Skip to main content

How to Write Lyric Poetry

How to Write Lyric Poetry

How to Write Lyric Poetry

Contents:

  • What is a Lyric Poem?
  • Some Classical Lyrical Poetry Forms
  • Options for Writing a Lyrical Poem
  • A Quick Reference Chart of Lyrical Poetry Forms
  • Suggestions for Writing Narrative Poetry
  • Quick Tips for Working with Rhyme in Poetry
  • An Original Lyrical Poem: "Echoes of my Grandfather"

What Is a Lyric Poem?

The old man’s eyes sparked to life beneath his wizened brow as the children gathered ‘round. With a deep and quiet voice he said, “Now listen to the tale of ‘The Unquiet Grave’…”

Lyric Poetry

...a narrative poem that is usually set to a musical accompaniment

Here is a classic picture of one facet of the multi-faceted jewel that is lyric poetry. Formally, the lyric poem is recognized as beginning with the Greeks, but its true origins likely run all the way back to the earliest days of mankind when we first discovered the power of rhythm and rhyme-infused words for preserving our history and legend. By its broadest definition, lyric poetry is simply a narrative poem that is usually set to a musical accompaniment.

As such, it is no surprise that the lyric poem has developed a large number of different formal structures to serve a wide variety of purposes throughout history. Here is a brief summary of the most common lyrical poetry forms in Western civilization (click here to see a chart detailing the various stanza arrangements, rhyme schemes, and rhythmic layouts):

Some Classical Lyrical Poetry Forms

  • The Ode: It's one of the earliest forms of lyrical poetry with roots that likely go back deep into human history. The first formal appearances of the form lay with the Greeks, who always set them to music. Many odes have varied and elaborate structures, but they all are designed for praising or celebrating a particular idea, person, or place.
  • Ballad: A poetry form primarily associated with England in the latter part of the middle ages up through the 19th century, though its roots go back into ancient storytelling traditions; it is a narrative poem traditionally set in regular four-line stanzas with a repeating refrain.
  • Ballade: It's a French poetic form dating back to the 13th century (similar to the “ballad,” but not the same). It is a four-stanza narrative poem of tightly structured rhythm and rhyme, including a repeated line of refrain.
  • Sonnet: Sonnets are lyrical poetry form traditionally thought to have originated in the province if Sicily in Italy. In all of its forms—Petrarchan, Spenserian, and Shakespearean—it is a 14-line, single-stanza poem in which the beginning lines establish a situation that is followed by a shift or response in the concluding lines.
  • Villanelle: Originally a flexible French form, the rigidly structured modern villanelle did not enter popular use until the 19th century, where it became a common form among English-language poets. The rhyme scheme is very specific and designed around only two rhyme sounds along with the regular repetition of two repeated refrains.

Options for Writing a Lyrical Poem

With the huge variety of lyrical poetry forms available, there are many flexible options for meeting the interests, purposes, and ability levels of any poet, novice to master. I have arranged a few possibilities below rated according to their level of complexity. Choose your form according to what sounds both manageable and appealing to you as a writer:

  • Basic Forms: By its broadest definition, any narrative poem that could be set to music qualifies as a lyrical poem. So, if you are looking for the greatest flexibility, then just craft a story into a poem and set it to music according to whatever form suit you.
  • Moderate Complexity Forms: Working within the framework of an established poetic form creates enjoyable compositional challenges and adds legitimacy to your poem’s lyrical quality. The English “ballad” provides the most flexibility, though the “sonnet” provides a form that is also reasonable to manage, particularly if one does not worry too much about rhythmic form.
  • Deep Complexity Forms: Writing a “villanelle” is an enchantingly challenging task, even for professional poets. Still, it is not unreasonable for any poet who has the patience to work through the form. Writing a “sonnet” or a “ballade” in strict form is also tricky but rewarding.

A Quick Reference Chart of Lyrical Poetry Forms

Lyrical FormStanzasLines per StanzaSyllables & MeterRhyme SchemeNotes

Ode

Variable

Variable

Variable

Variable

Has Many Forms

Ballad

Variable

Quatrain (4)

8-6-8-6 ; all iambic

abcb, defe, ghih, etc.

Has a repeated "refrain" stanza

Ballade

4

3 Octets (8) and 1 Quatrain (4)

8 ; all iambic

ababbcbC (first 3), bcbC (last)

C is a repeated "refrain"

Petrarchan Sonnet

1

14

10 ; iambic pentameter

abbaabba/cdcdcd

Arranged as a Statement/Response

Spenserian Sonnet

1

14

10 ; iambic pentameter

ababbcbccdcdee

Arranged as a Statement/Response

Shakespearean Sonnet

1

14

10 ; iambic pentameter

ababcdcdefefgg

Arranged as a Statement/Response

Villanelle

6

5 Tercets and 1 Quatrain (4)

10 ; iambic pentameter

A1bA2/abA1/abA2/abA1/abA2/abA1A2

A1 & A2 are repeated rhyming lines

Note on Rhythm and Rhyme

  • Rhythm: Explaining how poets analyze word rhythms is too complex a discussion to be included here. In a general sense, if you just use your ear and follow the suggested syllables, it will work out well. If you would like to know more, I suggest googling the noted metrical patterns.
  • Rhyme: Contemporary poets will often use slant or half rhyme instead of full rhyme to make navigating the forms easier and more natural.

