A narrative poem tells stories through verse. Read examples and find out how the genre evolved from ancient epics to modern free verse novels.
Narrative poems allow you to express your feelings, thoughts, and actions. A narrative poem is a type of poem that tells a story.
From rhythmic ballads to long epics to short narrative poems for kids, these examples will take you through all the different forms a narrative poem can take.
What is a Narrative Poem?
You are listening to a narrative poem if you have ever heard a poem that tells a story. Narrative poems, one of the oldest poetic formats, can be distinguished by a number of characteristics.
They will have at least one character, a plot with a beginning, middle, and end, and, occasionally, a conflict and resolution.
Older forms of narrative poetry, such as iambic meters, are also written in a specific meter, which adds rhythm and beat to the poem.
In a nutshell, a narrative poem is a poem that tells a story.
Origins of Narrative Poetry
The earliest poetry was spoken, recited, chanted, or sung rather than written.
Poetic devices such as rhythm, rhyme, and repetition made stories easier to remember, allowing them to be transported long distances and passed down through generations. This oral tradition gave rise to narrative poetry.
Narrative poetry laid the groundwork for other literary forms in nearly every part of the world. “The Iliad” and “The Odyssey,” for example, are among the greatest achievements of ancient Greece and have inspired artists and writers for over 2,000 years.
Narrative poetry became a literary tradition that lasted throughout the Western world. “Chansons de geste” (“songs of deeds”), written in Old French, sparked literary activity in medieval Europe.
Richard Wagner’s lavish opera series “The Ring of the Nibelung” continues the German saga now known as the “Nibelungenlied” (“Der Ring des Nibelungen”). The Anglo-Saxon epic “Beowulf” has influenced modern books, films, operas, and even computer games.
India produced two monumental Sanskrit narratives in the East. With over 100,000 couplets, the “Mahabharata” is the world’s longest poem.
The timeless “Ramayana” disseminates Indian culture and ideas throughout Asia, influencing literature, theater, and architecture.
Identifying Narrative Poetry
Narrative poetry is one of three major types of poetry (the other two being dramatic and lyric), and each has unique characteristics and functions.
While lyric poems focus on self-expression, narrative poems focus on the plot. Dramatic poetry, like Shakespeare’s blank verse plays, is a lengthy stage production with multiple speakers.
However, as poets weave lyrical language into narrative poems, the line between genres may blur. Similarly, when the poet employs more than one narrator, a narrative poem may resemble dramatic poetry.
As a result, the narrative arc is the distinguishing feature of narrative poetry. The narrator moves through a chronology of events from challenge and conflict to a final resolution, from ancient Greek epic tales to 21st-century verse novels.
Popular Narrative Poems
Narrative poems, like most poems, come in a variety of styles, including epic, ballad, Arthurian, and dramatic. Examine the distinctions between these types using some famous narrative poem examples:
1. The Iliad by Homer
“Sing, Goddess, Achilles’ rage,
Black and murderous, that cost the Greeks
Incalculable pain, pitched countless souls
Of heroes into Hades’ dark,
And left their bodies to rot as feasts
For dogs and birds, as Zeus’ will was done.
Begin with the clash between Agamemnon-
The Greek warlord – and godlike Achilles”.
The Iliad is regarded as one of the most classic examples of an epic narrative poem.
It not only tells a story through its various books, but it also becomes epic due to story elements such as the noble heroes, Achilles and Hector, and the doomed love story of Paris and Helena.
In this dactylic hexameter poem, there is also magic and a smattering of Greek gods like Zeus to create twists and turns.
2. Ballad of the Harp Weaver by Edna St. Vincent Millay
“Son,” said my mother,
When I was knee-high,
“You’ve need of clothes to cover you,
And not a rag have I.
“There’s nothing in the house
To make a boy breeches,
Nor shears to cut a cloth with
Nor thread to take stitches.
“There’s nothing in the house
But a loaf-end of rye,
And a harp with a woman’s head
Nobody will buy,”
And she began to cry.
That was in the early fall.
When came the late fall,
“Son,” she said, “the sight of you
Makes your mother’s blood crawl,-
A ballad, such as the Ballad of the Harp Weaver, is another type of narrative poetry. Ballad poems have a song-like quality to them and could easily be sung to a tune in addition to telling a story and having characters.
A rhyme scheme or a chorus is also popular. For example, in “Ballad of the Harp Weaver,” the second and fourth lines rhyme throughout the stanzas, demonstrating the ABCB rhyme scheme.
Other Well-Known Narrative Poems
Many poets throughout history have attempted to write these detailed story poems. Here is a list of 19 more narrative poems for you to read and enjoy, ranging from ancient to modern, short to book-length:
“Aurora Leigh” by Elizabeth Barrett Browning
“Autobiography of Red” by Anne Carson
“Beowulf” (unknown author)
“Brown Girl Dreaming” by Jacqueline Woodson
Narrative poems have a long tradition. They were one of the first forms of storytelling and writing and have since evolved into several poetic categories.
Explore these examples, take in the details, and then try your hand at writing your own narrative poem.