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Lesson Note

Subject: Literature In English

Topic: Introduction To Poetry

Learning Objectives: By the end of the lesson, the learners should be able to:

  1. Define the term Poetry,
  2. State and explain the types of poetry,
  3. State and explain the elements of poetry,
  4. State the characteristics of poetry.

Lesson Discussions


What is Poetry?

Poetry is a form of literary art which uses aesthetic and rhythmic qualities of language – such as phonaesthetics, sound symbolism, and metre – to evoke meanings in addition to, or in place of, the prosaist ostensible meaning.
Poetry has a long history, dating back to the Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh. Early poems evolved from folk songs such as the Chinese Shijing, or from a need to retell oral epics, as with the Sanskrit Vedas, Zoroastrian Gathas, and the Homeric epics, the Iliad and the Odyssey. Ancient attempts to define poetry, such as Aristotle’s Poetics, focused on the uses of speech in rhetoric, drama, song and comedy. Later attempts concentrated on features such as repetition, verse form and rhyme, and emphasized the aesthetics which distinguish poetry from more objectively-informative, prosaic forms of writing. From the mid-20th century, poetry has sometimes been more generally regarded as a fundamental creative act employing language.

Examples of poetry include;

African Poetry
Birago Diop: Vanity
Gbemisola Adeoti: Ambush
Gabriel Okara: Piano and Drums
Gbanabam Hallowell: The Dinning Table
Lenrie Peter: The Panic of Growing Older
Kofi Awoonor: The Anvil and the Hammer.

Non-African Poetry
Alfred Tennyson: Crossing the Bar
George Herbert: The Pulley
William Blake: The School Boy
William Morris: The Proud King
Robert Frost Birches: Birches
Williams Shakespeare: Shall I compare thee to a Summer’s Day?


(a) Sonnet: A sonnet is a one-stanza poem of fourth lines, written in iambic pentameter. One way to describe a verse line is to talk about how many stressed and unstressed syllables are in the line. A simple grouping of syllables, some stressed, some unstressed, is called a foot. The iambic foot is an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable. Pentameter means there are five feet in the line. ,”Iambic and Pentameter,” then, means a line of ten syllables, which alternates unstressed and stressed syllables according to the iambic rhythm.
(b) Ode: Ode means a musical poem. This is a poem that has a complex structure and language of good quality that is meant to be sung. The word ode is of Greek origin and is derived from the word “ode”.
(c) Lyrics: Lyrics are a set of words that make up a song, usually consisting of verses and choruses. The writer of lyrics is a lyricist. The words of an extended musical composition such as an opera are, however, usually known as a “libretto” and their writer, as a “librettist”. The meaning of lyrics can either be explicit or implicit. Some lyrics are abstract, almost unintelligible, and, in such cases, their explication emphasizes form articulation, meter and symmetry of expression.
(d) Ballad: A ballad is a form of verse, often a narrative set to music. Ballads derive from the medieval French chanson balladeer or ballade, which where original dancing songs. Ballad are particularly characteristics of the popular poetry and some of the British Isles from the later mediaeval period until the 19th century and used extensively across Europe and the Americas, Australia and North Africa. Many ballads were written and sold as single sheet broadsides. The form was often used by poets and composers from the 18th century onwards to produce lyrical ballads. In the later 19th century it took on the meaning of a slow form of popular love song and the term is now often used as synonymous with love song, particular the pop or rock power ballad.
(c) Epic: An epic is a lengthy narrative poem, ordinarily concerning a serious subject containing details of heroic deeds and events significance to a culture or nation. Oral poetry may qualify as an epic, and Albert Lord and Milman Parry have argued that classical epics were fundamentally an oral poetic form. Another type of epic poetry is epyllion (plural: epyllia), which is a brief narrative poem with a romantic or mythological theme. The term, which means “little epic”, came into use in the 19th century. It refers primarily to the erudite, shorter hexameter poems of the Hellenistic period and the similar works composed at Rome from the age of the neoterics; to a lesser degree, the term includes some poems of the English Renaissance, particularly those influenced by Ovid.
(f) Lullaby: A lullaby is a soothing piece of music, usually played or sung to young children before they go to sleep, with the intention of aiding that process. As a result, the music is often simple and repetitive. Lullabies can be found in many countries, and have existed since ancient times.
(g) Dirge: A dirge is a some song or lament expressing mourning or grief, such as would be appropriate for performance at a funeral. The English word dirge is derived from the the Latin Dirige.
(h) Elegy: In literature, an elegy is a mournful, melancholic or plaintive poem, especially a funeral song or a lament for the dead.
(i) Nonsense: Nonsense is a communication, via speech, writing, or any other symbolic system, that lacks any coherent meaning. Sometimes in ordinary usage, nonsense is synonymous with absurdity or the ridiculous. Many poets, novelists and songwriters have used nonsense in their works often creating entire works using it for reasons ranging from pure comic, amusement or satire, to illustrating a point about language or reasoning. In the philosophy of language and philosophy of science, nonsense is distinguished from sense or meaningfulness, and attempts have been made to come up with a coherent and consistent method of distinguishing sense from nonsense. It is also an important field of study in cryptography regarding or separating a signal from noise.
(j) Pastoral: A pastoral lifestyle is that of shepherds, herding livestock around open areas of land according to seasons and the changing availability of water and pastorage. It lends its name to a genre of literature, art and music that depicts such life in an idealistic manner, typically for urban audiences. A pastoral is a work of this genre. A pastoral is a work of art that deals with rurality or a work of art that had a rural setting.
(k) Panegyric: A panegyric is a formal public speech, or written verse delivered in high praise of a person or thing, a generally highly studied and discriminating eulogy, not expected to be critical. In Athens, such speeches were delivered at national festivals or games, with the object of rousing the citizens to emulate the glorious deeds of their ancestors.


