What Is a Poem? Definition & 35+ Examples

Have you ever found yourself captivated by the rhythm of words, the vivid imagery, and the emotional depth of a carefully crafted piece of writing? Welcome to the enchanting world of poetry!

From the classic sonnets of Shakespeare to the contemporary verses of Maya Angelou, join us on this literary adventure as we unravel the beauty and complexity of poetic expression.

Definition of a Poem

A poem is a literary work that utilizes unique language, rhythm, and structure to convey a certain message, emotion, or idea. It often uses techniques such as rhyme, alliteration, and metaphor to create a memorable and engaging experience for the reader.

Poems come in various forms and styles, ranging from traditional forms like sonnets and haikus to free verse, which does not adhere to a specific structure or rhyme scheme. They can be short or expansive, dealing with a wide array of themes and emotions.

Here are some examples of poems:

Example 1: Haiku
   An old silent pond... 
   A frog jumps into the pond— 
   Splash! Silence again.

Example 2: Limerick
   There once was a man from Peru,    
   Who dreamed he was eating his shoe.    
   He awoke with a fright,    
   In the middle of the night,
   And found that his dream had come true.    

Origin of the Poem

The history of poetry can be traced back to prehistoric times when oral tradition was the primary means of storytelling. Ancient civilizations like those in Mesopotamia, Egypt, China, and Greece all had their own poetic traditions.

Poems usually started as communal hymns, prayers, or expression of communal emotions. One of the earliest known poems was the Epic of Gilgamesh from ancient Sumer, dating back to around 2100 BCE. It was written in the Sumerian language in cuneiform script on clay tablets.

In ancient Greece, another significant milestone in poetic history was the works of Homer, such as the Iliad and the Odyssey, which were well-known epic poems. These works, traditionally dated back to the 8th century BCE, set the stage for the development of Western poetic tradition.

Early Chinese poetry dates back to the Shijing, a collection of 305 poems compiled during the 11th to 7th centuries BCE. This classical poetry collection was an important influence on the development of Chinese literary and poetic traditions.

Throughout history, different styles, structures, and themes emerged in poetry. Examples include sonnets, haikus, and free verse. Today, poetry continues to evolve as new poets experiment with language, form, and content.

Here are a few examples of poems:

Example 1:
   The sun arises, gleaming gold,
   A new day dawns, stories untold,
   The sky adorned with hues so bold,
   A canvas painted, beauty to behold.

Example 2:
   In the quiet forest deep,
   Where shadows dance and secrets keep,
   An ancient oak, its wisdom old,
   With tales of bravery and love untold.

Example 3:
   Autumn leaves whisper,
   Crisp embrace, cool winds that lift,
   Nature's symphony.

Elements of a Poem


The meter is the rhythmic structure of a poem, created by stressed and unstressed syllables within each line. There are many types of meter, such as iambic pentameter, which consists of five iambs (an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable) per line. The use of meter adds a musical quality to the poem and helps convey its message more effectively.

Rhyme Scheme

The rhyme scheme is the pattern of end-rhymes (the rhyming words at the end of each line) in a poem. It is typically expressed through a series of letters, with each letter representing a unique rhyme sound. For example, a quatrain with an ABAB rhyme scheme would have the first and third lines rhyme, and the second and fourth lines rhyme.


A stanza is a group of lines in a poem that are separated by a line break. Stanzas can have a fixed number of lines and a specific pattern of rhyme and meter, or they can be more free-form. They provide a structure for the poem and can help emphasize different ideas or emotions.


Verse refers to a single line of poetry, and it is an essential component of a poem. Different types of verse have specific rules about meter, rhyme, and form, which contribute to the overall structure of the poem.

Types of Poems


A ballad is a narrative poem that typically tells a story through short stanzas with a focus on melody and rhythm. Ballads often have a simple rhyme scheme and meter, which make them easy to memorize and sing.

An example of a ballad stanza:

The river flows, the water deep, 
As secrets dance and shadows creep, 
A lonely heart adrift at night, 
Guided homeward by the moonlight.


An elegy is a melancholy poem that laments the death of someone or something. It often uses reflective and meditative language to explore themes of grief, loss, and the passage of time.

An example of an elegy:

Beneath the willow's weeping bough,
A solemn figure stands, head bowed.
In loving memory, they grieve,
For one whose time was much too brief.


An epic is a long, narrative poem that describes the heroic deeds of a legendary figure or the historical events of a nation. Epics are known for their grand style and formal diction, often employing features such as repetition, extended similes, and divine intervention.

