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What Is a Lyrical Poem?

by Carla Jean McKinney, Demand Media

    Within the wide genre of poetry, works can be broadly classified as narrative or lyric poems according to their subject and intent. Unlike narrative poems, which tell a story, lyric poems can be a meditation on the poet's or poetic persona's life and observations about the world, or a celebration of events such as the passage of seasons. Lyric poetry is found in numerous poetic traditions, both past and present.

    Narrative and Lyric Poetry

    At the center of a narrative poem is a story -- a series of events with a beginning, middle and end around which the poet builds a poem, such as Lord Alfred Tennyson's "The Charge of the Light Brigade." However, while a lyric poem may be based on an incident or event, the poem mainly reflects on that event or uses it as a means to explore larger themes. For example, Robert Frost's "Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening" includes a description of the narrator's travel in the woods, but the poem is a reflection on what the journey means rather than a narrative about what happens and where it leads.

    Forms of Lyric Poetry

    Lyric poems take many forms and styles: rhymed and unrhymed, in fixed forms such as sonnets and odes or in more modern structures based on free and blank verse. In the freeform vein, Emily Dickinson's "I Felt a Funeral In My Brain" is a reflection on the poet's feelings about death, while E. E. Cummings' "In Just-" offers a meditation on the wildness of spring. William Shakespeare's sonnets stand as enduring examples of lyric poetry in a prescribed form with a specific rhyme scheme and syllable count, as does Elizabeth Barrett Browning's sonnet "How Do I Love Thee?"

    Subjects of Lyric Poems

    Lyric and narrative poems may be based on the same subjects, such as war, death, love or the passage of time. However, lyric poems typically lack characters, action and a narrative thread. Lyric poems are frequently written in first person, although it may not be clear whether the "I" in these poems is actually the poet or a created persona. Rich in emotion and the music of the language, these poems offer a glimpse into the poet's mind and heart, rather than a narration of external events.

    The Past and Present of Lyric Poetry

    Lyric poetry spans time and space. The first mentions of this type of poem date to ancient Greece and Rome, and lyric poetry gained ground in the Middle Ages, reaching its peak of popularity in 19th-century Western culture. Lyric poems occur in such varied poetic traditions as the Chinese, Persian and Hindu. An enduring form, lyric poetry also includes newer forms such as the "confessional" work of 20th-century poet Sylvia Plath.

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    About the Author

    Carla Jean McKinney has been writing professionally since 1989. She is the author of three nonfiction books and numerous published short works, as well as articles on natural sciences and the environment. Also a photographer, McKinney earned her Master of Arts at the University of Arizona and is a graduate of the Sessions School of Design.

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