Epic and lyric poems describe two of the most common and well-known types of literature. By better understanding the ways that these types of poetry differ, readers in general and students who are studying these types of works can not only identify an epic or a lyric but can also better understand the meaning and purpose of these styles.
Epic poems are usually quite long, much longer than lyric poems, which are short by definition. The most famous epic poems, "The Iliad" and "The Odyssey," both written by Homer, are as long as a contemporary novel. A lyric poem, meanwhile, is usually less than a page long.
The purpose of an epic poem is to show us the exploits of a particular hero or set of heroes. It usually involves important elements of history and can spread across several countries and periods of time or across different planes of existence (for example, "The Divine Comedy" by Dante takes place in heaven and hell. A lyric poem, though, is usually focused on an individual emotion or experience.
The epic poem is often written from a third-person perspective, with a writer describing the exploits of a hero at the center of the action. For example, Achilles is the hero at the center of "The Iliad," and Odysseus is the hero of the epic poem "The Odyssey." A lyric poem often is written from a first-person point of view, with an "I" telling the reader about a personal experience or emotional response.
Epic poems come in several different forms, depending on the language in which they are written and the time period. The similarity, though, is that all epics are written in some poetic form, often including rhyming. Lyric poetry, though often in forms (such as the sonnet), may also be written in free verse with lines that do not rhyme.