An example of an epic excerpt:

His journey vast, across the sea,
Beset by perils bold and free.
Braving storms and mythic beasts,
One hero rose to face the East.


An epitaph is a brief, commemorative poem written for someone who has passed away. It is usually inscribed on a tombstone or plaque, capturing the essence of the person’s life or noble deeds in a few lines.

An example of an epitaph:

Here lies Jane, ever kind and true,
In life she laughed, in rest she flew,
To realms unknown, a spirit free,
Forever in our memory.

Free Verse

Free verse is a type of poetry that does not adhere to any specific meter or rhyme scheme, allowing the poet more freedom in expression and format. This form values the natural rhythm of speech and focuses on the linguistic and aesthetic qualities of language.

An example of free verse:

Sunlight streams through emerald leaves,
A golden canvas disrupted by shadows,
The stillness of the forest
Whispers songs of solitude.


A haiku is a traditional Japanese form of poetry consisting of three lines with a syllable pattern of 5-7-5. These concise poems evoke the essence of a moment or scene, often reflecting on nature’s beauty and the changing seasons.

An example of a haiku:

Autumn's crisp embrace,
Leaves tumble, a fiery dance,
Nature's farewell bow.


A hymn is a devotional poem, usually designed to be sung during a religious ceremony or celebration. Hymns convey reverence, gratitude, and praise for a higher power or divine presence, appealing to both the intellect and emotions.

An example of a hymn stanza:

Great source of life and light,
Bestow thy grace upon us still,
Lead us through day and night,
As we fulfill thy sovereign will.


A limerick is a playful, five-line poem with a distinctive rhythm and rhyme scheme (AABBA). Limericks are known for their wit and humor, often containing absurd situations or wordplay.

An example of a limerick:

There once was a man from Peru,
Who dreamt he was eating his shoe,
He awoke with a fright,
In the dark of the night,
To find that the dream had come true.


A sonnet is a 14-line poem classically written in iambic pentameter with a specific rhyme scheme. The two most common forms are the Italian (Petrarchan) sonnet, with a structure of ABBAABBACDCDCD, and the English (Shakespearean) sonnet, with a structure of ABABCDCDEFEFGG.

An example of a Shakespearean sonnet:

Shall I compare thee to a summer's day? (A)
Thou art more lovely and more temperate: (B)
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May, (A)
And summer's lease hath all too short a date: (B)

Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines, (C)
And often is his gold complexion dimm'd; (D)
And every fair from fair sometime declines, (C)
By chance or nature's changing course untrimm'd; (D)

But thy eternal summer shall not fade (E)
Nor lose possession of that fair thou owest; (F)
Nor shall Death brag thou wanderest in his shade, (E)
When in eternal lines to time thou growest: (F)

So long as men can breathe or eyes can see, (G)
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee. (G)

Famous Poems and Poets

Edgar Allan Poe

Edgar Allan Poe was an American writer and poet known for his dark and macabre themes. One of his most famous poems is “The Raven,” which tells the story of a man visited by a mysterious raven who repeats the word “Nevermore.”

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore—
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
"'Tis some visitor," I muttered, "tapping at my chamber door—
Only this and nothing more." 

William Shakespeare

William Shakespeare was an English playwright and poet widely regarded as one of the greatest literary figures in history. His collection of 154 sonnets remains a cornerstone of English literature. Here is an excerpt from Sonnet 18:

Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer's lease hath all too short a date:

Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou was an American poet and civil rights activist, whose works often explored themes of love, loss, and perseverance. One of her most celebrated poems is “Still I Rise,” which is an empowering message of resilience and strength.

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I'll rise.

Emily Dickinson

Emily Dickinson was a 19th-century American poet known for her reclusive nature and unique style, often marked by unorthodox punctuation and capitalization. One of her well-known poems is “Because I could not stop for Death,” which explores the journey of life and death.

Because I could not stop for Death –
He kindly stopped for me –
The Carriage held but just Ourselves –
And Immortality.

Modern Examples of Poems

In the modern era, poetry has evolved and diversified, encompassing a wide range of styles and themes. Here are a few unique examples to illustrate the variety found in contemporary poetry:


Poetry in songs refers to the use of poetic language, imagery, and techniques in song lyrics. Many songwriters incorporate elements of poetry into their lyrics to convey emotions, tell stories, and create vivid imagery that connects with the listener. Some of the poetic elements often found in song lyrics include:


Songwriters use descriptive language to create vivid images in the listener’s mind, enhancing the emotional impact of the song. For example, in “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen, the line “Caught in a landslide, no escape from reality” uses imagery to convey a feeling of helplessness and despair.

