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Lyric Poetry: Types and Examples

Lyric Poetry: Types and Examples

Lyric poetry is probably the most common form of poetry which has been in use for years. The following article will give you a brief insight into the characteristics of a lyric poem, a few examples, and tips on how to write a lyric poem.
Shruti Bhat
Lyric poems are called so because they were originally meant to be to set to music, accompanied by a musical instrument called the lyre.

Lyric poetry originated in the Ancient Greece. In the years that followed, this style of writing spread all through Europe. This form of poetry has witnessed a lot of ups and downs in its popularity. Yet, it has managed to thrive in one form or the other until now.

Lyrical poetry revived itself during the Renaissance period with the help of brilliant writers like Shakespeare, Edmund Spenser, and John Milton; and in the Romantic era with the help of Robert Burns, William Blake, William Wordsworth, John Keats, Shelley, Victor Hugo, etc. Each form of lyrical poetry is a descriptive and intricate ensemble of words depicting intense and complicated emotions. Given below are the characteristics of a lyric poem elaborated with examples that will help you in understanding the making of a lyric poem.

Characteristics of a Lyric Poem

Lyric poems are written from the first person's point of view. This form of poetry does not tell a story portraying characters or actions. This form usually revolves around the emotions, perceptions, and state of mind of the poet.

Example of a Lyric Poetry

Dying by Emily Dickinson

I heard a fly buzz when I died;
The stillness round my form
Was like the stillness in the air
Between the heaves of storm.

The eyes beside had wrung them dry,
And breaths were gathering sure
For that last onset, when the king
Be witnessed in his power.

I willed my keepsakes, signed away
What portion of me I
Could make assignable,-and then
There interposed a fly,

With blue, uncertain, stumbling buzz,
Between the light and me;
And then the windows failed, and then
I could not see to see.

Explanation: Observe the rhyme scheme of the poem, it is ABCB and uses and Iambic meter. It's broken up into quatrains. The poem does not speak of a particular character, or tell a story. It speaks of an observation she makes just when she is about to die. Her detachment from all the worldly belongings including the people that were present around her deathbed is evident in the poem. The poem is hypothetical and expresses her intense emotions about death as she lays dying.

Types of Lyric Poetry

Lyric poetry includes subcategories like ode, sonnet, occasional poetry, dramatic monologue, and elegy.

An ode is a long serious poem, mostly about nature, object of attraction, or aimed at adoring someone or something.

Ode to a Nightingale or Ode on a Grecian Urn by John Keats, Ode on Intimations of Immortality by William Wordsworth are a few examples of famous odes.

Example of an Ode

Ode To A Nightingale by John Keats

My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains
My sense, as though of hemlock I had drunk,
Or emptied some dull opiate to the drains
One minute past, and Lethe-wards had sunk:
'Tis not through envy of thy happy lot,
But being too happy in thine happiness,
That thou, light-winged Dryad of the trees
In some melodious plot
Of beechen green, and shadows numberless,
Singest of summer in full-throated ease.

O, for a draught of vintage! that hath been
Cool'd a long age in the deep-delved earth,
Tasting of Flora and the country green,
Dance, and Provençal song, and sunburnt mirth!
O for a beaker full of the warm South,
Full of the true, the blushful Hippocrene,
With beaded bubbles winking at the brim,
And purple-stained mouth;
That I might drink, and leave the world unseen,
And with thee fade away into the forest dim:

Explanation: This ode has a ABABCDECDE rhyme scheme and follows an Iambic pentameter. Though it may seem that the poem speaks of a nightingale, it is in fact symbolic of the desire of anonymity. It also celebrates her (nightingale's) freedom from the world, and her enchanting voice, and celebrates every aspect of being a bird in every way.

Sonnets are lyric poems comprising 14 lines falling into 3 quatrains followed by a couplet.

Sonnet 18 by Shakespeare, Death be not proud by John Donne, Sonnet 43 by Elizabeth Browning are a few of the famous sonnets.

Example of a Sonnet

Sonnet 43 by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

"How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of Being and ideal Grace.
I love thee to the level of everyday's
Most quiet need, by sun and candlelight.
I love thee freely, as men strive for Right;
I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood's faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints―I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life!―and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death."

Explanation: 'Sonnet 43', by Elizabeth Barrett Browning is a simple sonnet proclaiming her undying love for her husband-to-be. The poem expresses her emotions and feelings towards him. Thus it has immense imagery without a story or characters and is written in first person. She uses the ABBAABBACDCDCD rhyme scheme with an Iambic pentameter.

Dramatic Monologue
Dramatic monologues are also known as a persona poem. This type of poetry is highly narrative and imagined by the person, which reveals the aspects of his/ her character and nature while describing a situation or event. They are often lengthy, famous, and fall under lyric poetry.

