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Poetry Forms

The following is an alphabetical list of poetry formats.  Some include example poems.  While writing poetry, the poem's format may inspire the poet.

To write an acrostic, pick a subject and make it the title of your poem.  Write this title in a vertical row DOWNWARD.  Then write the lines of your poem, starting with the letters you have written.  Each line can be a word, a phrase, or a sentence.
Aging with dignity.
Understanding with so much more than the
Tiniest bit of forgiveness.
Unwilling to surrender to sleep with a
Misunderstanding awry.
Nearing Winter - aware that the bitter cold heralds the end.
The cinquain (pronounced sing'kane and translated to mean "five-line poem") is a very popular and enjoyable poetic form.  Although its five lines are governed by very definite rules, there are no limit to the imaginative possibilities.
The pattern is as follows:
    Line 1:   one word for the subject of the poem
    Line 2:   two words that describe the subject
    Line 3:   three words that describe some action
                  of the subject . . .what it does or what
                  is done to it
    Line 4:   four words that express an emotional
                  response of or toward the subject
    Line 5:   a synonym of the subject. . .one word
                Corruptive, Addictive
                Steal, embezzle, prostitute
                Willing to kill for

                by Buffy Smith



Concrete poetry is visual poetry.  A concrete poem creates an acutal picture or shape on the page.  The poem's message comes not only from the words, also from the arrangement of the words.

In the following example by William Burford, the poem is about a Christmas tree; therefore, the author wrote it in the shape of a Christmas tree. 

A Christmas Tree

If you are
A love Compassionate,
You will walk with us this year.
We face a glacial distance, who are her
At your feet.



Freeform poetry is just what the name implies.  The poet is free to use whatever format he/she would like.  Rhyme is optional.



A Ghazal consists of five to fifteen couplets, typically seven. A refrain (a repeated word or phrase) appears at the end of both lines of the first couplet and at the end of the second line in each succeeding couplet. In addition, one or more words before the refrain are rhymes or partial rhymes. The lines should be approximately the same length and meter.

Each couplet should be a poem in itself, but a poet may unify the poem in the final couplet, where the poet often references their own name as well. There should not be continuous development of a subject through the poem. The refrain provides a link among the poem's couplets.


Copywrite 1996 by Gene Doty

The silver maple's new green holds weariness:
under the redbud, in clean dirt, only weariness.

Closing the window against thunder-laden air,
I see through the screen a passerby's weariness.

Qoheleth in his bitter book complains against the wind
and finds in all that's seen or heard endless weariness.

Come, wife, and settle your head on my shoulder;
on the pillows we lean and seek to dispell our weariness.

Gino, why did you write these tiresome lines?
Don't you know that verses only mean weariness?



Haiku is a short verse form invented in Japan centuries ago.  It has an object in nature as its subject.  There are three lines with counted syllables.

        Line 1 ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ (5 syllables)

        Line 2 ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ (7 syllables)

        Line 3 ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ (5 syllables)



A limerick is a short, funny, often nonsensical poem with a specific rhyme and rhythm pattern.

Here are the rules a limerick follows:

Lines 1, 2, and 5 rhyme.
Lines 3 and 4 rhyme.
Lines 1,2, and 5 have from eight to ten syllables
Lines 3 and 4 have from five to seven syllables.



In a traditional Pantoum:

The lines are grouped into quatrains (4-line stanzas).

The final line of the Pantoum is the same as its first.

A Pantoum has any number of quatrains.

Lines may be of any length.

The Pantoum has a rhyme scheme of abab in each quatrain. Thus, the lines rhyme alternately.

The Pantoum says everything twice:

For all quatrains except the first, the first line of the current quatrain repeats the second line in the preceeding quatrain; and the third line of the current quatrain repeats the fourth line of the preceeding quatrain.

In addition, for the final quatrain, its second line repeats the (so-far unrepeated) third line in the first quatrain; and its last line repeats the (so-far unrepeated) first line of the first quatrain.


If I had married you instead of her,
I would not now be seething with regret,
Trapped by children, choked by dreams that were
My hopes before my life turned desolate.

I would not now be seething with regret
For having married more for lust than love.
My hopes before my life turned desolate
Now live but in the darkness where you move.

For having married more for lust than love,
I'm punished with a wife whom I despise.
I live but in the darkness where you move,
My hopes the harvest of your haunting eyes.

I'm punished with a wife whom I despise,
Trapped by children, choked by dreams that were
My hopes . . . The harvest of your haunting eyes,
If I had married you instead of her.



