Poetic Satire: Satire in Poems with Examples

Satire is the art of using irony and sarcasm to communicate an idea about an individual or group of people. In a satirical poem, you must use your own clever wordsmith ability to convey what it is about the subject that deserves to be ridiculed, without being so direct that your meaning is too clearly defined. Rather, you want your readers and audience to really consider your use of sarcasm and irony to determine what you are trying to say about the subject.

Satirical poetry is common in everything from the English language to earlier Latin and Roman times, from the eighteenth-century to the 20th century and beyond. There are many different types of satire, like political satire, verse satire, horatian satire, juvenalian satire, and menippean satire, among others.

One of the most famous examples of satire in English literature is the literary work Animal Farm by George Orwell, a work of political satire that uses satire and other literary devices and literary terms to poke fun at human nature from the point of view of farm animals.

Other famous early satirists include Byron, Horace, and Aristophanes. Later famous satirists include Dorothy Parker, John Dryden, and Alexander Pope, who wrote both The Dunciad and The Rape of the Lock.

Choose a subject. The idea behind a satire poem is to poke fun at an individual or a particular group of people. This is to bring into light the absurdity of this individual or group, while demonstrating your cleverness and wit. Great satires are generally written by those who feel strongly about a subject. Choose an individual or group of people that you strongly feel need to take a second look at their beliefs or logic.

Decide what it is about this particular group of people that deserves satire. Once you have selected your group or individual, consider what it is about their beliefs, logic, mantras or practices that you feel need to be addressed. For example, satirist Jonathan Swift is famous for "A Satirical Elegy on the Death of a Late Famous General" that addresses some of the General's worst practices and traits. See resources below for the full text. Jonathan Swift also wrote the famous satirical novel Gulliver’s Travels.

Brainstorm ideas for what you will say in your satirical poem. A great satirical poem is not direct with its criticism; rather, it demonstrates a clever use of words that hides the critique within a different meaning. For example, instead of saying something like, "Santa Claus is fat," a satirical poem may make it seem like a compliment while actually lampooning the figure, as in "How great and large a man is he/ that he would get caught within my chimney/ no blast of smoke could set him free/ stuck inside with gifts only for me."

Form a structure for your poem. Decide if you want your poem to rhyme, then develop a rhyme scheme for your poem. This can be planned in advance, or developed to fit a structure as you go. Rhymed satirical poems work well because they give a sing-song quality to a hidden insult. However, your satirical poem does not have to rhyme, so use your own poetic license.

Draft your first version of your poem. In order to write your satirical poem, you simply need to get started writing. Do not be afraid of writing lines only to immediately scribble them out; some of the best poetry is stream of consciousness later reworked to fit into a structure. Use the points you brainstormed in Step 3 to develop the lines and stanzas of your poem.

Edit and revise as necessary to create the most effective satirical poem possible. Unlike in traditional prose, poems are generally somewhat concise and structured. That means that every word counts, so do not be afraid to trim and cut as necessary. Also, it is a good idea to read your poem out loud. Poems are designed to be read and heard, so be sure it has the right lyrical quality in the final editing stage.

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