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Narrative poetry tells a story in verse form. It is a relatively long form of poetry that contains all of the necessary elements for a story, including plot, characters, setting, theme, and dialogue. Narrative poems generally rhyme, make use of regular meter, or play with sound through assonance and alliteration.

What is Narrative Poetry?

Narrative poetry tells a story in verse form. It is a relatively long form of poetry that contains all of the necessary elements for a story, including plot, characters, setting, theme, and dialogue. Like stories, narrative poems present a conflict, build to a climax, and end with a resolution. At the same time, narrative poems also contain poetic elements which distinguish them from prose narratives. Narrative poems generally contain some form of sound or rhythmic patterns. They may rhyme, make use of regular meter, or play with sound through repetition, assonance, and alliteration. The oral inflections of the narrative poem are therefore noticeably different from the flatter rhythms of prose. Like other forms of poetry, narrative poems also employ figurative language, sensory imagery, and carefully selected diction.

Narrative poetry is perhaps the oldest known form of literature. It dates back to pre-literate societies that relied on oral tradition to pass on stories and history. Most ancient epics, including Beowulf and The Odyssey, are narrative poems which were likely recited or sung from memory before eventually being written down and recorded. For centuries, narrative poetry maintained its appeal as a method of sharing information in an easy-to-memorize format. Medieval ballads and lais, for example, used rhyme and repeated refrains to conserve and pass on stories, history, and local news. Renaissance poets continued this style in works like The Canterbury Tales and Dante’s Inferno. In fact, respected poets continued to use the narrative form well into the 18th century, until the Romantic movement inspired a shift to lyric poetry.

Today, narrative poetry is less common as a poetic genre, but stands out in a few well-known classics, including “Paul Revere’s Ride”, “The Cremation of Sam McGee”, and “Casey at the Bat”. The genre is also prevalent in other artistic mediums. Children’s books commonly tell stories in rhyming poetry, and novels in verse such as Out of the Dust or Love that Dog have become increasingly popular in the last few decades. Many musical artists also employ narrative poetry in their lyrics, telling tales of love, loss, and celebration in catchy rhyming verses. Whatever their form, good narrative poems leave a lasting impression through their vivid stories and rhythmic sound patterns.

Examples of Narrative Poetry

  • Paul Revere’s Ride
  • Casey at the Bat” by Ernest Lawrence Thayer
  • "Other Words for Home" by Jasmine Warga
  • “The Cremation of Sam McGee” by Robert W. Service
  • "Brown Girl Dreaming" by Jacqueline Woodson
  • “Song of Hiawatha” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
  • “Theseus” by Bacchylides
  • The Raven” by Edgar Allan Poe
  • "The Crossover" by Kwame Alexander
  • "Inside Out and Back Again" by Thanhha Lai
  • “The Wreck of the Hesperus” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
  • “Venus and Adonis” by William Shakespeare
  • “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge
  • “The Charge of the Light Brigade” by Alfred Tennyson

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