An introduction to the concept of form in poetry and the ways it can be used to appreciate that poetry.
The form of a poem means the way in which it is structured, the number of lines in a stanza or verse, the number of verses in the poem overall and so forth. There are several aspects to bear in mind when considering the form of a poem. The first one is to identify the form of a particular poem. The second is to compare the form of the poem considered with the forms of other poems and the third part is to consider whether the choice of form adds to the value and pleasure of the poem and, if so, in which way.
There are a number of well-known verse forms that the poetry will soon learn to recognize. The simplest comes from lyric poetry and is still often used in the lyrics that accompany popular music (the name ‘lyric’ means it is written to be accompanied by a lyre or indeed by any form of music). This originally was based on four line verses with a simple abab rhyme scheme – the verses as often followed by a one or two line chorus. If the chorus is in two lines, the rhyme scheme is usually cc. Another well-known form is the sonnet, of which there are several variants (e.g. the Shakespearian, Petrarchan, Spenserian and so forth). A sonnet can stand alone as a single poem or several may be joined together, usually when telling a story in the poem. Each verse or sonnet will have 12-14 lines and have internal rhyming schemes, such as ababccdedeffgg. The length of each line is regular, usually four or five feet (a foot is a group of two or three syllables with a regular pattern of stress on one of those syllables).
The more poetry that is read, the more the various forms will become evident and some of them will almost become like old friends in some cases. If a poet uses a particular verse form, she is likely to be deliberately writing in the tradition of those poems in a similar form that have come before. That relates to subject matter and style in addition to construction. If a poet is writing in Shakespearian sonnet form, for example (which is not that difficult to do with some practice), then she is probably following Shakespeare in writing primarily about human relationships, the nature of love and physical love and so forth. It would be a bold poet indeed who tried to take something so closely associated with Shakespeare and try to make it completely different.
The third issue to consider is the extent to which the choice of form affects the enjoyment of the poem. Here, consider whether the form employed is suitable for the theme and tone of the poem – for example, it is very difficult to convey serious and weighty matters in the form of a jaunty lyric. The shorter the line used, the quicker the poem is read and the more suitable it is for a light-hearted poem or for an adventure tale to be charged through quickly.