The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock by T. S. Eliot, My Last Duchess by Browning are some notable dramatic monologues.

Example of a Dramatic Monologue

My Last Duchess by Robert Browning

That's my last Duchess painted on the wall,
Looking as if she were alive. I call
That piece a wonder, now: Fra Pandolf's hands
Worked busily a day, and there she stands.
Will't please you sit and look at her? I said
"Fra Pandolf" by design, for never read
Strangers like you that pictured countenance,
The depth and passion of its earnest glance,
But to myself they turned (since none puts by
The curtain I have drawn for you, but I)
And seemed as they would ask me, if they durst,
How such a glance came there; so, not the first
Are you to turn and ask thus. Sir, 'twas not
Her husband's presence only, called that spot
Of joy into the Duchess' cheek: perhaps
Fra Pandolf chanced to say "Her mantle laps
Over my lady's wrist too much," or "Paint
Must never hope to reproduce the faint
Half-flush that dies along her throat": such stuff
Was courtesy, she thought, and cause enough
For calling up that spot of joy. She had
A heart-how shall I say?-too soon made glad,
Too easily impressed; she liked whate'er
She looked on, and her looks went everywhere.
Sir, 'twas all one! My favour at her breast,
The dropping of the daylight in the West,
The bough of cherries some officious fool
Broke in the orchard for her, the white mule
She rode with round the terrace-all and each
Would draw from her alike the approving speech,
Or blush, at least. She thanked men,-good! but thanked
Somehow-I know not how-as if she ranked
My gift of a nine-hundred-years-old name
With anybody's gift. Who'd stoop to blame
This sort of trifling? Even had you skill
In speech-(which I have not)-to make your will
Quite clear to such an one, and say, "Just this
Or that in you disgusts me; here you miss,
Or there exceed the mark"-and if she let
Herself be lessoned so, nor plainly set
Her wits to yours, forsooth, and made excuse,
-E'en then would be some stooping; and I choose
Never to stoop. Oh sir, she smiled, no doubt,
Whene'er I passed her; but who passed without
Much the same smile? This grew; I gave commands;
Then all smiles stopped together. There she stands
As if alive. Will't please you rise? We'll meet
The company below, then. I repeat,
The Count your master's known munificence
Is ample warrant that no just pretence
Of mine for dowry will be disallowed;
Though his fair daughter's self, as I avowed
At starting, is my object. Nay, we'll go
Together down, sir. Notice Neptune, though,
Taming a sea-horse, thought a rarity,
Which Claus of Innsbruck cast in bronze for me!

Explanation: The psyche of the Duke of Ferrara is revealed in this poem as he speaks of his deceased wife and of the prospective new ones to come. The Duke narrates how his former wife was easily pleased and would react the same way with one and all, whether they were cherries brought to her by the peasant or getting married to the Duke himself. And it is hinted that in a jealous rage he gave commands which could mean he commanded for her untimely demise. At the end of the poem he points out to a bronze statue of Neptune taming a seahorse - which depicts his need to keep things in control.

This too has an Iambic pentameter and uses Enjambed rhyming couplets.

Occasional Poetry
An occasional poetry is written on a specific occasion. This form of poetry falls under lyric poetry as it is meant for a performance, accompanied by instruments.

Epithalamion by Edmund Spenser, Lycidas by Milton are two of the most renowned occasional lyric poetry.

Example of an Occasional Poetry

The Charge of the Light Brigade By Tennyson

Half a league, half a league,
Half a league onward,
All in the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.
"Forward, the Light Brigade!
Charge for the guns!" he said.
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

"Forward, the Light Brigade!"
Was there a man dismayed?
Not though the soldier knew
Someone had blundered.
Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die.
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon in front of them
Volleyed and thundered;
Stormed at with shot and shell,
Boldly they rode and well,
Into the jaws of Death,
Into the mouth of hell
Rode the six hundred.

Flashed all their sabres bare,
Flashed as they turned in air
Sabring the gunners there,
Charging an army, while
All the world wondered.
Plunged in the battery-smoke
Right through the line they broke;
Cossack and Russian
Reeled from the sabre stroke
Shattered and sundered.
Then they rode back, but not
Not the six hundred.

Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon behind them
Volleyed and thundered;
Stormed at with shot and shell,
While horse and hero fell.
They that had fought so well
Came through the jaws of Death,
Back from the mouth of hell,
All that was left of them,
Left of six hundred.

When can their glory fade?
O the wild charge they made!
All the world wondered.
Honour the charge they made!
Honour the Light Brigade,
Noble six hundred!

Explanation: This poem commemorates a battle in the Crimean War. The poet directly speaks of this battle and makes the listener or reader feel like they are a part of it. He describes the scene of war between the British and the Russian Empire in the Crimean War. The British soldiers are referred to as Light Brigade who are going head on into their impending doom. The composition makes this poem an epitome of tragic heroism.