Metaphor and Simile

Metaphors and similes are comparisons used to describe one thing in terms of another, adding depth and layers of meaning to song lyrics. For example, in “Firework” by Katy Perry, the lyric “Do you ever feel like a plastic bag drifting through the wind?” uses a simile to describe a feeling of aimlessness and vulnerability.

Rhyme and Rhythm

Like in poetry, rhyme, and rhythm are important components of song lyrics. They contribute to the song’s musicality and can make the lyrics more memorable. For example, in “Lose Yourself” by Eminem, the rhyming pattern and rhythm create a sense of urgency that matches the song’s message about seizing opportunities.

Alliteration and Assonance

Alliteration (repetition of consonant sounds) and assonance (repetition of vowel sounds) are used in song lyrics to create a sense of flow and harmony. For example, in “Hotel California” by The Eagles, the line “On a dark desert highway, cool wind in my hair” employs alliteration with the repeated ‘d’ and ‘h’ sound and assonance with the repeated ‘i’ sound in “wind” and “in.”

Symbolism and Allegory

Songwriters often use symbols and allegories to convey complex ideas or emotions in a more accessible and engaging way. For example, in “Stairway to Heaven” by Led Zeppelin, the titular stairway can be interpreted as a symbol of spiritual enlightenment or the pursuit of a higher purpose.

These poetic elements can be found in various genres of music, from folk and rock to pop and hip-hop. Many songwriters, such as Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen, and Kendrick Lamar, are known for their poetic lyricism, which has contributed to their lasting impact on popular music and culture.

Here are a few examples of poetry in famous songs:

We gather here, we line up, weepin’ in a sunlit room
And if I’m on fire, you’ll be made of ashes, too
Even on my worst day, did I deserve, babe
All the hell you gave me?
‘Cause I loved you, I swear I loved you
‘Til my dying day

I didn’t have it in myself to go with grace
And you’re the hero flying around, saving face
And if I’m dead to you, why are you at the wake?
Cursing my name, wishing I stayed
Look at how my tears ricochet

“my tears ricochet” by Taylor Swift (2020)

I saw you dancing in a crowded room
You look so happy when I’m not with you
But then you saw me, caught you by surprise
A single teardrop falling from your eye

I don’t know why I run away
I’ll make you cry when I run away

“Save Your Tears” by The Weeknd (2020)

I had a dream
I got everything I wanted
Not what you’d think
And if I’m bein’ honest
It might’ve been a nightmare
To anyone who might care
Thought I could fly (fly)
So I stepped off the Golden, mm

“everything i wanted” by Billie Eilish (2019)

Spoken Poetry

Spoken poetry, also known as spoken word or performance poetry, is a form of poetry that is specifically written to be performed aloud in front of an audience.

Unlike traditional poetry, which is primarily intended to be read on the page, spoken poetry emphasizes the auditory, visual, and emotional aspects of a live performance.

This genre of poetry often incorporates elements of storytelling, monologues, and theatrical techniques to create a dynamic and engaging experience for the audience.

Spoken word poets use their voice, tone, pace, body language, and facial expressions to convey the meaning and emotions of their work. They often tackle various themes, including personal experiences, social issues, politics, and love, among others. The performances can range from intimate and introspective to powerful and passionate, depending on the poet’s style and the subject matter.

Spoken poetry has gained popularity in recent years through poetry slams, open mic events, and online platforms such as YouTube and social media, where poets can share their performances with a wider audience.

“Let it be known that I did not ask to be born this way, thick blooded and wide-eyed, ready to hold the weight of women like her. From the moment I took my first breath, I was destined to shoulder the burdens and stories of those who came before me, their strength and resilience coursing through my veins. With each heartbeat, I am reminded of their legacy, their love, and their sacrifices, as I navigate this world with an unwavering determination and an open heart.

My eyes, wide with wonder and curiosity, bear witness to the struggles and triumphs of the women who surround me, women who have shaped and inspired me. I see their laughter, their tears, their passion, and their resilience, and I embrace it all, knowing that it is both a gift and a responsibility.

I stand tall, with roots that dig deep into the earth, anchored by the stories of generations past, and branches that stretch toward the sky, reaching for a future filled with hope and possibility. I am a living testament to the power of these women, and I carry their wisdom and love within me, as I forge my own path and create my own story.

For I am the product of a thousand battles, born with the spirit of the warriors who walked before me, and I will not be silenced or deterred. I am thick-blooded and wide-eyed, and I will continue to hold the weight of women like her, as I honor their legacy and embrace my destiny.”

