Dialogue poems are a dramatic way to portray thoughts and images by using two characters real, imagined or divine. The give-and-take style offers the poet a chance to flesh out an idea with opposing points of view, and offers the reader an entertaining, lyrical play in miniature. Many famous poets use this method to convey universal themes on an intimate scale.
Dialogue Between Fictional Characters
"A Dialogue Between Caliban and Ariel" by John Fuller is an example of a poem based on two fictional characters from another author's work. Ariel and Caliban are characters in William Shakespeare's play "The Tempest." Ariel is a magic fairy, and Caliban is a savage, deformed slave. They are engaged in a conversation that Fuller imagines taking place after the play ends, in which Fuller explores the power and limitations of language. Ariel taunts Caliban, the simple creature who tries to understand him. "Now you have been taught words and I am free," Ariel says, referring to his liberation from Prospero, "To pinch and bully you eternally." Caliban, who likewise has been freed from servitude to Prospero, can only reply, "Have you no feelings that you cannot tame?" Caliban has learned to speak, and for the first time he's learning what language really is. If words mean nothing, he asks, distraught, why do they "maim"? Ariel replies that if they hurt, then you were "already lame."
Dialogue Between Real People
"A Dialogue Between Two Shepherds" by Sir Philip Sidney portrays a conversation between shepherds Will and Dick during a "Pastoral Show at Wilton," a town in Wiltshire, England. Published in 1613, it is written in the country vernacular of the men, ordinary folk, engaged in a discussion about other men dancing with ladies while they can only watch. Will good-naturedly says, "Dick, since we cannot dance, come, let a cheerful voice / Show that we do not grudge at all when others do rejoice." Will is disgruntled and further into the conversation reveals that he suffers from unrequited love: "Remembrance is the chest / Lock’d fast with knowing that she is of worldly things the best."
Dialogue Between Man and God
"A Dialogue," part of the poetry collection "The Temple," published posthumously in 1633, is a conversation between the poet, George Herbert, and God. Herbert questions the validity of his own salvation, arguing that he isn't worthy of grace: "I can see no merit, / Leading to this favour: / So the way to fit me for it, / Is beyond my savour." God responds with reassurance, instructing him simply to have faith and believe salvation is real. "If I say, Thou shalt be mine; / Finger not my treasure." Throughout his career as a poet, Herbert fashioned contemplative, self-scrutinizing verse that was widely popular at the time for its humility and integrity.
"Dover Beach" by Matthew Arnold is an example of a poem in which someone -- in this case the narrator -- is having a conversation with another person whose replies are not included. The narrator says "Come to the window, sweet is the night-air! / Only, from the long line of spray / Where the sea meets the moon-blanched land, / Listen! you hear the grating roar." He is speaking to a woman whom he loves, as we find in the final stanza: "Ah, love, let us be true / To one another!"