The Effects of Form & Structure in Poetry & Drama

Instructor: Rachel Noorda
Form and structure can influence the meaning of poetry and drama. This lesson looks at the main forms and structures of poetry and drama and discusses how those elements can give you clues about what the piece means.

Effects of Form and Structure on Meaning

Have you ever been watching a film and noticed that the camera angle or the music for the scene influences the way that you understand what is happening? Scary music and certain camera angles tell you that the scene you are watching is a scary scene, for example.

Just like a scene in a film, the way that a poem or drama is presented tells you what the poem or drama is going to be about. It is like a shorthand, code, or clue to the content of the piece.

Form and Structure in Poetry

Two things determine the form and structure of a poem: rhyme scheme and meter. Rhyme scheme is the pattern of the rhyming words at the end of each line and meter is the pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables in each line. Each type of poem is going to use a certain rhyme scheme and meter, which can be clues to letting you know the meaning of the poem.


If you encounter a ballad, you can know that it will probably tell the story of a legend or folktale. The meter for the ballad is six or eight syllables in each line with a pattern of unstressed, stressed, unstressed, stressed, etc. The rhyme scheme is every other line rhymes in each stanza, example: abab, cdcd, efef, etc.

Image of a famous ballad, The Lady of Shalott


Haikus are contain three lines and are usually about nature. The first and third lines have five syllables each, while the second line has seven syllables.


When you see a limerick, you can know that it will be a humorous poem and will most likely be about a person. Limericks tell funny stories in five lines. Within a limerick, the first, fourth and fifth lines rhyme and the second and third lines rhyme. The meter of a limerick is the repetition of two unstressed syllables followed by a stressed syllable.


The subject of an elegy is usually love, death, or war. It is a poem written in quatrains, which are stanzas of four lines, with the end-word of every other line rhyming (ABAB, etc). The lines of an elegy are in iambic pentameter, a technique in which a line containing ten syllables has an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable.

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