A narrative poem takes the form of a story. Narrative poetry originated in the oral tradition, and its formal meter and rhyme structure made it easier to memorize and deliver orally to a crowd. Thus, it is one of the oldest forms of poetry. Outside of the metered verse, a narrative poem shares many literary attributes with short stories and novels including narrator, characters, setting, plot, conflict and resolution.
A narrative poem is told from the point of view of a narrator. This narrator can be a main character in the story, a character who has witnessed the particular events of the story, or a character who is retelling the story he has heard from someone else. Because this form of poetry originated in the oral tradition, the poet is neither a character in the story nor the narrator of the story.
A narrative poem always tells a story. A story is made up of a setting, characters, events, and a conflict, and, like other forms of narrative, such as novels and short stories, narrative poems typically begin with descriptions of characters and setting. Though most narrative poetry is fictional, it can also be nonfictional and tell the story of a war or a biography of a real person. A narrative poem can also be a combination of these two elements such as the early narrative poem, Homer’s “The Iliad.” This poem is about the 10-year siege of the city of Troy, during the Trojan War. The setting of the poem is considered nonfictional, but story of the quarrel between Achilles and Agamemnon is considered fictional.
A narrative poem contains a formal meter and rhyme structure. This structure is not predictable, but instead uses different poetic tools and literary devices, such as symbolism, assonance, consonance, alliteration, and repetition, in different combinations throughout the poem. Furthermore, a narrative poem is typically broken into stanzas that contain a series of cinquains or rhyming couplets.
Purpose and Examples
The main purpose of narrative poetry is to entertain, and it uses imagery, figurative language and different sound patterns to grab and hold the audience’s attention. Because its main function is to entertain, a narrative poem does have any expressions of the poet’s thoughts or feelings. Early examples of narrative poems are “The Epic of Gilgamesh,” Homer’s “Odyssey” and Virgil’s “Aeneid.” Homer’s work influenced later narrative poems like “Beowulf,” Chaucer’s “The Canterbury Tales” and “The Book of the Duchess,” and Dante’s “Divine Comedy.” Narrative poetry rose in popularity during the 18th and 19th centuries in Britain. Examples include a variety of works by Lord Tennyson, Lord Byron, John Keats, William Wordsworth, Lewis Carroll and Edgar Allan Poe. Though narrative poetry is one of the oldest poetic traditions, it continues to be relevant because of its ability to tell entertaining and informative stories.