Suggestions for Writing Narrative Poetry

With your poetic form decided, it’s now time to develop your subject. At the heart of a lyrical poem is always a story. In their oldest historical forms, these stories were about great heroes, momentous events, or tragic tales of love. More modern lyrical poetry often takes on subjects that are less grandiose, sometimes revolving around stories of very common, every-day events.

Whatever the nature of your story, it still sits at the center, so building a good narrative is essential. Here are a few quick tips for writing successful stories:

  • Stories center on character and conflict: At the heart of all great stories is a person—or group of people—who is facing a problem. The problem generates the conflict and how the character responds to this conflict defines the plot of the story. If you already have a story in mind, consciously define the central conflict hidden within it and then purposefully write around this tension. If you do not have a story in mind, then imagine a colorful character and place her into different situations. Once you find a combination that sparks interest, follow it and see where it goes.
  • Sensory detail is essential: Great poems, just like great novels, thrive on descriptions of concrete physical detail. Do not tell your reader what to think or how to feel. Instead, work to pull the thoughts and feelings out of your reader naturally by creating a rich and deep sensory experience for them that will draw them through your poem.
  • Poems thrive on unexpected twists: While this is not universally true for all poems, it is still something to keep in mind. Many great poems build up expectations in their readers only to surprise them towards the end. If you can create a poem that has this effect, then you likely have a quality piece in hand.

Quick Tips for Working With Rhyme in Poetry

Due to its musical roots, Lyrical Poetry is usually set in a regular pattern of full rhyme. While it is quite possible to write something like a lyrical poem in free verse or slant rhyme (also known as half rhyme), the traditional forms all use full rhyme. Writing full-rhyme poetry can be very tricky. Here are a few suggestions to make the process a little easier:

  • Use a rhyming dictionary: Even for writers with a very wide vocabulary, this tool comes in handy. Simply put in the word you are working with and it will give you a multitude of options to fit into your next line. This is especially valuable when writing in one of the forms that calls for a large number of rhyming words for the same sound.
  • Watch out for “forced rhymes”: Balancing the movement of idea and meaning in a poem with the need to match rhyme pattern is one of the huge challenges of writing a fixed-form poem. All too often, the poet will get stuck trying to find a rhyming word that fits what he wants to express in a line and, like the ugly step-sisters jamming their feet in a glass slipper far too small, the poet crams some words in to make it fit, sacrificing idea and feeling to maintain form. If you find these, revise to get rid of them; many poems are ruined by “forced rhymes.”
  • Be flexible: When you’ve been rewriting a line for a while to develop a decent rhyme match and nothing seems to work, one of the best approaches is to change the structure of the original line so a different word sound lands at the end. This opens up a whole new set of potential match words, making it far more likely you will end up with a good rhyme that serves the sense and meaning of the poem.
Scroll to Continue

An Original English Ballad

In closing, here is a model poem I wrote with the ideas presented here. Using the oral history of my Mexican grandfather’s entry into the United States, I’ve crafted an English ballad. You will note as you read it that I have exchanged the traditional full rhyme pattern for the modern technique of slant, or half, rhyme.

Ignacio, Mi Lito (My Grandfather)

Ignacio, Mi Lito (My Grandfather)

Echoes of my Grandfather

He feels the sweat descend his brow
beneath a burning sun
while ‘round him anxious soldiers roam
and whisper revolution.

There at the Mexican border he sits
upon a sandwich pail
waiting to sell and earn a small sum
this boy who’s lost his father.

A piece of his soul has crumbled away
with the loss of one he loves,
but through the grief he finds the will
to live and build a home.

Mi hijo! Mi hijo! his mother cries
when he returns to her.
Taken! Taken! Your brother, my son,
is gone in darkness and rain.

The soldiers came and took him in arms
to fight for Pancho Villa!

At nine years old he knew that soon
they’d return and come for him.

A piece of his soul has crumbled away
with the loss of one he loves,
but through the grief he finds the will
to live and build a home.

The sisters, the mother and the only son
turned from the home they knew.
They walked to the north with a hope to see
a future without the war.

He feels the sweat descend his brow
beneath a burning sun,
and as he leaves the border behind
he mourns dear Mexico.

A piece of his soul has crumbled away
with the loss of one he loves,
but through the grief he finds the will
to live and build a home.

