Putting It All TogetherReference > Literature > Poetry > The Bard
I don't want you to think that I've taught you everything there is to know about poetry. Far from it! There is so much to poetry, and we've only skimmed the surface of a handful of types of poetry. If you would like to continue studying poetry, you might want to visit the Poetry Articles section of Fifteen Minutes of Fiction, where you can find many more articles about poetry and poetry forms.
But I want to introduce you to a few common poetry forms that you'll often see.
A heroic couplet is a pair of lines that rhyme. The heroic couplet is in iambic pentameter. Some poets wrote entire poems composed of heroic couplets; others would save them for the end, to bring the poem to a dramatic conclusion. Elizabethan Sonnets always end with a heroic couplet. Here's an example of a heroic couplet:
The greatest is my nightly date with sleep.
A quatrain is a series of four lines of poetry, often bound together by a particular rhyme scheme. If the rhyme scheme for a quatrain is ABAB, that means that lines 1 and 3 end with one rhyming sound, while lines 2 and 4 end with a different rhyming sound. Here's an example of mine, which is also posted at Fifteen Minutes of Fiction:
Pour silently across the the rosy sky,
Ignite the granite peaks as darkness grows,
And sear their scorching beauty on my eye.
Notice that "flows" and "grows" rhyme, and that "sky" rhymes with "eye." Other possible rhyme schemes for a quatrain could be things like AABB or ABCB.
The Elizabethan Sonnet
I mentioned Elizabethan sonnets before, and now you know everything you need to write one. The Elizabethan sonnet is always in iambic pentameter. It is made up of three quatrains followed by a heroic couplet (for a total of 14 lines). The rhyme scheme of an Elizabethan sonnet is: ABABCDCDEFEFGG.
It's very common for people nowadays to forego all the structure of learning about meter and rhyme schemes and traditional forms. But, as a general rule, people who decide to skip the forms and go straight to "free verse" don't end up being very good poets.
Why? Because the time spent practicing the forms and the meters and the rhymes helps you to develop a good sense of what sounds good and what doesn't. Then when you begin to explore and experiment, your experiments tend to have a much better "feel."
It's like learning a musical instrument; I hated having to practice scales -- they were so tedious and repetitive. But if I hadn't done them, I wouldn't be half the violinist that I am today, because those scales trained my mind and my hands and my fingers.
So don't sneer at the classical poets of bygone centuries who only wrote in structured forms. Learn some of those forms, and then you'll have the ability to improvise gracefully beyond the rules of the forms!