When we think of poetry, the first thing that usually comes to people’s mind is rhymes (a close second: the other assumption that all poems are short!).
But of course, this doesn’t capture the entire poetry genre.
Narrative poetry is one of the most unique forms of literature because of their ability to capture plot, characters, and dialogue all in one poem—often with very little rhyming, if any.
This is a step-by-step guide to writing a narrative poem, including what they are, how to write an epic narriative poem, and some awesome examples to inspire you.
Table of Contents
What is a Narrative Poem?
A narrative poem is a form of poetry, which involves telling a story. The poet will use various elements of storytelling to create a plot, introduce characters, and set a certain scene–while using elements of poetry like rhyme, form and other devices.
We find narrative poems to be the oldest form of poetry, dating all the way back to 2000 B.C. It has successfully stood the test of time because of the engaging and entertaining way that poetic rhymes and verses have been able to tell the intended story.
More contemporary narrative poems tend to rely less on rhymes but still incorporate elements like non-linear story structure, characterization, and emotive language.
The Difference Between Lyric Poems and Narrative Poems
A common misconception is that narrative poetry and lyric poetry are the same but this isn’t the case.
The main difference is the poem’s sense of time. Narrative poems capture the flow of time by having an order of events and an “A causes B” pattern. The sense of time is easy to follow. On the other hand, lyric poems discuss a particular moment in the past with the purpose of bringing emotions out of the readers.
In short, narrative poems focus on a sequence of events, whereas lyric poems magnify and speak about one specific event in time.
What are the Different Types of Narrative Poetry?
Ballad is a form of narrative poetry, which was loved throughout the 19th century. Athough originating in Europe, ballads have certainly made their mark across the world. Ballads were narrative poems set to music, often accompanied by dances and large crowds.
Victorian-era poets admired this form of poetry and used it to both tell a story and entertain a big audience. However, their popularity hasn’t translated as well into the modern 21st century era and we see less of this form nowadays.
Idyll poems are a form of narrative poetry, which describe and evoke rural life. This type of poetry focuses on moments within small communities and villages either describing a single person’s day of work or doing some sort of labor.
Idyll poems date back to the early 17th century as a way of depicting the life of farmers, laborers, and rural life in general.
A great example is Idylls of the King by Alfred Lord Tenyson (1859) which details the story of King Arthur’s nights in a 12-poem cycle:
I found Him in the shining of the stars,
I mark’d Him in the flowering of His fields,
But in His ways with men I find Him not.
I waged His wars, and now I pass and die.
O me! for why is all around us here
As if some lesser god had made the world,
But had not force to shape it as he would,
Till the High God behold it from beyond,
And enter it, and make it beautiful?
- Epic Poems
Epic poems are long narrative poems concerning stories of heroism and any type of extraordinary people who changed history.
These poems were used to tell the stories of kings, knights and successors to evoke national identity and morality.
Examples of these poems include, The Aeneid and The Odyssey, The Epic of Gilgamesh, and The Mahabharata.
How to Get Started Writing a Narrative Poem
Narrative poetry is a form of artistic expression, combining the power of storytelling with the beauty of poetic language. Here are some essential tips and techniques to help you bring your stories to life.
Find Your Inspiration
Every great narrative poem begins with a spark of inspiration. Look for ideas in your surroundings, personal experiences, historical events, or even mythology. Allow yourself to be curious and open to new perspectives.
Inspiration can come from unexpected places, so be receptive to the world around you, think of something great that has happened to you (or someone close to you) or even create a world that is completely fictional!
Develop Your Plot
Every great narrative poem has a well-structured plot. Start by outlining the key events, characters, and conflicts in your story and set the beginning, middle, and end of your poem, and consider how each part intertwines.
Remember, you don’t need to go into too much detail by explaining the scene or introducing characters as this isn’t a novel. Keep it straight to the point yet engaging for your reader.
Choose a Narrative Voice
The tone and narrative voice of your poem are crucial in setting the mood and capturing the reader’s attention.
Do you want your poem to be narrated in a humorous tone? Or maybe even a mysterious one? Choose a narrative poem that aligns with the perspective of who is telling the story and, to make it even more personal, you can even use a first-person voice.
Utilize Imagery and Sensory Detail
The aim with any compelling narrative poem is to create a vivid and rich picture in the mind of readers. You want them to transport themselves to the setting, visualize the events and feel the story unfold.
Make use of sensory details to enhance the experience and think about the various descriptive words you can use to bring the narration to life.
Focus on Figurative Language
Figurative language brings depth and richness to your narrative poem. Incorporate metaphors, similes, personification, and other literary devices to infuse your writing with a touch of elegance and lyrical beauty.
Figurative language helps readers connect with the emotions and ideas conveyed in your poem, evoking a more profound and lasting impact.
Experiment with Structure and Form
We’ve looked at the different forms of narrative poems, so feel free to put them to use! You can opt for something more traditional like a ballad or epic, or perhaps choose a more contemporary form.
Experiment with line breaks, stanza lengths, rhyme schemes, or even free verse and let the structure and form of your poem enhance the overall storytelling experience.
Narrative poems are a beautiful piece of literature that allow you to blend the art of storytelling with the power of poetry.
By seeking inspiration, focusing on figurative speech, utilizing sensory descriptions, and developing an engaging plot, you can conjure up a compelling narrative poem that tells your story perfectly.
Grab your pen, let your imagination soar, and embark on the thrilling adventure of crafting narrative poetry!