What is the Basic Structure of a Poem? What are its Vital Elements?

We are all familiar with lines that flow and lines that have unconditional connotations to deliver. The basic structure of a poem serves to be the building block and the literary terms used to ordinate the poem follow suit.
To define poetry is to nail down the purpose of poetry. Poems are an entity of literature that display an unwilling demeanor to be defined or to be explained. As Samuel Taylor Coleridge applies his powers of comprehension for poetry, he brings about a definition with such supercilious structure that indeed supersedes all understanding of what poetry penning is all about. Poems like Kubla Khan and Hollow Man illustrate a willing suspension of disbelief with an inherent instinctive message. Kubla Khan celebrates the Utopian desires, the fountainhead, the stately pleasure dome and a vision in a dream that has stark potentials of realization. Hollow Man with its nerve wrenching attitude on display, puts forth the fractured human being, where man has a broken jaw with eyes that cannot see, being described as a man, made of straw.

Poetry has numerous strata on which its unflinching foundation is based. Poetry incorporates essential elements with the meter and verse form playing a major role and the figures of speech being the next foundation stone on which it rests its head. Alliteration, metaphor, simile, presopopaeia or personification, pun, onomatopoeia, hyperbole, burlesque, euphemism, metonymy, synecdoche, irony, satire and malapropism are some of the figures of speech that are employed when a poet pronounces poetry on paper.

Poetry is like a cardigan you have outgrown. If you make an effort and try to fit yourself in, you will end up feeling suffocated. Poetry according to me, has signed an eternal bond with being the indefinable. Poetry is indefinable. Poetry detests the ideas of conforming to laudable definition. The more you try to stifle poetry in shackles of definitive segments, the more you would discover yourself coiling around the phenomenon. My sincere advice to anyone who wants to understand poetry, is to read it, and read it aloud, and I believe that you are bound to find the answer.

When we read poetry, we are gripped by not just the basic but the very cryptical emotions it has the power to evoke. Poetry can make you laugh, cry, believe, reverberate, reflect, resist, remorse, relieve, subjugate. The paws of poetry leave a strong impression and release a cathartic effect on minds, damp with thought and unimaginable perspectives. These emotions are evoked, courtesy the way, the poet pens down his thoughts and feelings. The structure of the poem has a vital role in making poetry presentable to the reader. The emotions it elicits is due to the decisions the poet makes. Significant line breaks, use of specific words, figures of speech and a topographic form of the poem makes all the difference.

Elements of the Structure of a Poem

The Line

LET us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherized upon a table;


These are lines picked from the introductory stanza of the satirical poem, 'The Love Song Of J. Alfred Prufrock'. The love song displays the idea of the evening that is spread against the sky, but how? Like a patient etherized upon a table. There is an instant switch from a romantic demeanor to a serious depressive mode of tone that elicits curiosity in the reader. This is what words do to you. You want to read further because your interest has roused and you have found a cathartic streak in the lines that the poem aims to manifest with thorough analysis. When you are reading the lines from a poem, no matter where it features, be it the literature guide for College students or a publication that has quoted the lines for critical analysis of the poem, you are sure to find the lines printed in the same structure. The first line will end with the letter 'I' and the next line will die on the word 'sky'.

Speed of the Poem
The line of the poem will always decide the speed with which the poem will be read. If the poem is written in a free verse form -- it does not have a definite rhyme attached to it -- the poem need not conform to the definite structure of the poem. If your lines are short the reading will be faster, whereas if they are longer, the reading speed will get affected in an adverse manner.

Look of the Poem
How does the poem appear when printed on paper? Does it look light and feather-touched or does it give an impression of being extremely heavy and wit taxing in nature. Is the poem well punctuated or does it look stretched? Is the poem packed into water-tight compartments or is the poem free-flowing? Does the poem have white spaces in abundance peeping their way out from words or does it have words that are well beaded? These are some of the questions that are asked when the poet finalizes the structure of the poem.

Words in a Poem
Words serve to be the reservoir of emotions and cathartic rehabilitation, the more you read them the more they seep into you and you, knowingly or unknowingly drown into unraveling their true, unadulterated meaning. The words with which the lines end are the most important string of letters, as their aura is carried till you reach the end of the next line.

Pace and Mood of the Poem
The mood of the poem decides the pace of the poem. If the poem is happy with quick stances to deliver, the pace of the poem is fast. If the words are heavy and are loaded with substantial multi-perspective comprehensions the poem is slow paced.

Style of the Poem
This is the most important section of poetry. It is the foundation of every poem, perhaps the only way in which you could categorize poems. Here are some of the most widely used forms and structures in which poems are composed.

Ballad: This is an old style of writing poetry, which was used to tell stories. A ballad usually has stanzas made up of either seven or eight or ten lines, and ends with a short four or five line stanza. Each stanza ends with the same line, which is called 'a refrain'.

Couplet: This is one of the most popular type of poetry form employed. The couplets have stanzas of two lines and the words with which the lines end are meant to rhyme.

Ode: The ode is another method of writing poetry that has the poet delivering his emotions for a beloved who has passed away. It could be described as a lyrical and metrical obituary.

Quatrain: This type of poem has four lines in a stanza where the second and fourth lines rhyme with each other, thus having a similar syllable structure.

Cinquain: This is another unique type of poetry style. As the name suggests, it is made up of five lines. The first line is just one word, which is often the title of the poem. The second line has two words which describe the first line. The third line has three words, and is mostly the action part of the poem. The fourth line is four words describing the feelings. And the fifth line, again, has just one word which is the title of the poem.

Iambic Pentameter: This style is a challenging way of writing poetry and is used by classical poets. This style uses the syllable stresses to create music and sounds to uplift the mood of the poem.

Sonnet: This type of poem contains fourteen lines having a conventional rhyme scheme to follow.

Stream of Thought: The stream of thought poetry is your mind put on paper. The thoughts that strike are simply penned, devoid of fluff accompanied with purity of soul.

Haiku: This method of writing poetry has its native in Japan and has three lines of five, seven and five syllables each. The Haiku poems talk about the essential elements of nature.

Free Verse: This is a method of writing poetry, without following the meter and the rhyme. This kind of poetry is quite popular with modern and postmodern poets.

Epic: This poem is, in the actual a long one that has a story to narrate. Epics, unlike poems are much longer and may end up becoming a book of sorts.

Limerick: A witty and sometimes overtly slapstick type of composition, being quite short, a limerick contains five lines in a stanza. The metrical structure and rhyme scheme of the first, third and the fifth line are a perfect match, thereby containing seven to ten syllables each. The second and fourth lines carry sync in the rhyme scheme and metrical structure containing five to seven syllables.

To discover the basic structure of poetry, the answer lies in reading it again and again. Yes, you read it, and read it, and read it. The novel flavor that you find every time you go back to the same poem is a subliminal stance that only poetry can perform. The structure, indeed, is the backbone of poetry -- a backbone that twists and dances to its own tunes. Ah! how hypocritical it is ... the words in a poetry ring in our ears, but dance to their own tunes!
Advertisement