– Olivia Gatwood – “Ode to the Women on Long Island”

Impacts of Poems

Poems have influenced various aspects of human life throughout history. In this section, we will explore the impacts of poems in literature, education, and society.

In Literature

Poetry has played a vital role in literature as a means of expression and storytelling. Some famous examples of poems include:

  • Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night by Dylan Thomas
  • The Waste Land by T.S. Eliot
  • Howl by Allen Ginsberg

These poems have contributed to the development of literary movements, such as Romanticism, Modernism, and the Beat Generation, among others.

In Education

Poetry is used in the educational system to teach important skills such as reading comprehension, vocabulary, and critical thinking. It also serves as a platform to introduce students to various cultures and historical periods. For instance:

PoemAuthorTime Period
Sonnet 18William Shakespeare16th Century
Phenomenal WomanMaya Angelou20th Century
I Wandered Lonely as a CloudWilliam Wordsworth19th Century

In Society

Poems have long served as a means of social commentary and critique. They can raise awareness of social issues, express dissent or promote change. For example:

  • Still I Rise by Maya Angelou – showcases the resilience of the African-American community in the face of adversity.
  • Dover Beach by Matthew Arnold – reflects on the growing sense of uncertainty and loss of faith.

Poetry has also been used to celebrate important events and achievements, as seen in the poem Ode to the West Wind by Percy Bysshe Shelley, which celebrates the spirit of revolution and change.

Poetry as a Form of Expression

Poetry has long been used as a powerful means of expressing a wide range of emotions. In this section, we will discuss how poets use language and poetic devices to capture the essence of love, happiness, grief, anger, and sorrow.


Love is a common theme in poetry, as poets explore the depths of their emotions for loved ones. From romantic adoration to deep friendship, poems about love often use metaphors to describe the intense feelings associated with this emotion.


“When you come home, darling, I shant have your letters, but I shall have yourself, which is more— oh more, and better, than I can even think! I sit here with my little whip, cracking the time away, ’till not an hour is left of it— then you are here! And joy is here— joy now and forevermore! Tis only a few days, Susie, it will soon go away, yet I say, “go now, this very moment, for I need her— I must have her, oh, give her to me!” Sometimes when I do feel so, I think it may be wrong, and that God will punish me by taking you away; for He is very kind to let me write to you, and to give me your sweet letters, but my heart wants more.”

– Emily Dickinson, Open Me Carefully: Emily Dickinson’s Intimate Letters to Susan Huntington Dickinson


Poets also express happiness and joy through their choice of words and imagery. When crafting poems about happiness, they often use bright, vibrant language that ties in closely with the emotions being conveyed.


All creatures drink of joy
At nature’s breasts.
All the Just, all the Evil
Follow her trail of roses.
Kisses she gave us and grapevines,
A friend, proven in death.
Ecstasy was given to the worm
And the cherub stands before God.

“Ode to Joy” by Friedrich Schiller


Experiencing loss can evoke grief, and poetry serves as an outlet for those looking to express their sorrow. Poets use evocative language and symbols to convey their feelings of sadness and despair.


When I am dead, my dearest,
Sing no sad songs for me;
Plant thou no roses at my head,
Nor shady cypress tree:
Be the green grass above me
With showers and dewdrops wet;
And if thou wilt, remember,
And if thou wilt, forget.

I shall not see the shadows,
I shall not feel the rain;
I shall not hear the nightingale
Sing on, as if in pain:
And dreaming through the twilight
That doth not rise nor set,
Haply I may remember,
And haply may forget.

“When I Am Dead, My Dearest” by Christina Rossetti


Through poetry, poets tap into the power of language to express their anger in creative ways. They may use strong words, intense imagery, and rhythm to emphasize their emotions.


I was angry with my friend:
I told my wrath, my wrath did end.
I was angry with my foe:
I told it not, my wrath did grow.

And I watered it in fears,
Night and morning with my tears;
And I sunned it with smiles,
And with soft deceitful wiles.

And it grew both day and night,
Till it bore an apple bright.
And my foe beheld it shine,
And he knew that it was mine,

And into my garden stole,
When the night had veiled the pole;
In the morning glad I see
My foe outstretched beneath the tree.

“The Poison Tree” by William Blake


Sorrow, often stemming from loss or disappointment, is another emotion that poets depict through their writing. The use of somber, melancholic language and imagery allows poets to capture the essence of their sorrow in verse.