Comments

alby may on August 24, 2019:

thanks for the knowledge of this notes. I will write mine and let you know about it .

carl on February 21, 2018:

'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.

Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,

And often in his gold complexion dimmed;

And every fair from fair sometime declines,

By chance, or nature's changing course, untrimmed.

But thy eternal summer shall not fade,

Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow'st

Nor shall death brag thou wand'rest in his shade,

When in eternal lines to time thou grow'st

So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,

So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.'

wayseeker (author) from Colorado on November 03, 2016:

Thank you!

Cee-Jay Aurinko from Cape Town, South Africa on November 02, 2016:

As a book reviewer who might stumble upon an author who wishes me to review a poetry book, I find this hub to quite useful to use as a reference tool. Thank you, wayseeker. I love the outline of all the different forms and I enjoyed your poem. Your hub is nothing less than a fun, but useful read.

wayseeker (author) from Colorado on May 18, 2016:

Robert,

My thanks for adding a subtle distinction here that is somewhat muddied by this article. It is always good to continually sharpen one's clarity of understanding.

Happy writing!

Bert

Robert Levine from Brookline, Massachusetts on May 16, 2016:

Narrative poetry is usually considered as a separate category from lyric poetry. While lyric poetry may contain narrative elements, it usually centers on the "exploded moment": heightened perception of an image or series of images in a moment or sequence of moments.

wayseeker (author) from Colorado on November 11, 2015:

Sam,

Thank you. I love to write poetry, though I seldom have time these days.

Happy writing!

Bert

wayseeker (author) from Colorado on September 05, 2012:

Shara63,

Every writer is pleased to come across those who find value in their work. Thanks for your positive feedback. Poetry has become one of my favorite things as a writer, which is unexpected. Still, it's a wonderful way to simply sit and be with words. I sincerely hope that you find it useful.

wayseeker

Farhat from Delhi on September 03, 2012:

writing poem and understanding poetry are two different things, and your hub beautifully differentiates the two with an introduction to the basic forms and features of the classic poetry!

thankyou Wayseeker, for sharing this wonderful knowledge with the learners like me and many others out here...thank you so much!

wayseeker (author) from Colorado on April 20, 2012:

Sid,

Thanks so much for reading. I'm pleased that the introduction worked for you, and I hope that it leads to the production of many a wonderful verse! It actually has inspired me to do a bit more writing in the genre myself, too.

Happy writing to you,

wayseeker

Sid Kemp from Boca Raton, Florida (near Miami and Palm Beach) on April 20, 2012:

Thank you. I really appreciate these clear introductions to the core forms. I'm inspired! I may try some odes of my own.

wayseeker (author) from Colorado on April 14, 2012:

tnjman,

I've a lot on my plate at just this moment, but I will definitely add this to my list and make a note to let you know when I get there. I'd be happy to share what I know.

In the mean time, my very best to you in your writing!

wayseeker

tnjman from Nashville, Tennessee on April 14, 2012:

Well, is there any way at all you can give TIPS - by that, I mean, your Hub here is amazingly-well designed, not just from a content aspect, but from OUTSTANDING LAYOUT!

I mean, maybe you could do a Hub, "How I created the layout for the 'How to Write Lyric Poetry' hub."

Many of us struggle to do such layouts and I have yet to see a 'first-hand' experience of a "How-To." Thanks!

wayseeker (author) from Colorado on April 14, 2012:

tnjman,

Thanks for stopping by! I'd be happy to see you again, and I hope to keep producing things that will be of value.

Happy writing,

wayseeker

tnjman from Nashville, Tennessee on April 14, 2012:

Thanks - definitely I will be reading you more often.

wayseeker (author) from Colorado on April 13, 2012:

PrairiPrincess,

Thanks so much for reading! I'm glad you found some new ways to play with poetry--such a joy. May they work well for you, and thanks again for stopping in,

wayseeker

wayseeker (author) from Colorado on April 13, 2012:

Haikutwinkle,

I was surprised at how broad this topic was once I got into it. Enjoy the new options!

wayseeker

Sharilee Swaity from Canada on April 13, 2012:

Wayseeker, this is an incredible resource! I learned a lot from this. Will be sharing this and saving it for myself, to study further. I would like to try some of these forms for myself, as a new challenge. Thank you for writing such an informative, beautiful hub. You definitely deserved your hub of the day award. Great work!

haikutwinkle on April 13, 2012:

Dear wayseeker,

This is a really great hub!

Now I can try different poetry styles!

wayseeker (author) from Colorado on April 13, 2012:

RTalloni,

Thanks for stopping in to read. I have found it fascinating how each of us has family stories that are rich and compelling. It's a joy to craft them into our writing.

