To talk about form in a poem is
to discuss the pattern or design of the poem as a whole.
One of the first patterns that you are likely to notice is the
length of the stanzas. Some poems, like Gwendolyn
Real Cool," are written in two-line stanzas called couplets (¹ï¥y);
other poems, like Thomas Hardy's "The Convergence
of the Twain," are written in three-line stanzas called tercets¡]¤T¦æ¸Ö¡^;
still other poems, like Theodore Roethke's "My Papa's Waltz," are written
in four-line stanzas called quatrains¡]¥|¦æ¸Ö¡^;
and so on. These stanzaic patterns are part of the form of
OTHER PATTERNS -- Some poems also follow other patterns, such
as a set rhyme scheme, meter, number of lines, and/or other distinctive
Poems that follow a pre-existent design are called formal poems
or closed form poems. There are many
different patterns that a closed form poem can follow. Right now
we will discuss two traditional poetic forms.
1) The most common closed form
poem is the sonnet. There are two types
of sonnet: the English sonnet (also known
as the Shakespearean sonnet) and the Italian sonnet (sometimes
called the Petrarchan sonnet). Both types of sonnet have
fourteen lines, are written in iambic pentameter (which means there are
five iambs per line), and follow a set rhyme scheme.
or Petrarchan sonnet is divided into two parts (8 + 6),
the first eight lines (called the octave) and the final six lines
(called the sestet). Often the octave will set up a problem or unresolved
situation, which the sestet will then try to solve. The octave usually
follows an abbaabba rhyme scheme, while the sestet can rhyme cdcdcd
or cdecde, or some other variation (but usually without the last
two lines rhyming). William Wordsworth's poem "The World is Too Much with
Us" is a good example of a Petrarchan sonnet.
2) Another traditional
poetic form is the villanelle (¤Q¤E¦æ¤GÃý¸Ö).
A villanelle is a medieval verse form that continues to be written
today. It consists of nineteen lines (five tercets and a quatrain;
5x3 + 4), and it is built on two rhyming sounds. It has a
rhyme scheme of aba
aba aba aba
But notice that it is not only the rhyming sounds that repeat: whole lines
recur throughout the poem. The first line
is also repeated as line six, line twelve, and line eighteen. Line three
appears again as line nine, line fifteen, and line nineteen. Dylan Thomas'
Not Go Gentle into that Good Night" and Elizabeth Bishop's poem "One
Art" are good examples of recent villanelles.
The English or
Shakespearean sonnet usually has three quatrains plus a final
couplet (4+4+4+2). It also has a set rhyme scheme ababcdcdefefgg.
Sometimes a Shakespearean sonnet will present one situation, idea, or problem
in the first twelve lines and then offer a response or solution in the
final couplet. But the response, solution, or change of thought can also
happen after the first or second quatrain. Shakespeare's Sonnet 73 ("That
time of year thou mayst in me behold") (page 650 in our textbook) is a
The beauty of villanelle --
". . . the form [of villanelle] has remarkable
unity of structure. The echoing and reechoing of the refrains give
the villanelle a plaintive, delicate beauty that some poets find irresistible."
of villanelle --
"Since it has only two rhymed endings,
the poem can easily become monotonous. The risks of monotony is increased
by the incessant appearance of the refrains that constitute eight of the
poems' nineteen lines -- nearly half of the poem. This skilled author
of the villanelle, thus, is careful to achieve the maximum tonal range
and to fit the refrains lines as naturally as possible into the logic of
the poem" (The Heath Guide to Literature 637) How do the
two poems we read use the form of villanelle to enrich
their meanings and avoid monotony?
OPEN FORM (FREE VERSE)
Not all poetry, though, is closed form or written in traditional
poetic forms. Poems written in an open form (sometimes
called free verse) do not follow established patterns and are free
to establish their own designs. They offer a new, fresh arrangement of
words and lines. Li-young Lee's "I
Ask my Mother to Sing" is an open form poem that does not follow a
traditional rhyme scheme, stanza pattern, or meter. It would be wrong to
assume, however, that open form poems do not follow a pattern at all because
if you look at Walt Whitman's
"When I Heard the learn'd Astronomer" or "A Noiseless Patient
Spider" ¡X both open form poems¡Xyou can see that Whitman
creates his own patterns in these poems. How would you describe those
patterns? To find out about the patterns, pay attention
to the arrangement of line length and repetition.