Language Awareness: Poetry can increase students’ literarcy and linguistic awareness, according to Dr. Janette Hughes, in a research report for the Literacy and Numeracy Secretariat of Ontario. Studying poetry can help students to expand their oral and written vocabularies. Reading and writing poetry also helps students to become more aware of the ways in which language can be used and the rhythms, images and meanings that can be created.
Critical Awareness: According to a 2002 study by California Poets in schools, students who study poetry in the classroom increase their skills of critical analysis. Poems use a variety of techniques – metaphor, imagery, rhymes and meter – to convey meaning. Picking out these techniques and thinking about how they function in the poem help students to develop their analytic and critical skills. Poems can also have multiple layers of meaning that readers must analyze carefully to understand.

See 2022 WAEC past questions with solutions on Literature in English

Creativity and Enthusiasm: Students can become very enthusiastic about poetry in the classroom, connecting their reading experiences to their experiences of music and their own lives. Allowing students to write poetry for class encourages them to express themselves creatively. Though some students may not be motivated by writing academic papers, poetry allows them to play freely with words, rhythms and ideas. For example, Lewis Carroll’s poem “The Jabberwocky” uses made-up words like “mimsy” and “borogoves” to play creatively with rhythm, sound and language.
Community: Poetry in the classroom helps students to connect to others. Poetry encourages students to view the complexities of the world in new ways and to develop empathy and understanding for other points of view. For instance, Elizabeth Bishop’s “In the Waiting Room” describes a girl’s experience of the deep connections that exist between people and her discovery of what “held us all together”/or made us all just one?”. Discussing poetry in the classroom can also help to promote connections between students, encouraging them to think about the different ways that their classmates interpret the poems.

See 2022 WAEC past questions with solutions on Literature in English


i. Poetry is a composition of which expresses ideas or feelings in lines.
ii. Poetry tends to have regular rhythmic pattern.
iii. Poetry usually makes uses of carefully chosen words and figures of speech.
iv. Poetry is usually beautiful.
v. It is often divided into stanzas.


