English Literature
Narrative Poetry

Narrative Poetry

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An Introduction to the World of Narrative Poetry

Narrative poetry is a distinct form of storytelling found in literature that combines traditional storytelling elements with poetic devices and structure. This art has a rich and enduring history, remaining a popular medium of expression to this day. In this piece, we will delve into the origins, characteristics, and various types of narrative poetry.

The Origins of Narrative Poetry

The roots of narrative poetry can be traced back to ancient oral traditions, where stories were passed down through the spoken word. Poets would create and share their tales orally before transcribing them in written form. The use of poetic devices, such as rhyme and repetition, aided in memorization and added a captivating dimension to the stories.

The Characteristics of Narrative Poetry

What sets narrative poetry apart from other forms of storytelling is its unique structure. Like a typical story, it follows a beginning, middle, and end. However, the narrative's flow can also be unpredictable, adding an element of surprise. The poem is usually told through the perspective of a single narrator, who chronicles the events as they unfold.

In terms of poetic devices, narrative poetry employs metaphors, personification, and rhyming to convey the story and engage the reader. Rhyming is a key characteristic, with the second and fourth lines of each stanza typically rhyming.

Types of Narrative Poetry

There are several forms of narrative poetry, each with its own unique qualities and structure. Two of the most notable types are ballads and epics.


A ballad is a narrative poem set to music, with its origins dating back to medieval times. These popular songs were often passed down orally and told tales of heroes, love, tragedy, and challenges. The meter of a ballad typically alternates between iambic tetrameter (four-stress lines) and iambic trimeter (three-stress lines).

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge is a renowned example of a ballad. This lyrical piece tells the story of an old mariner who stops a wedding guest to tell his tale. It features iambic meter, with four sets of an unaccented syllable followed by an accented syllable in each line.


An epic is a long narrative poem that often revolves around a hero or group of heroes. These tales may involve myths, legends, and moral lessons and can be passed down orally or in written form. They often portray larger-than-life characters and adventures.

The most famous epics are the Homeric epics, including the Iliad and Odyssey. These ancient Greek poems recount the Trojan War and the adventures of Odysseus. The Iliad features the renowned warrior Achilles, who fought for King Agamemnon against the Trojans. Legend has it that Achilles' heel was his only weakness, ultimately leading to his downfall in battle.

In Conclusion

Narrative poetry has a rich history and remains a beloved form of storytelling. With its distinctive structure and use of poetic devices, it captivates readers and takes them on a journey through the narrator's perspective. From ballads to epics, this form of poetry offers a diverse range of tales and adventures to explore.

The Power of Narrative Poetry: Exploring the Epic Tales of History

Narrative poetry has been a beloved form of literature for centuries, captivating audiences with its vivid storytelling and powerful messages. From tales of gods and mortals to historical events and figures, this genre paints a vivid picture of the past while conveying important values and themes.

The Epic Tales of Greek Mythology

One of the most well-known examples of narrative poetry is Homer's The Odyssey, which follows the journey of the brave and cunning hero, Odysseus, as he faces challenges and obstacles on his quest to return home from the Trojan War. The poem also showcases the consequences of defying the will of the gods, as Odysseus faces punishment for his actions.

The Rise of Arthurian Romances

Originating in twelfth-century France, Arthurian Romances became a popular form of narrative poetry that centered around the adventures and romantic relationships in the court of King Arthur. These poems explored themes of bravery, love, and honor while showcasing the legendary king's defense against Saxon invasions and his bond with the Knights of the Round Table. Although it is uncertain if King Arthur was a real historical figure or a fictional character, these poems highlight the importance of chivalry and honor during his reign in the fifth and sixth centuries.

Notable Works in Arthurian Romances

One notable example of Arthurian Romances is Thomas Malory's Le Morte D'Arthur (1485), specifically Chapter 1, 'First, How Uther Pendragon sent for the duke of Cornwall and Ingraine his wife, and of their departing suddenly again'. This poem introduces the main characters and sets the scene, showcasing Malory's poetic skill in maintaining rhythm while narrating the tale.

Another popular narrative poem is Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's ‘Paul Revere’s Ride’ (1860), which commemorates the real-life American patriot, Paul Revere. Through poetic storytelling, the poem relives Revere's legendary midnight ride to warn fellow patriots about the British invasion. One of the most iconic scenes is described in the following excerpt:

Listen, my children, and you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,
On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-Five:
Hardly a man is now alive
Who remembers that famous day and year.

How to Begin Writing Narrative Poetry

If you want to start writing narrative poetry, the first step is to develop the narrator who will tell the story. Consider the characteristics you want them to possess and how you want their plot to unfold throughout the beginning, middle, and end. It is also important to think about the obstacles and conflicts they will face. Keep in mind that narrative poetry focuses on plot rather than emotions.

The Evolution of Narrative Poetry

While epic tales and Arthurian Romances were popular in the past, narrative poetry continues to evolve and take on new forms. It can now be found in various mediums, including spoken word, music, and visual storytelling.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's ‘Paul Revere’s Ride’ (1860) is a prime example of how narrative poetry has been adapted into a popular form of literature that continues to captivate audiences.

The Key Elements of Narrative Poetry

Narrative poetry is characterized by its development of characters, plot, conflict, and resolution. These elements work together to create a compelling story that draws the reader in. It typically follows a structured narrative, but can also have an unpredictable structure depending on the poet's creative choices.

Getting Started with Your Narrative Poetry

If you're looking to write your own narrative poetry, start by building your narrator and their characteristics. Then, consider the plot and how you want it to develop throughout the story. Remember to include conflicts and obstacles to keep the reader engaged. With these elements in mind, you can begin crafting your own unique narrative poem that will stand the test of time.

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