Form and Structure

Form and Structure

It is essential that you write about the structure and style of a poem in your exam if you want to achieve a high grade.

You must show an understanding of the techniques used by the poet and the idea that certain devices have been used to create particular effects. The prompts below will help you to write about structure and style.

All poets have their own individual styles. However, there are a number of categories which poems fit into.


The ballad is a traditional form of poetry, which now takes many forms. The ballad develops a dramatic story.

There are different types of ballad: broadside, literary and traditional.

It is not important for you to know the differences between these genres: simply be aware that they exist. All three forms of ballad are written in song form.


The elegy is a poem written to mourn the death of a person. Something which resembles this style is called elegaic.

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A lyric or lyrical poem is a short poem which explores or expresses a state of feeling rather than narrates an event. The phrase lyric suggests that the lines could be set to music, as with the lyrics of a song, but is not necessarily the case.


Narrative poetry, as the name suggests, is a poem where the poet describes an event or series of events. The poet may take on the role of a character in the story (1st person) or adopt the voice of the narrator (3rd person).


The ode is like the lyrical poem but more detailed more complex and longer. It explores an idea - whether political, philosophical, intellectual, or personal - in detail.


A modern style of poetry, often associated with heavy use of rhyme, word play and strong rhythm.

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Shape poem:

Some poems are written in the shape of a particular object. Look carefully at the poem and see whether the shape poem resembles an image described in the poem. How has this influenced the way the poem is written?


Two forms of sonnet are Petrarchan and Shakespearian. Both forms of sonnet were originally used to write love poetry. However, both styles have been used for other purposes.

Both styles are extremely complex forms of poetry and require skilful use by the poets due to their strict rhyme scheme. When reading sonnets,you should look carefully at how ideas develop or change between the different sections of the poems.

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Many students grow up with the idea that poetry should be written in verses of four lines. This is possibly because of the popularity of the four line stanza, particularly in the ballad form.

However, from your study of poetry, you will have noticed that many different types of stanza are used.

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There are many different lengths of stanza including couplets (2 lines), quatrains (4 lines), sestets (6 lines) and octaves.

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  • If a poem consists of a series of quatrains but finishes with a couplet, you should question why. What effect does the short couplet have set against the quatrains?
  • If the number of lines in each stanza varies, what does that tell you about the content of each stanza? Are short stanzas less important or more focused?
  • Why has the poet divided the poem into different stanzas? What is contained in each stanza?
  • What occurs between stanzas? Do the poet?s ideas seem to jump?
  • Are the stanzas arranged chronologically?
  • Is an image developed in each stanza?

Poetry does not follow the same rules of punctuation as prose. Sometimes a poet may write a sentence which is divided into more than one stanza. If that happens, then why has the poet used the stanza to divide up the sentence? What effect does this create?

The length of lines in a poem can be a big clue towards understanding a poem.

Consider the following:

  • What effect does the line length have on the way you read the poem? If the poem is entirely made of short lines then do you read the poem quickly?
  • Has the poet put a single word or phrase on a separate line? Why? What does this suggest to the reader?