While a poet may write about a person, pastime, object or observation, he may also use verse to tell a story. When a poem has a plot, it progresses by stanza and contains an exposition, rising action, climax, falling action and resolution. Poems with plots aren’t limited by length or style; some contain thousands of lines, while others resemble a short story.
Some nursery rhymes and poems for children are short tales that may be comical or allegorical. “The Comic Adventures of Old Mother Hubbard and Her Dog” by Sarah Catherine Marine is a poem about Mother Hubbard, who didn’t have a bone to give to her dog. As the old woman attempts to please and accommodate her dog, she returns to find him pulling silly pranks or doing strange things, like wearing clothes. “The Migration of the Grey Squirrels” by William Howitt recounts the trials that squirrels endure because of other animals. In the poem, the squirrels seek refuge from thieving animals and predators by making a boat to cross a stream.
Literary epics are long poems that tell a story using rhyme and verse. “Beowulf,” whose author is unknown, is an epic written in Old English about a hero who saves a neighboring kingdom from Grendel and his mother, who are troll-like monsters. At the end of the epic, Beowulf defends his own kingdom against a vengeful dragon. Edmund Spencer wrote the epic poem “The Faerie Queene” as an allegory that celebrates Arthurian virtues. The poem, which Spencer divided into six books, follows several characters who demonstrate the benefits of living honorably and the consequences of unholy actions.
Ballads With Plots
Ballads are poems with plots that writers sometimes set to music. Some of the works are anonymously written folk stories with oral traditions. Romantic poet Edgar Allan Poe wrote “Annabel Lee” in ballad form. In the poem, the speaker grieves over the loss of Annabel Lee, who dies from an illness. “John Henry,” whose author is unknown, is about a large, hardworking man who dies while constructing a tunnel through a mountain for a railroad.
Novels in Verse
Novels written in the form of a poem differ from literary epics in that the authors generally write in a more modern form, from evolving perspectives or as a series of short stories. An example of such a work is Geoffrey Chaucer’s “The Canterbury Tales.” The work follows a group of pilgrims on their way to the Canterbury Cathedral. During the trip, each traveler tells a story in the form of a poem. “Don Juan” by Lord Byron is a satirical novel written in verse about a man who is easily seduced by women. In the work, the protagonist experiences hardships as he attempts to find his beloved Julia after her husband sends her to a convent.