Happy writing!

wayseeker

RTalloni on April 12, 2012:

Congratulations on your well-earned award. The work you've put into this tells me I should check out your other hubs. Thanks for sharing your Echoes of My Grandfather--the story is compelling.

wayseeker (author) from Colorado on April 12, 2012:

Shanemartin,

Thanks for reading!

wayseeker

wayseeker (author) from Colorado on April 12, 2012:

Peggy W,

That story of my Lito (my grandfather) is one that is dear to my heart from many years back in my life. It was very rewarding to try to craft it into a poem. Thanks for the votes, and happy writing to you!

wayseeker

wayseeker (author) from Colorado on April 12, 2012:

Jeff,

I had not thought of this as "reference material," but I suppose that is what it is. I'm so glad you enjoyed it, and many thanks for taking the time to read it!

wayseeker

wayseeker (author) from Colorado on April 12, 2012:

Prasetio,

It's a great please to have had an opportunity to create something that others find value in. I so appreciate you taking the time to read, and I hope it helps you in your own writing!

wayseeker

wayseeker (author) from Colorado on April 12, 2012:

pongogirl2,

I'm so glad you enjoyed the poem. Thanks for taking the time to read it,

wayseeker

wayseeker (author) from Colorado on April 12, 2012:

Gregorious,

I don't know of any decent poet that thinks they're good, so you're in good company. Just remember that you are always better than you think you are. The trick is to always move toward making that next poem a little better than the last. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn't, but there's always another page out there to be written!

Thanks for reading,

wayseeker

wayseeker (author) from Colorado on April 12, 2012:

jaswinder64,

Thanks for taking some time to spend here!

wayseeker

wayseeker (author) from Colorado on April 12, 2012:

Urmilashuckl23,

Thanks for reading!

wayseeker

wayseeker (author) from Colorado on April 12, 2012:

pstraubie48,

I am pleased that the density of information, which overwhelmed me at times as I was composing this, seems to have worked out okay. I'm very glad people are finding it useful.

Thanks for taking the time to read,

wayseeker

wayseeker (author) from Colorado on April 12, 2012:

StephanieBCrosby,

Thanks for taking the time to read! I have added an add-on to my firefox called "Read Something" that allows me to bookmark any page I'm on in one click. I love it for things that I want to find my way back to quickly and easily. I don't know if that will be of any use to you, but there it is just in case.

Thanks so much for taking the time to read the piece,

wayseeker

wayseeker (author) from Colorado on April 12, 2012:

albatros333,

The poem here was the last thing I wrote. I was definitely nervous about it as I began, but it was great fun to work out. Dive in and go! Get some lyrics down and then publish them here so we can take a look and enjoy.

Happy writing,

wayseeker

wayseeker (author) from Colorado on April 12, 2012:

Pinto2011,

The instructive nature of this hub is something lots of folks have noticed, and I really did not recognize as I was putting it together. I learned a great deal from the research myself, and I'm pleased others are finding it valuable.

Thanks for reading,

wayseeker

wayseeker (author) from Colorado on April 12, 2012:

Levertis,

"...like viewing a mural..."--thank you so much for this. I am so very pleased that it moved you. This was my first run at a strictly lyrical poem, though I've written a number of poems in other styles prior to this one. I was simply very happy to discover that I did not have to use full-rhyme form as many lyrical poems do. My brain really hits a wall when I have to go there.

Thanks for taking the time to read!

wayseeker

wayseeker (author) from Colorado on April 12, 2012:

Senoritaa,

I learned a few more details about some of these by doing this article than I knew before. As you say, always a joy to learn new forms.

Thanks so much for stopping in,

wayseeker

wayseeker (author) from Colorado on April 12, 2012:

John,

High praise from a man who knows writing well--thank you!

My best to you,

wayseeker

wayseeker (author) from Colorado on April 12, 2012:

Allie,

My sincere appreciation for stopping in to read. As always, it was fun to write!

Happy Hubbing to you!

wayseeker

wayseeker (author) from Colorado on April 12, 2012:

tammyswallow,

I've been loving what the art program "gimp" can do with photos. I'm glad that the opening picture has helped to make the hub a good experience for my readers.

Thanks so much for being one of them!

wayseeker

wayseeker (author) from Colorado on April 12, 2012:

Mary615,

I appreciate what you've said about my poem, though I, too, wonder about how good it actually is. All I know for sure is that the more you write them the better they become, so I'd say we both should just keep writing!

Thanks for reading,

wayseeker

wayseeker (author) from Colorado on April 12, 2012:

kelleyward,

I've taken to using the anchored table of contents in most everything I publish these days--it just makes the hub so user friendly. I learned it from a hub called "Table of Contents" by Darkside, a fellow Hubber here. Look it up and I'm sure you'll find it. It's a bit of a process at first, but, after you get used to it, it goes a lot faster.

Thanks for taking the time to read!

wayseeker

wayseeker (author) from Colorado on April 12, 2012: