Narrative Poems

beowulfPoems written in the narrative style are those which tell a story. Often times, this form of poetry includes the voices of the person telling the story, the narrator, as well as the story’s characters. Most often, this is composed in a metered voice. These poems can be of various lengths, either long or short. It is not unusual for these poems to be very complex stories, with many scenes and settings, much like one would find in plays performed on a stage. Narrative poems are usually dramatic, and can include such forms as epic tales and ballads. Some of these narrative forms of poetry can even take on the form of a novel in verse. The topic can be anything, but those whose origins were from the times of Medieval Europe often included romance and chivalry.

Beowulf (excerpt)
by Anonymous

Some of the shorter versions of these narrative-style poems are similar in their nature to the short story form of prose. They can be gathered together in collections, sharing similar types of stories. It is also common to find narrative poems as part of longer narratives in prose, providing some interesting poetic interludes in the story. Many of these narrative poems have their origins in oral tradition. It was quite common for the bards of Scotland and England to tell the tales of such characters as Robin Hood and other legends out of history. These were intended for performance or recitation and not for reading — in fact, we have probably lost many wonderful narrative poems that were never written down, but died with the bards who kept these poems in their memories. There are many cultures still today where such narrative poems are past down orally from generation to generation, told in verse rather than prose. Poetry serves as a great mnemonic device, helping the storyteller remember all of the details, as well as preventing the story from changing from iteration to iteration. There are also free-form versions of the narrative poem. These are those which do not have a predictable scheme of rhymes, yet contains all of the other elements of a poem one might expect, such as symbolism and alliteration. There is really no limit to the various types of narrative-style poems — it is up to the poet and what he or she would like to use, and what the reader will find interesting and agreeable.

The Snowman
by Anonymous

Some may think that narrative poetry and lyrical poetry are the same; however the distinction between the two is that narrative poems tell a story, where as lyrical poems usually include discussion of feelings, ideas or thoughts about future events. Most poems can be identified as either narrative or lyrical within the very first few lines. For example, it doesn’t take long in reading the following poem by Charles Wolfe, to see that the poem is a story about a man’s funeral. Although we can often tell by just looking at the title, sometimes this can be either misleading or lacking in enough information to make such a decision.

The Burial of Sir John Moore after Corunna
by Charles Wolfe



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