Narrative vs. Dramatic Poetry

Narrative poetry represents a genre of poetry that tells a story. In addition to having all the elements of a narrative, such as plot, characterization, and setting, a narrative poem also features a consistent rhyme and meter scheme. Dramatic poetry is a drama written in verse, and it is either spoken or sung.

Forms of Narrative Poetry

Narrative poetry appears in one of three forms. An epic is a long narrative poem that deals with large, heroic and often mythical themes. A ballad consists of a much simpler rhyme and meter scheme than an epic and typically focuses on one dramatic event. Unlike epics, ballads also tend to teach a lesson or make a moral statement. A straightforward narrative is a poem which has a formal meter and rhyme, tells a particular story, but is not otherwise either a ballad or an epic.

Forms of Dramatic Poetry

Dramatic poetry appears in a variety of forms. One type of dramatic poetry is an entire play written in verse, like Greek plays by Sophocles and Euripides. Another type is a dramatic monologue, such as Robert Browning's “My Last Duchess.” A dramatic monologue features a speaker who makes a speech to a silent outsider, like the reader, and at some critical point, reveals something about himself or someone else.

Narrator in Narrative and Dramatic Poetry

One of the main differences between narrative and dramatic poetry is the narrator. Like all a narratives, narrative poetry offers a voice describing the action and characters. The poem’s story is relayed from the narrator's point of view, and the narrator may be the main character, a secondary character or an observer. Because dramatic poetry is something of a performance, like a stage play, it does not have a narrator. Characters simply state or perform their actions without another party telling the reader what is happening.

Beginnings of Narrative and Dramatic Poetry

Another major difference between narrative and dramatic poems is how the poem begins. Narrative poems use exposition to set the scene and describe what is happening in the story, and the exposition is provided by the narrator. For example, in Edgar Allen Poe's “Annabel Lee," the poem begins with “It was many and many a year ago/ In a kingdom by the sea/ That a maiden there lived whom you may know/ By the name of Annabel Lee.” Dramatic poetry, on the other hand, begins with the characters entering the scene and speaking their own words. For example, in Robert Browning’s “My Last Duchess," the poem begins with “That's my last Duchess painted on the wall/ Looking as if she were alive. I call/ That piece a wonder, now: Frà Pandolf's hands."

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