A poem is a piece of writing that is opposite of prose. Most of the writing that we encounter is prose-complete sentences, arranged in paragraphs and larger text structures. Prose is organized following standard grammar and syntax structures. A poem, on the other hand, is writing that is often rhythmic and metaphorical. Instead of focusing on logical organization of thought and standard structures, poets play with words-organizing words in a rhythmic manner and using figurative language.
There are many types of poems, and many types of poetic structures. Poems can follow a specific structure, such as a sonnet, which has 14 lines of iambic pentameter. Poetry can also be free form and follow little to no pattern. Poems can rhyme and follow a specific rhyme scheme, or they can be unrhymed. The one seemingly common element to all poems is that poets are free to play with language and use language in nonstandard ways to create beautiful, meaningful writing.
In addition to writing many plays, William Shakespeare also wrote many sonnets. This is one of his most famous, Sonnet 130:
My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun;
Coral is far more red than her lips' red;
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.
I have seen roses damasked, red and white,
But no such roses see I in her cheeks;
And in some perfumes is there more delight
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
That music hath a far more pleasing sound;
I grant I never saw a goddess go;
My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground.
And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare
As any she belied with false compare.
Robert Frost is a famous American poet, and his "Road Not Taken" is nearly universally recognized:
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I-
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
William Carlos Williams' "The Red Wheelbarrow" is an example of poetry that does not rhyme and seems to have a simple surface meaning. However, this poem is often deeply analyzed:
so much depends
a red wheel
glazed with rain
beside the white
Literary Terms Examples