Narrative poems tell stories. The style differs from dramatic poetry, which does not include an exposition and uses the character’s own words. Narrative poems also differ from lyric poetry, which expresses the poet’s thoughts and emotions rather than telling a story. While narrative poems often do not have a set number of lines, they are typically broken up into stanzas.
History of Narrative Poetry
Narrative poetry is the oldest form of poetry -- it was created from the oral tradition of passing stories through generations. Narrative poetry can have formal rhyme and meter, making it easy to recite -- or sing -- and memorize. These poems often resemble short stories because they have plot, characters, tone, conflict, dialogue and figurative language. The narrative is told from the point of view of a main character or an observer of the events that take place, and stories can be fictional or nonfictional.
A ballad is written in four-line stanzas called quatrains. The English tradition typically follows a rhyme scheme of ABCB in each quatrain. Ballads are meant to be sung, and they might have a repeated refrain. The meter and rhyme scheme tend to be simple, and the poem as a whole often focuses on one dramatic event. Since ballads are narrative poems, they emphasize characters and plot rather than settings and adjectives. Examples include “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge and “Ballad of the Goodly Fere” by Ezra Pound.
Long, often book-length poems are called epics. They tell stories of heroic or mythical journeys, such as Homer’s “Iliad” and “Odyssey.” Epics are often broken into stanzas called verses. These poems originated from an oral tradition of spreading stories or religious beliefs to younger generations through spoken word. Epic poems differ from other forms of narrative poetry, which often tell a story in a condensed manner.
Some narrative poems do not fit into the ballad or epic forms, but they are still considered narrative poems because they tell a story. Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven” is a notable example of uncategorized narrative poetry. There is no singular set rhyme scheme or meter for narrative poems, and stanzas could have varying numbers of lines.