I have been one acquainted with the night.
I have walked out in rain—and back in rain.
I have outwalked the furthest city light.

I have looked down the saddest city lane.
I have passed by the watchman on his beat
And dropped my eyes, unwilling to explain.

I have stood still and stopped the sound of feet
When far away an interrupted cry
Came over houses from another street,

But not to call me back or say good-bye;
And further still at an unearthly height,
One luminary clock against the sky

Proclaimed the time was neither wrong nor right.
I have been one acquainted with the night.

“Acquainted with the Night” by Robert Frost

Analyzing and Interpreting Poems

Analyzing and interpreting poems requires an understanding of various elements and literary techniques.

Theme and Subject

The theme and subject of a poem refer to the central ideas and topics explored. Identify the theme by closely reading the poem and looking for recurring motifs and patterns.


A shooting star sparkles the midnight sky
Whispers of love, fleeting moments passing by
A touch in the night, a heart set aglow
Fleeting as the comet, emotions shall flow

In this example, the subject is love, and the theme could be the ephemeral nature of emotions.

Tone and Mood

Examine the tone and mood of the poem, which indicate the attitude of the author and the emotional atmosphere, respectively.


A dark cloud looms overhead
Shadows dancing, stealing light
Silent whispers echo dread
Moonlit night, a somber sight

In this example, the tone is somber, and the mood is eerie and reflective.


Symbolism in poetry refers to the use of objects, events, or characters to represent abstract ideas, concepts, or emotions. Identify symbolic elements to uncover deeper meanings.


Mighty oak, its branches high
Roots prying deep in Earth’s embrace
Withstanding storms, harsh winds defy
A symbol of strength, beauty, and grace

In this example, the mighty oak symbolizes strength, resilience, and growth.

Poetry vs Prose

Poetry and prose are two distinct forms of writing that serve different purposes and have unique characteristics.

Poetry is a form of literary expression that emphasizes aesthetics, rhythm, and imagination, often using metrical patterns and figurative language. Prose, on the other hand, is the typical language structure used in novels, essays, and everyday speech, focusing on clear and straightforward communication without specific metrical patterns.

While both poetry and prose can convey meaningful messages, they do so in different ways. Poetry often relies on imagery, symbolism, and the creative use of language to evoke emotions and provoke thought. Prose, in contrast, aims to present ideas and stories in a clear and logical manner, using familiar language and sentence structures.

Here are more examples of poems that showcase the unique nature of poetry:

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of being and ideal grace.

– Elizabeth Barrett Browning, “Sonnet 43”

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

– Robert Frost, “The Road Not Taken”

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

– Dylan Thomas, “Do not go gentle into that good night”

Frequently Asked Questions

How has poetry evolved over time?

Poetry has evolved significantly over time, adapting to cultural, social, and artistic changes. In ancient times, poetry was often used as a means of storytelling and preserving history. As societies developed and new forms of expression emerged, poetry began to explore a wider range of themes and styles.

The invention of the printing press allowed for the dissemination of poetry to a broader audience, which contributed to the rise of new poetic movements such as Romanticism, Modernism, and the Beat Generation.

Today, poetry continues to evolve, with the advent of the internet and social media enabling poets to share their work with a global audience and experiment with new forms such as digital and multimedia poetry.

How does poetry influence the way we perceive the world around us?

Poetry can influence our perception of the world by encouraging us to see things from different perspectives, appreciate the beauty in ordinary moments, and explore complex emotions and ideas.

Through its use of vivid imagery, metaphor, and symbolism, poetry can reveal hidden layers of meaning and foster a deeper connection to our surroundings and experiences.

Is it possible for a poem to have multiple interpretations?

Yes, a poem can have multiple interpretations, as readers bring their own unique perspectives, experiences, and emotions to the text. The ambiguity and openness of poetry allow for a range of meanings and interpretations, making it a dynamic and evolving art form that can resonate with diverse audiences.


Poems are a testament to the power and beauty of language, transcending time and culture. Throughout this exploration of the definition and examples of poetry, we’ve witnessed how various forms and styles can evoke emotions, provoke thought, and connect us to our shared human experience.

As you continue to discover and appreciate the world of verse, remember that each poem offers a unique glimpse into the mind and heart of the poet, inviting you to reflect and engage with their words. May your journey through the realm of poetry be both inspiring and enriching!

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Kyna is a writer and aspiring doctor. Besides writing, she likes discovering new music, immersing herself in interactive books, and engaging in multiplayer shooter games. She is passionate about chemistry, human biology, and pharmacology, and is always eager to learn more about these subjects.