Rubai - rubaiyat in the plural - is the Persian word for quatrain, or four-line verse.  In English translation, the standard form for rubaiyat is that the first, second, and last lines rhyme.  The third line usually does not thyme with the other three.

The rubai is an ancient  literary form the Persian poets have used to express their thoughts on diverse subjects.  Because a rubai is so short and its rhyme scheme so restrictive, it often makes use of metaphor or imagery to express its meaning.

Rhyme scheme is found by looking at the last word of the first line of the poem.  It is assigned the letter "a".  Next look at the last word of the second line of the poem.  If it rhymes with the last word in the first line it is also assigned an "a".  If it does not rhyme, it is assigned a "b".  You continue looking at the last word of each line and assigning letters to each.  When you are finished, all the lines with "a" should rhyme, all the lines with "b" should rhyme and so on.

* The last word of each line of poetry is in red.

Rubaiyat by Omar Khayyam
Translated by Edward FitzGerald

Come, fill the Cup, and in the fire of Spring
Your Winter-garment of Repentance fling:
The Bird of Time has but a little way
To flutter – and the Bird is on the Wing. 

Some for the Glories of This World; and some
Sigh for the Prophet’s  Paradise to come;
 Ah, take the Cash, and let the Credit go,
Nor heed the rumble of a distant Drum! 

With them the seed of Wisdom did I sow,
And with mine own hand wrought to make it grow;
 And this was all the Harvest that I reaped-
“I came like Water, and like Wind I go.” 

The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all your Piety nor Wit
 Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all your Tears wash out a Word of it. 

Ah Love!  Could you and I with Him conspire
To grasp this sorry Scheme of Things entire,
 Would not we shatter it to bits – and then
Remold it nearer to the Heart’s Desire!



In a traditional Sestina:

The lines are grouped into six sestets and a concluding tercet. Thus a Sestina has 39 lines.

Lines may be of any length, but it is usually consistent in a single poem.

The six words that end each of the lines of the first stanza are repeated in a different order at the end of lines in each of the subsequent five stanzas. The particular pattern is given below. (This kind of recurrent pattern is "lexical repetition".)

The repeated words are unrhymed.

The first line of each sestet after the first ends with the same word as the one that ended the last line of the sestet before it.

In the closing tercet, each of the six words are used, with one in the middle of each line and one at the end.

The pattern of word-repetition is as follows, where the words that end the lines of the first sestet are represented by the numbers "1 2 3 4 5 6"


"Sestina d'Inverno" by Anthony Hecht:

Here in this bleak city of Rochester,
Where there are twenty-seven words for "snow,"
Not all of them polite, the wayward mind
Basks in some Yucatan of its own making,
Some coppery, sleek lagoon, or cinnamon island
Alive with lemon tints and burnished natives,

And O that we were there. But here the natives
Of this grey, sunless city of Rochester
Have sown whole mines of salt about their land
(Bare ruined Carthage that it is) while snow
Comes down as if The Flood were in the making.
Yet on that ocean Marvell called the mind

An ark sets forth which is itself the mind,
Bound for some pungent green, some shore whose natives
Blend coriander, cayenne, mint in making
Roasts that would gladden the Earl of Rochester
With sinfulness, and melt a polar snow.
It might be well to remember that an island

Was blessed heaven once, more than an island,
The grand, utopian dream of a noble mind.
In that kind climate the mere thought of snow
Was but a wedding cake; the youthful natives,
Unable to conceive of Rochester,
Made love, and were acrobatic in the making.

Dream as we may, there is far more to making
Do than some wistful reverie of an island,
Especially now when hope lies with the Rochester
Gas and Electric Co., which doesn't mind
Such profitable weather, while the natives
Sink, like Pompeians, under a world of snow.

The one thing indisputable here is snow,
The single verity of heaven's making,
Deeply indifferent to the dreams of the natives,
And the torn hoarding-posters of some island.
Under our igloo skies the frozen mind
Holds to one truth: it is grey, and called Rochester.

No island fantasy survives Rochester,
Where to the natives destiny is snow
That is neither to our mind nor of our making.



The most popular, enduring and widely used poetic form in English poetry; introduced in 1530’s

                -14 lines
                -usually written in iambic pentameter (meter) 



The villanelle has 19 lines, 5 stanzas of three lines and 1 stanza of four lines with two rhymes and two refrains. The 1st, and the 3rd lines alternate as the last lines of stanzas 2, 3,and 4, and then stanza 5 (the end) as a couplet. It is usually written in tetrameter or pentameter.


Dylan Thomas' "Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night."

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night,

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight, And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night,

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay, Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

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