During the classic literature era, an elegy used to be a simple poem written in an elegiac meter meaning alternating lines consisted of dactylic hexameter and pentameter. However post the 16th century, this form of lyric poem laments the death of someone. A famous form of elegy is the pastoral elegy which speaks of the simple life of the shepherd and his observations.

Milton's Lycidas, Matthew Arnold's Thyrsis, Shelley's Adonais, and In Memory of W. B. Yeats by W. H. Auden are just a few examples of famous elegies.

Example of an Elegy

O Captain! My Captain!, by Walt Whitman

"O Captain! My Captain! our fearful trip is done;
The ship has weather'd every rack, the prize we sought is won;
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring:
But O heart! Heart! Heart!
O the bleeding drops of red,
Where on the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.

O Captain! My Captain! rise up and hear the bells;
Rise up-for you the flag is flung-for you the bugle trills; 10
For you bouquets and ribbon'd wreaths-for you the shores a-crowding;
For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning;
Here Captain! Dear father!
This arm beneath your head;
It is some dream that on the deck,
You've fallen cold and dead.

My Captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still;
My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse nor will;
The ship is anchor'd safe and sound, its voyage closed and done;
From fearful trip, the victor ship, comes in with object won; 20
Exult, O shores, and ring, O bells!
But I, with mournful tread,
Walk the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead."

Explanation: At first the poet speaks of a victorious return of a ship. He narrates that the joy of the people on land and slowly reveals the death of the captain. This is a direct hint to the sad demise of Abraham Lincoln after the Civil war. However, in reality he mourns the death of Abraham Lincoln. He speaks of the civil war in this poem.

As for the technical part of the poetry Whitman has used AABBCDED rhyme scheme and an iambic pentameter.


All types of lyric poetry fall under a meter. It is an underlying structure beneath the words which helps you emphasize or stress on certain words of the poem.

Iambic: Iambic Pentameter is a standard line with five iambic feet in a row. DUM da or da DUM is one iambic foot.
Explanation: DUM da DUM da DUM da DUM da DUM da
Example: If music be the food of love, play on

Trochaic Tetrameter: Trochaic Tetrameter is opposite of Iambic Pentameter and has four trochees.
Explanation: DUM da DUM de DUM da DUM de

Pyrrhic: Pyrrhic is also known as a dibrach, which consists of two unaccented, and has short syllables.
Example: When the blood creeps and the nerves prick.
Explanation: da dum

Anapestic: Anapestic is a quantitative meters which is made up of two short syllables followed by a long one. The accentual stress meters consists of two unstressed syllables followed by one stressed syllable.
Example: I must finish my journey alone
Explanation: da da DUM

Dactylic: Dactylic is reverse of Anapestic metrical foot of three syllables, one being stressed followed by two unstressed.
Example: Half a League, Half a League, Half a League, onward
Explanation: DUM da da DUM da da

Spondee: Spondee is a metrical foot which consists of two accented syllables.
Words like: Shortcake, drop-dead, dead man, childhood, black hole, breakdown, love-song.
Explanation: da DUM

Tips to Write a Lyric Poem

Research and read the different forms of lyric poetry carefully and choose a form that you would like to write upon. Read a couple of poems from the same genre to help you get into the flow of writing and rhythm.

Remember that lyric poetry revolves around emotions and feelings, therefore, begin by writing down your feelings. No matter what you feel, be it love, sadness, loss, anger, etc. For example, if anger is your subject - you can begin by describing how it feels to be upset. Become more aware of your senses and how they make you feel, allow the words and feelings to radiate within you. Then set them free on paper, allow the words flow into something like this:

This anger, this rage coursing through my veins,
Let me go, set me free and gallop without reins,
Feelings are lost and all that remains,
Is the vexing and nudge that drives me insane.
- Shruti Bhat

Convey your feelings in a way that it helps you set the scene right. Describe everything you interpret when you are angry, like the way your tongue tastes like heated metal and your breath like fiery heat... so on and so forth. Jot down exactly what you feel. Begin with a few lines and try to incorporate a rhyme while writing itself. If you get stuck with some words use a thesaurus to find an apt rhyme.

Once you are done with one stanza move on to the next. Keep writing till all your thoughts are on the paper. Read carefully and set a perfect rhyme and rhythm to your poem. And in no time you will have for yourself a lyrical poem.

Lyric poetry resembles a musical composition with elements like alliteration, consonance, rhyme, and meter. They often consist of free verse which are rich in music of vowel and consonant sounds.

Wording your emotions with a lyrical poem can thus transform a simple string of words into a legendary piece of art.