Glossary of Poetic Genres

From the Poetry at Harvard section of the Harvard University website
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allegory
A narrative with two levels of meaning, one stated and one unstated.
aubade
A song or poem greeting the sunrise, traditionally a lover's lament that the night's passion must come to an end.
ballad
Broadly speaking, the ballad is a genre of folk poetry, usually an orally transmitted narrative song. The term "ballad" applies to several other kinds of poetry, including the English ballad stanza, which is a form often associated with the genre.
blason
A Renaissance genre characterized by a short catalogue-style description, often of the female body.
cento
A poem composed entirely of lines from other poems.
dirge
A funeral song.
dramatic monologue
This might be called a "closet soliloquy": a long poem spoken by a character who often unwittingly reveals his or her hidden desires and actions over the course of the poem. The "I" of the dramatic monologue is very distinct from the "I" of the poet's persona. Robert Browning was a master of this genre.
eclogue
A short pastoral poem; Virgil's eclogues are one of the first examples of this genre.
ekphrasis
Originally a description of any kind, "ekphrasis" is now almost exclusively applied to the poetic description of a work of art.
elegy
This genre can be difficult to define, as there are specific types of elegiac poem as well as a general elegiac mood, but almost all elegies mourn, and seek consolation for, a loss of some kind: the most common form of elegy is a lyric commemorating the death of a loved one. Greek elegiac meter, which is one source of what we know as the elegy today, is not normally associated with loss and mourning.
epic
A long narrative poem that catalogues and celebrates heroic or historic deeds and events, usually focusing on a single heroic individual.
epigram
A brief and pithy aphoristic observation, often satirical.
epitaph
A tombstone inscription. Several famous poems end with the poet writing his own. (See, for example, Thomas Gray's "Elegy in a Country Churchyard" or W.B. Yeats's "Under Ben Bulben.")
epithalamion
A song or poem that celebrates a wedding.
fable
A brief tale about talking animals or objects, usually having a moral or pedagogical point, which is sometimes explicitly stated at the end. Aesop and la Fontaine are perhaps the most famous fable-writers.
georgic
The agricultural cousin of pastoral, a georgic is a poem that celebrates rustic labor.
hymn
A song of praise.
invective
A personal, often abusive, denunciation.
lament
An expression of grief.
light verse
Poetry that is mostly for fun: this can mean anything from nonsense verse to folk songs, but typically there is a comical element to light verse.
lyric
This genre encompasses a large portion of the world's poetry; in general, lyrics are fairly brief poems that emphasize musical qualities.
masque
Courtly drama characterized by elaborate costumes and dances, as well as audience participation.
occasional verse
Poetry written with reference to a particular event.
ode
A long, serious meditation on an elevated subject, an ode can take one of three forms.
paean
A song of joy or triumph.
palinode
A recantation or retraction, usually of an earlier poem.
panegyric
Poem or song in praise of a particular individual or object.
parody
A comic imitation.
pastoral
Originally a poem that depicted an idealized singing competition between shepherds, "pastoral" has come to denote almost anything to do with a rural setting, although it also refers to several specific categories of the genre. Associated genres of varying synonymity are idyll, bucolic, eclogue, andgeorgic.
psalm
A sacred song.
riddle
A puzzling question that relies on allegory or wordplay for its answer. Riddles are often short, and often include an answer to the question posed, albeit an unsatisfying one. The riddle of the Sphinx, which Oedipus solved, is a particularly famous example: "what walks on four legs in the morning, two at midday, and three in the afternoon?"
romance
An adventure tale, usually set in a mythical or remote locale. Verse forms of the romance include the Spanish ballad and medieval or chivalric romance.
satire
Ridicule of some kind, usually passing moral judgment.
tragedy
This genre originated in ancient Greek verse drama and received extended treatment in Aristotle's Poetics, which made the downfall of the main character one of the criteria for tragedy. The genre has since expanded to include almost anything pertaining to a downfall.
verse epistle
A letter written in verse, usually taking as its subject either a philosophical or a romantic question.
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