Identifying Forms in English Poetry

An error occurred trying to load this video.

Try refreshing the page, or contact customer support.

Coming up next: Role of the Narrator in British Novels: Types & Examples

You're on a roll. Keep up the good work!

Take Quiz Watch Next Lesson
Your next lesson will play in 10 seconds
  • 0:01 Poetic Forms
  • 0:43 Meter
  • 5:02 Rhyme
  • 7:30 Lesson Summary
Add to Add to Add to

Want to watch this again later?

Log in or sign up to add this lesson to a Custom Course.

Login or Sign up


Recommended Lessons and Courses for You

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Natalie Boyd

Natalie is a teacher and holds an MA in English Education and is in progress on her PhD in psychology.

Why do some poems rhyme, while others don't? What makes poems look and sound different from each other? Watch this lesson to find out the skinny on poetic form, specifically the role that meter and rhyme plays in English poetry.

Poetic Forms

Kit is writing a poem for a class that he's taking, but he's feeling a little overwhelmed. He knows that some poems rhyme and some don't, some have a specific rhythm and others don't, and that some have a certain number of lines and some don't. What type of poem should Kit write?

A poetic form is the physical structure of a poem, such as the rhythm and length of the lines, the number of lines in a poem, and the rhyme scheme. The questions Kit has about what type of poem to write deal with the poetic form of his poem.

Let's look closer at some of the elements that make up poetic form, specifically meter and rhyme.


Kit wants to know more about poetic form and what elements are present in a poem's form. He's noticed that some poems sound very different from each other, but he's not sure what the poem's form has to do with that.

One of the first elements of poetic form is meter, or the rhythm of a poem. Meter is dependent upon two things: the number of syllables per line and the way those syllables are accented.

To understand the impact of accents in poetry, let's listen to the first two lines of two different poems (see the video at 01:19 to hear these lines):

'Come live with me and be my love,

And we will all the pleasures prove…'

'Tyger Tyger, burning bright,

In the forests of the night…'

Can you hear the difference in the way these two poems sound? They both have eight syllables per line, but they are accented differently. The first poem, called 'The Passionate Shepherd to His Love' by Christopher Marlowe, is in iambic verse, which means that the even numbered syllables are accented in each line. Listen again to the first two lines:

'Come live with me and be my love,

And we will all the pleasures prove…'

In those lines, the second, fourth, sixth, and eighth syllables are stressed. In the first line, for example, the words live, me, be, and love are stressed when you read them.

Iambic verse is the most common type of accent in British poetry. English naturally tends to accent even numbered syllables, so when a poem is iambic, it sounds natural and relaxing. In Marlowe's poem, the lines almost sound like a soft stream rolling by the shepherd as he professes his love to his girlfriend.

The opposite of iambic verse is trochaic verse, where odd numbered syllables are stressed. Remember the opening lines from William Blake's poem 'The Tyger'?

'Tyger Tyger, burning bright,

In the forests of the night…'

This sounds very different from Marlowe's iambic verse! Because the first, third, fifth, and seventh syllables are stressed, Blake's poem sounds much more unnatural than the iambic verse. It's just not the way we usually speak! But it works for his poem, about a tiger in a forest, because it sounds almost like drums in a jungle.

Kit understands the difference between iambic and trochaic verse. But he also remembers that meter has two elements: the number of syllables per line and which syllables are stressed. As we've just seen with iambic and trochaic verse, the stressed syllables can define what a poem is called. But so can the number of syllables per line.

Take the two poems above: both have eight syllables per line, a form that's called octameter. Notice that the word octameter has two parts: Oct- meaning eight and meter (as we've seen) is the rhythm of a poem. Together, the word octameter means that the meter involves eight syllables per line.

One of the most common line lengths in English poetry is pentameter, which is a poem with ten syllables per line. Take this example of pentameter, from William Shakespeare's 'Sonnet 141':

'In faith I do not love thee with mine eyes,

For they in thee a thousand errors note;

But 'tis my heart that loves what they despise,

Who in despite of view is pleased to dote…'

In this example, each line has ten syllables, so it is in pentameter. Just as the oct- in octameter means eight, the pent- in pentameter means ten.

Kit noticed something in Shakespeare's sonnet: the lines are in iambic verse, like the Christopher Marlowe poem from before. When talking about a poem's meter, you can combine the number of syllables and the accents to name the type of meter. In the case of Shakespeare's sonnet, it is in iambic pentameter, a common type of meter in English poetry, where a poem's lines have ten syllables and the even numbered syllables are stressed.

In contrast, Marlowe's poem is in iambic octameter, which is less common, and William Blake's poem, about the tiger, is in trochaic octameter, which is not common at all in English poetry!

To unlock this lesson you must be a Member.
Create your account

Register to view this lesson

Are you a student or a teacher?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use

Become a member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back
What teachers are saying about
Try it risk-free for 30 days

Earning College Credit

Did you know… We have over 160 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 1,500 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page

Transferring credit to the school of your choice

Not sure what college you want to attend yet? has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.

Create an account to start this course today
Try it risk-free for 30 days!
Create An Account