1. Theme: In contemporary literary studies, a theme is central topic a text treats. Themes can be divided into two categories: a work’s thematic concept is what readers “think the work is about” and its thematic statement being “what the work says about the subject”. The most common contemporary understanding of theme is an idea or concept that is central to a story, which can often be summed in a single word (e.g love, death, betrayal). Typical examples of themes of this type are conflict between the individual and the society; coming of age; humans in conflict between the nostalgia; and the dangers of unchecked ambition. A theme may be exemplified by the actions, utterances or thoughts of a character in a novel.
An example of this would be the theme of loneliness in John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, wherein many of the characters seem to be lonely. It may differ from the thesis – the text’s or author’s implied worldview.
2. Authorial and Textual background: An author is broadly defined as “that person who originated or gave existence to anything” and whose authorship determines responsibility for what was created. Narrowly defined, an author is the originator of any written work and can also be described as a writer.
3. Subject Matter: It is plot, so to speak, of the poem. It is what happens in the poem, the action of the story. It is what event, situation or experience a poem has described or record? Who is the speaker? It can also be described as the topic of the poem or what the poem is all about.
4. Meter: In poetry, meter is the basic rhythmic structure of a verse or lines in verse. Many traditional verse forms prescribe a specific verse meter, or a certain set of meters alternating in a particular order. The study of meters and forms of verification is known as prosody. ( Within linguistics, “prosody” is used in a more general sense that includes not only poeticwter but also the rhythmic aspects of prose, whether formal or informal, which vary from language to language, and sometimes between poetic traditions).
5. Rhythm: In the performing arts, rhythm is the timing of events on a human scale; of musical sounds and silences, of the steps of a dance, or the meter of spoken language and poetry. Rhythm may also refer to visual presentation, as “timed movement through space”, and a common language of pattern unites rhythm with geometry. In recent years, rhythm and meter have become an important area of research among music scholars.
6. Figures of Speech: A figure of speech is the use of a word or phrase which transcends its literal interpretation. It can be a special repetition, arrangement or omission of words with literal meaning, or a phrase with a specialized meaning not based on the literal meaning of the words in it, as in idiom, metaphor, simile, hyperbole, personification, or synecdoche. Figures of speech often provide emphasis, freshness of expression, or clarity. However, clarity may also suffer from their use, as any figure of speech introduces an ambiguity between literal and figurative interpretation. A figure of speech is sometimes called a rhetorical figure or a locution.
7. Tone: Tone is a literary composition, which encompasses the attitudes toward the subject and toward the audience implied in a literary work. Tone may be formal, informal, intimate, solemn, somber, playful, serious, ironic, condescending, or many other possible attitudes. Each piece of literature has at least one theme or central question about a topic, and how the theme is approached within the work is known as the tone.
8. Moods: A mood is an emotional state. Moods differ from emotions in that they are less specific, less intense and less likely to be triggered by a particular stimulus or event. Moods generally have either a positive or negative valence. In other words, people typically speak of being in a good mood or a bad mood. Mood also differs from temperament or personality traits which are even longer lasting.


Romanticism, a philosophical, literary, artistic and cultural era which began in the mid/late 18th century as a reaction against the prevailing Enlightenment ideals of the day (Romantic favored more natural, emotional and personal artistic themes), also influenced poetry. Inevitably, the characterization of a broad range of contemporaneous poets and poetry under the single unifying name can be viewed more as an exercise in historical compartmentalization than an attempt to capture the essence of the actual “movement”.
Metaphysical poetry refers to a type or very intellectual poetry that was common in the 17th century. This type of poetry was known for bold and ingenious conceits, subtle thought and frequent use of paradox as well as the directness of language
Modern poetry is different from classical poetry in that it does not have any rules and categories and thus it may borrow ideas from classics. Generally, there is more focus on visual and sound aspects in this kind of poetry.
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