Doggerel in Poetry: Definition & Examples

Doggerel in Poetry: Definition & Examples
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  • 0:00 Doggerel Defined
  • 0:59 Examples of Doggerel
  • 2:49 Intentional Doggerel
  • 5:13 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Timothy Inman

Tim has taught college English and has a Master of Fine Arts degree in writing and poetics.

In this lesson, you'll learn the meaning of the term doggerel, and find out how it has been used throughout the history of poetry with the help of a variety of different examples.

Doggerel Defined

Doggerel is a technical term for bad poetry, which is usually characterized by irregular verse, forced rhyme and overly sentimental tones. It can also be used for comical effect. You probably know or knew someone in high school who wrote doggerel. Here is an example of a doggerel poem by a hypothetical teenager:

Life is a treacherous abyss,

It will leave you so amiss,

Like a bird trying to find its lover,

Or looking for a bit of cover

From the storm, we keep trying

To figure out our calling

And yet we're left

Cold and bereft.

This bit of verse shows several qualities that we look for in doggerel. It is overly sentimental, depicting life as a 'treacherous abyss' in which all are 'left cold and bereft.' It also exhibits irregular verse and forced rhyme. In formal, metrical poetry, there are a set number of syllables in each line. In this poem, we see lines varying in length and made to rhyme in a completely artificial way.

Examples of Doggerel

However, it isn't just mopey adolescents who write bad verse. There are plenty of examples of doggerel in the history of published poetry. Here is an example excerpt of doggerel by the poet Charles Fuller:

It is our poetic verse

That releases the restraints

Opening our minds eye

To flowing sincere thought

Fuller praises the vocation of the poet in an overly dramatic way, reeking of sentimentality.

In another example, taken from Geoffrey Chaucer's 'Tale of Sir Thopas,' the speaker of the poem alters the natural flow of speech for the sole purpose of making the lines rhyme:

Sir Thopas was a doughty swain,

White was his face as paindemain,

His lippes red as rose.

His rode is like scarlet in grain,

And I you tell in good certain

He had a seemly nose.

Over time, poets tried to consciously avoid being seen as writers of doggerel. In fact, modern poets invented a style known as free verse, in which all conventions regarding meter and rhyme were discarded in order to steer clear of seeming 'artificial.'

However, modern examples of doggerel still persist. Popular music is full of it. Justin Bieber's lyrics is just one example:

I always knew you were the best

The coolest girl I know

So prettier than all the rest

The star of my show

So many times I wished

You'd be the one for me

But never knew it'd get like this

Girl what you do to me

These lyrics are from Bieber's popular song, 'Favorite Girl.' In it, he waxes poetic about an adolescent fling, throwing out such insistently sentimental lines as 'the coolest girl I know' and 'so prettier than all the rest.' Bieber also uses rhyme just for the sake of rhyming. The whole thing is so transparent as to not escape the label of doggerel.

Intentional Doggerel

Doggerel is not always bad, though. Sometimes it's used intentionally in order to enhance the poetic quality of a song or literary work. As an intentional literary device, doggerel is typically utilized for comical effect. In many cases, such as nursery rhymes, commercial jingles, and popular songs, doggerel is not used in a sappy or overly sentimental way. The poet John Skelton defended its use in this vein:

For though my rhyme be ragged,

Tattered and jagged,

Rudely rain-beaten,

Rusty and moth-eaten,

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