Poetic Form: An Introduction

By David Caplan

Published by Pearson

Published Date: Dec 5, 2006


Poetic Form offers a clear, compact, and entertaining introduction to the history, structure, and practice of the language’s most popular verse forms.   Written with humor and wit, this guide aims to convey the pleasures of poetry — a sestina’s delightful gamesmanship, an epigram’s barbed wit, a haiku's deceptive simplicity — and the fun of exploring the poetic forms.  Each chapter defines a particular verse form, briefly describes its history, and offers examples.  Writing exercises challenge students to utilize the forms in creative expression.  Covering a wider range of forms in greater detail and with more poetic examples than similar guides on the market, it provides enough material to thoroughly introduce the language’s major forms while allowing flexibility in the classroom.

Table of Contents

1. Introduction to Theories of Form


2. Meter

Background and Structure of Accentual Meter

More Works in Accentual Meter

            Easter, 1916 William Butler Yeats

Background and Structure of Accentual Syllabic Meter

More Works in Accentual Syllabic Meter

            From Paradise Lost, Book 1, "Of Man's First Disobedience, and the Fruit…” John Milton

            Lines, Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey, On Revisiting the Banks of the Wye During a Tour, July 13, 1798 William Wordsworth

            Home Burial Robert Frost

Background and Structure of Syllabic Meter

More Works in Syllabic Meter

            The Fish Marianne Moore

3. Musical Forms  

Background and Structure of the Ballad and the Blues

            Our Goodman Traditional

            The Unquiet Grave Traditional

More Works in the Ballad

            Get Up and Bar the Door Traditional

            "Ah, Are You Digging On My Grave?" Thomas Hardy

            During Wind and Rai, Thomas Hardy

            Sir John Barleycorn Traditional

            The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Book IV Samuel Taylor Coleridge

            La Belle Dame Sans Merc, John Keats

            The Wife of Usher's Well Anonymous

            Frankie and Johnny American Traditional

More Works in the Blues

            Homesick Blues,

            The Weary Blues, Langston Hughes

            Refugee Blues, W. H. Auden

An Exercise in the Musical Forms

4. Sonnets and the Rondeau

Background and Structure of the Sonnet

            "My God, where is that ancient heat towards Thee" George Herbert

            Petrarch's Rime 140 translations by Thomas Wyatt and Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey

            When my love swears that she is made of truth" William Shakespeare

            "Help me to seek, for I lost it there ThomasWyatt

            Surprised by Joy William Wordsworth

            "To the White Fiends" Claude McKay

More Works in the Sonnet

            "Two loves I have of comfort and despair” WilliamShakespeare

            “When I consider how my light is spent” John Milton

            "Prayer the Churches banquet, Angels age" George Herbert

            from Holy Sonnets, "Batter my heart, three personed God" John Donne

            from Elegiac Sonnets, Sonnet I, "The partial Muse, has from my earliest hours", Charlotte Smith

            from Astrophil and Stella, "Loving in Truth" Sir Phillip Sydney

            from Astrophil and Stella, "Who will in fairest book of nature know" Sir Philip Sydney

            from Astrophil and Stella, "With how sad steps" Sir Philip Sydney

            (from Astrophil and Stella?), "Leave Me, O Love” Sir Phillip Sidney

            "When in Disgrace with Fortune and Men's Eyes" WilliamShakespeare

            "My Mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun” WilliamShakespeare

            "On the Late Massacre" Kate Chopin

            "When I Consider" Kate Chopin

            "It's Sunday Evening.  Pomp holds the receipts…" Marilyn Nelson Waniek

            Ode to the West Wind Percy Bysse Shelley

More Works in the Rondeau

            "In Flanders Fields" John McCrate

            We Wear the Mask, Paul Laurence Dunbar

An Exercise in the Sonnet

5. Couplets

Background and Structure of the Couplet

            To the Memory of Mr. Oldham John Dryden

More Works in Couplet Verse

            Epistles to Dr. Arbuthnot Alexander Pope

            Mac Flecknoe John Dryden

            Adam's Curse W. B. Yeats

            My Last Duchess Robert Browning

            Strange Meeting Wilfred Owen

            Downtown Diner Author?

An Exercise in Couplet Verse

6. Sestina  

Background and Structure of the Sestina

            Altaforte: A Sestina Ezra Pound

            Love Letters, Diane Thiel

More Works in the Sestina

            Of the Lady Petra degli Scrovigni Dante Alighieri, translated by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

            "Ye goatherd gods…" Sir Philip Sidney

            Miracle for Breakfast Elizabeth Bishop

An Exercise in the Sestina

7. Villanelle

Background and Structure of the Villanelle

            The House on the Hill Edward Arlington Robinson

More Works in the Villanelle

            Villanelle for D. G. B. Marilyn Hacker

            Theocritus Oscar Wilde

            One Art Elizabeth Bishop

            from Five Villanelles Weldon Kees

            Daughters, 1900 Marilyn Nelson Waniek

            Macbeth's Daughter William Logan

            Macbeth's Daughter Drowned William Logan

An Exercise in the Villanelle

8. Other French Forms  

Background and Structure of the Ballade and the Triolet

            The Ballade of the Incompetent Ballade-Monger J. K. Stephen

            "When first we met we did not guess" Robert Bridges

More Works in the Ballade

            A Ballade of Dreamland Algernon Charles Swinburne

            Envoi Algernon Charles Swinburne

            Ballade of the Yale Younger Poets of Yesteryear R. S. Gwynn

            A Ballad of Suicide G. K. Chesterton

            The Ballad of Dead Ladies François Villon, translated by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

            Ballade of a Great Weariness Dorothy Parker

An Exercise in the French Forms

9. Japanese Forms

Background and Structure of the Japanese Forms

            Etheridge Knight

More Works in Haiku



"Letter to Munnsville, NY from the Rue de Turenne"

10. Other Asian Forms

            Of Fire Agha Shahid Ali

More Works in the Rubáiyat and the Ghazal

            Autumn Rachel Wetzsteon

            Prayer Grace Shulman

            selected lines from Rubáiyat of Omar Khayyám

An Exercise in the Ghazal

11. Short Comic Forms  

Background and Structure of the Epigram

            Two Cures for Love Wendy Cope

            Their Sex Life A. R. Ammons

            The Common Wisdom Howard Nemerov

Mores Works in the Epigram

            "Sir, I admit your gen'ral rule" Alexander Pope

            "Here lies the body of Richard Hind" Anonymous

            On Sir John Guise Anonymous

            Of Death Anonymous

            To Fool or Knave Ben Jonson

            "Lip was a man who used his head" Anonymous

            Epitaph for Somone or Other J. V. Cunningham

            Unfortunate Coincidence Anonymous

            De Profundis Anonymous

            Comment Dorothy Parker

            Repentance Anonymous

            Desire Anonymous

            Fatherhood Dick Davis

            On a Certain Alderman John Cunningham

            On a Bad Singer Samuel Taylor Coleridge

            “What is an Epigram?” Samuel Taylor Coleridge

            “Truth I pursued” Samuel Taylor Coleridge

            First Fig Edna St. Vincent Millay

            A Critic Walter Savage Landor

Background and Structure of the Limerick

            "There was an Old Man of Messina…" Edward Lear

More Works in the Limerick

            On Himself Dante Gabriel Rosetti

            On Arthur Hugh Clough Algernon Charles Swinburne

            "There was a Young Lady whose chin…" Edward Lear

            "There was an Old Man of the Isles…" Edward Lear

            "There was an old Person whose habits…" Edward Lear

            "There was an Old Man of Calcutta…" Edward Lear

Background and Structure of the Clerihew

            "Sir (then Mr.) Walter Beasant" E. Clerihew Bentley

            "I was once slapped by a young lady named Miss Goringe" Ogden Nash

An Exercise in the Short Comic Forms

12. Classical Imitations  

Background and Structure of Classical Imitations

            "If mine eyes can speak to do hearty errand…" Sir Philip Sidney

More Works of Classical Imitation

            Sapphics Against Anger Timothy Steele

            The Day of Judgment Isaac Watts

            Hatred and Vengeance, My Eternal Portion William Cowper

An Exercise in Classical Imitation 

13. Forms of Free Verse  

            VII. But to Honor Truth Which is Smooth Divine and Lives Among the Gods…" Anne Carson

            Grove of Academia, H. D.  

More Works in Free Verse

            The Young Housewife William Carlos Williams

            The Waste Land Author

            from Leaves of Grass Walt Whitman

            When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd Author

            Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird Wallace Stevens

14. Prose Poetry

More Works in Prose Poetry

            from Tender Buttons Gertrude Stein

            from My Life Lyn Hejinian

            A Story About the Body Robert Hass

15. New Forms and Old

"From the Basque" Charles Bernstein

Manifesto Edwin Morgan

"AID/I/SAPPEARANCE” Joan Retallack

The Beautician Thom Gunn



Suggestions for Further Reading


Poetic Form: An Introduction

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