Poem — Meaning and Elements


In the first place, a poem is a literary composition which uses aesthetic and rhythmic tools to evoke meanings that are usually not just their obvious meanings. William Wordsworth defines poetry as the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings and which takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility. Furthermore, Emily Dickinson has this to say about poetry: “If I read a book and it makes my whole body so cold no fire ever can warm me I know that is poetry. If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off I know that is poetry.”

At this point, it is important to note that poems are usually written in verse form and the writer of a poem is known as a ‘poet’. We would now take a detailed examination into the elements of a poem. What makes a written work to be called a poem? That is what we mean by elements.



The metre is the arrangement of stressed and unstressed syllables that produces the rhythm in the poem. You can call the metre the rhythmic structure of verse in a poem. ‘Prosody’ is the study of metre.


Secondly, as opposed to novels which are usually written in prose, poems are written in verse. A verse is the arrangement of a poem in lines often with a regular rhythm or pattern of rhyme. It is the metrical composition of the lines of poetry.


A theme refers to the central idea or topic in a poem. It is the subject matter which the poet chooses to address or which the poem revolves around. Take note that a theme could be summed up in a single word (for instance, betrayal, earthquake, afterlife, etc) or in more than one word (for instance, the dangers of electricity, the love of a mother, school life, etc). In Alfred Lord Tennyson’s ‘Crossing the Bar’, there is the theme of ‘Death is a transition’.


The mood refers to the emotional state of the poet at the point of writing the poem. The mood usually affects the tone of the poet persona.


The tone, as an element, is the revelation of the mood and feeling of the writer towards the characters or subject matter of the poem. The tone can be discovered from the writer’s choice of words and the content of the writing. The poet’s tone could be that of anger, sarcasm, disappointment, disapproval, etc.


Diction is the choice of words used by the poet to express his feelings. The choice of words goes a long way to determine the tone of the poet.


Imagery refers to the pictures created in the mind of the reader due to the figurative language employed by the poet in expressing himself. Imagery appeals to the senses: it could appeal to the sense of sight, or touch, etc.


A rhyme occurs when there is a repetition of the same vowel or consonant sounds in the lines of a poem. For example:
There are different types of rhymes which includes alternate rhymes, couplet rhyme, internal rhyme, etc. (We would treat them under another topic).


A rhythm is the total flow of the metrical movement of the sound of words used in a poem and it is the rhythmic flow of sounds that give rise to metre. It refers to the pattern in which accented (stressed) and unaccented (unstressed) syllables occur in a poem. The stressed syllables are marked with (/), while unstressed syllables are marked with (-).


The structure refers to the arrangement of lines and stanza to fully realise the expression of the poet. The lines refer to the words of the poem; a group of lines in a repeated pattern give rise to stanza.


Words or phrases used in a poem could symbolize an idea, event or object. For instance, a dove and cross symbolises peace and suffering respectively.


It refers to the various ways employed by the poet to write the poem. It includes the poet’s use of literary devices like alliteration, personification, etc.


Finally, all these are the elements of a poem which a good student of poetry is expected to appreciate and have at the back of his mind while reading a poem.

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