What is poetry? – a simple definition of poetry

Poetry is a type of literature that aims to evoke an emotional response in the reader through language chosen and arranged for its meaning, sound, and rhythm. The five defining characteristics of a poem include:

  1. meter
  2. rhyme
  3. form
  4. sound
  5. rhythm/timing.

There are many different types of poetry; read on to learn more about them.

Description of Poetry

Poetry is literature or artistic writing that appeals to the reader’s emotions and imagination through various poetic techniques.

The poet uses a combination of rhythm, word choice, sounds, rhymes, structure, and more to create a piece of writing that stirs the reader’s feelings.

Poems come in many different forms and styles, and the text is often separated into paragraphs called stanzas.

A poem is usually about or alluding to a specific topic or theme. Some of the most shared articles that poets write about are:

  • love;
  • nature;
  • friendship;
  • family;
  • animals;
  • good vs evil;
  • growing up and aging;
  • bravery and courage;
  • prejudice;
  • war.

What types of poetry are there?

There are many forms of poetry; some poets might use a combination of two or more, break the rules of a specific form, or stick strictly to the laws of the document. Every poem is different and uses form to tell a different story.

Different forms of poetry

Blank verse

Blank verse is poetry written with a precise meter, such as iambic pentameter, and doesn’t rhyme. Shakespeare was a big fan of this form and used it in lots of his plays and sonnets!

Rhymed poetry

Rhymed poetry is poems that follow a rhyme scheme. This scheme can vary from poem to poem, but one of the most common rhyme schemes to follow is rhyming couplets.

Free verse

A free verse poem doesn’t have a consistent rhyme scheme, rhythm, or musical form. These types of poems may also be called prose poetry because they combine techniques from both poetry and prose.


Originating in Japan, the haiku is a three-line poem with five syllables in the first and last line and seven in the middle line. They often depict an image of nature.


Odes are lyrical poems originating in Ancient Greece. They’re typically short and don’t rhyme. They tend to focus on a specific individual, idea, or event.


A sonnet is a poem with 14 lines that are traditionally about the topic of love. Sonnets have internal rhymes and typically end with a heroic couplet (a rhyming couplet written in iambic pentameter).

Poetry Terms (Definitions)

To create powerful images and tap into people’s emotions, poets use poetic techniques to make their poetry impactful and exciting. Here, we describe and explain these poetry terms and their definitions.

Some of the techniques used in poetry are:

Similes and Metaphors

Poets use similes and metaphors to create images and describe thoughts, emotions, objects, and more.

A simile compares one thing directly to another, often using the ‘as as’ combination. For example:

  • ‘It was as cold as snow.’

A metaphor says that one thing is another thing. For example:

  • ‘She had a heart of gold.’

By comparing one thing to another, poets can create fascinating images in their poetry to stir a reader’s emotions!


Alliteration is the repetition of sounds through consecutive (or closely connected) words. An example of alliteration is when two or more words in a row begin with the same letter or sound. E.g., big blue butterflies.


Symbols convey a poem’s idea, message, theme, or relationship. For instance, an object or character can represent an abstract idea that’s difficult to describe otherwise.

Most famously, poetry’s roses, hearts, and moons symbolize romantic love.


Rhyming schemes dictate how a poem flows. Rhymes can even sometimes alter the meaning of a poem altogether.

One of the most common rhyme schemes is the rhyming couplet, where the last words in a pair of lines rhyme. These rhymes can create a musical and happy tone to a poem.

Iambic pentameter

Iambic pentameter is a line of the verse where a stressed syllable follows one unstressed syllable. This technique is most famously used in Shakespeare’s plays and poetry and follows the rhythm of a heartbeat.

For example:

‘Macbeth, Macbeth, beware Macduff.’


An acrostic poem is a poem where the first letter of each line spells out a new word. Poetry explores a specific theme or topic, such as the seasons.


An allusion is a brief reference to a historical, mythic, or literary person, place, or movement. The writer ‘alludes’ to something else. In other words, allusion is like a subtle hint.

For example, the poet Emily Dickinson alludes to her poem ‘All Overgrown by Cunning Moss’. She writes ‘The little cage of “Currer Bell”‘ – ‘Currer Bell’ is the pen name of Charlotte Brontë.


This is when a word, statement, or phrase can have two or more possible meanings. The poet often leaves the final interpretation up to the reader in poetry. It gives the reader something to consider or think about. Ambiguity in poetry also means a lot for readers to come together and discuss.


In some poems, sentences run between lines without any punctuation to separate them. This poetry term is defined as enjambment. It helps to create a specific flow and rhythm within the poem.


Hyperbole is when something is greatly exaggerated to evoke a strong emotion or reaction from the reader.


Many poets use the five senses to create images in their poems. Sight, sound, touch, taste, and smelly a vital role and can help mak


A motif is a recurring or central action or image that can also be found in other works. For example, a long journey is one of the most common motifs in literature.


Onomatopoeia is when a word sounds like the word it’s describing. Examples include:

  • snap;
  • crack;
  • pop;
  • bang;
  • boom.

These help to evoke emotion and add to the poem’s overall image.


An oxymoron is a figure of speech that brings together two contradictory statements. One of the most common examples of an oxymoron is the phrase ‘deafening silence’.

Pathetic Fallacy

A pathetic fallacy is when the weather reflects the mood or atmosphere of the poem. For example, rain and stormy weather represent negative emotions, whereas the sun bursting through a cloud can symbolize hope.


Similar to the pathetic fallacy, personification is when human actions, thoughts, and feelings are given to inanimate objects. It brings otherwise inanimate objects to life. For example, in poetry, flowers often ‘dance’ in the breeze – this is personification.


A stanza is a group of lines separated from others within a poem. While a stanza isn’t a poetic technique in and of itself, poets can use stanzas to create a unique meaning.


Assonance is the repetition of vowel sounds in words close to each other. For example, might the light be in sight?


A couplet is two successive lines that end with a rhyme. Shakespeare famously used these in his sonnets.

Heroic Couplet

Two successive lines rhyme but are also written in iambic pentameter.

Internal Rhyme

An exact rhyme within a single line of poetry. For example, ‘There was a flower for every hour.’


This is where one of the five senses is described as if it were another of the senses. For example, ‘a warm smell’.


Like repetition, anaphora is where a word or words are repeated at the beginning of successive phrases, clauses, or lines. It’s most famously used in Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech.

Famous poets and poems

Explore these famous poets and poems when you are teaching children about poetry.

For younger children:

  • Jabberwocky by Lewis Caroll
  • The Spider and the Fly by Mary Howitt
  • The Land of Nod by Robert Louis Stevenson
  • Please do not feed the animals… by Robert Hull
  • The Mountain and the Squirrel by Ralph Waldo Emerson

For older children:

  • The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost
  • Daffodils by William Wordsworth
  • I carry your heart with me by E.E Cummings
  • The Raven by Edgar Allen Poe
  • I know why the caged bird sings by Maya Angelou
Choose your Reaction!