What Is a Syllable Poem?

Syllable poems are poems that require a certain number of syllables -- which are units of pronunciation -- in each line. They are sometimes used as a way to teach young children what a syllable is, or as a creative writing assignment for older students. Syllable poems can take many different forms.


Syllable poems have been around for a long time. Haiku is probably the most famous of these. In the mid-1600s, a Japanese poet named Matsuo Basho gained respect for his haiku, and his fame helped make this style very popular in modern culture. Haiku are 17-syllable poems. They have three lines and are simple but graceful, making them a favorite form of art and a simple assignment for teachers, as they can be completed in a short amount of time but still allow creativity. The first and last lines of a haiku usually contain five syllables, while the middle line has seven. The most effective haiku usually focus on the senses.


Monotetras have eight syllables in each line. For this reason, they are often called eight-syllable poems. A man named Michael Walker is credited with inventing this type of syllable poem. The lines are grouped into stanzas, each of which has four lines. The last line in each stanza repeats the first four syllables of the line, as in the famous monotetra, "The Downfall of Man," which ends the first stanza with "downfall of man, downfall of man." These poems are best for more skilled students, as the conventions of this poem are highly technical.


Like haiku, englyns are short, syllable poems. The englyn is a very old form of Welsh poetry that can vary in form, but generally features four lines. Each line has a set number of syllables: the first contains 10 syllables, the second has six, and the third and fourth lines have seven. The sixth syllable in the first line must rhyme with one of the words in the last three lines. The englyn is further defined by strict rules of rhyme, which makes this poem one of the most difficult types of syllable poems to write.


Than-bauk is a Burmese poem that is similar to the haiku form but with more structure, according to Bob Newman, an award-winning poet and professor of poetry. It features three lines with four syllables each. The fourth syllable of the first line, third syllable of the second line, and second syllable of the third line all must rhyme. Several of these three-line stanzas can be put together to create a longer poem. Although similar to a haiku, this type of poem is slightly more difficult to write because of the syllable rhyming requirement.

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