhyme scheme of a villanelle is aba aba aba aba aba abaa. In addition to the structure and rhyme scheme, this type of poetry also utilizes repetition of lines in a structured manner.

The Function of Poems

Poetry allows for the writer to express poignant emotions in a manner that is more creative and artistic than prose. By doing so, it leaves the reader to experience the message in a personal way and to connect emotionally to the poem. This is why it is often said that poetry should not be critically analyzed but rather experienced by the reader to interpret in a way that is personal to him.

Summary: What Are Poems?

Define poetry: Poetry is one of the main literary genres that often follows a particular structure or rhyme schemes. Poetry is a type of writing that allows the author to display emotions and opinions in a more artistic manner that is left to interpretation.

Final Example:

“The Butterfly” by Pavel Friedmann is a famous poem of the Holocaust:

“The last, the very last,

So richly, brightly, dazzingly yellow.

Perhaps if the sun’s tears would sing

against a white stone…

Such, such a yellow

Is carried lightly ‘way up high.

It went away I’m sure because it wished to

kiss the world goodbye.”