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narrative poetryNarrative poetry is a type of poetry that tells a story, often through the perspective of the narrator and characters. The poems that make up this genre can be very long or somewhat short depending on how in-depth the story is written.  Some narrative poetry takes the form of a novel in verse. Storytelling can be a wonderfully effective teaching tool to enable faster reading comprehension and love for the arts. Get some ideas of stories of value here.

Shorter narrative poems are often similar in style to the short story. Sometimes these short narratives are collected into interrelated groups, as with Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. Some literatures contain prose narratives that include poems and poetic interludes; much Old Irish poetry is contained within prose narratives, and the Old Norse sagas include both incidental poetry and the biographies of poets (wikipedia.org).

Check out the different types of poetry styles throughout the decades.

Below are two examples of the narrative poem as illustrated by two of the best poets of all time: Robert Frost and Edgar Allan Poe.

The Narrative Poem – Robert Frost

The Road Not Taken

by Robert Frost

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And sorry I could not travel both

And be one traveler, long I stood

And looked down one as far as I could

To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair

And having perhaps the better claim,

Because it was grassy and wanted wear;

Though as for that, the passing there

Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay

In leaves no step had trodden black

Oh, I kept the first for another day!

Yet knowing how way leads on to way,

I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

This poem is lauded as one of the best, most-often cited, and most-often misunderstood poems of all time.  Frost has created a story where he has come to a fork in the road where both roads are equally worn “about the same.”  He choses one path, knowing that the likelihood of visiting the other one is slim to none.  This leads to a feeling of remorse (“I shall be telling this with a sigh”) because one day (“some ages and ages hence”) he will fabricate a story about how he “took the road less traveled by.”  Too often, this poem is cited as one of bravery for taking the unknown, harder road. But that is simply not true. This poem is about making a decision and not about a right or wrong one, merely just the bravery in making a decision at all.

Try Udemy’s course on Beowulf for an exploration and instruction into narrative poetry.  The course description reads, “The classic literary tale ‘Beowulf’ comes to life in this course from Providence eLearning. William Lasseter provides narration and commentary throughout the text in 25 video lectures. The poem emerges from Anglo-Saxon oral tradition, composed by an Anonymous scop, or bard, in the 7th century and written down sometime around the 10th century. The 10th century scribes (for there were two) from whose hands we have received the manuscript fell into not a few errors of ignorance, arising apparently from their imperfectly understanding what they were writing.” This course will provide a wonderful instruction on how to deconstruct one of the most well-known narrative poems.

The Narrative Poem – Edgar Allan Poe

The Raven

by Edgar Allan Poe

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,

Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore—

While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,

As of some one gently rapping—rapping at my chamber door.

“‘Tis some visitor,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door—

Only this and nothing more.”

Ah, distinctly I remember, it was in the bleak December,

And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.

Eagerly I wished the morrow;—vainly I had sought to borrow

From my books surcease of sorrow—sorrow for the lost Lenore—

For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore—

Nameless here for evermore.

And the silken sad uncertain rustling of each purple curtain

Thrilled me—filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before;

So that now, to still the beating of my heart, I stood repeating

“‘Tis some visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door—

Some late visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door;—

This it is and nothing more.”

Presently my soul grew stronger; hesitating then no longer,

“Sir,” said I, “or Madam, truly your forgiveness I implore;

But the fact is I was napping, and so gently you came rapping,

And so faintly you came tapping—tapping at my chamber door,

That I scarce was sure I heard you”—here I opened wide the door:—

Darkness there and nothing more.

. . .

“Prophet!” said I, “thing of evil!—prophet still, if bird or devil!

By that Heaven that bends above us — by that God we both adore—

Tell this soul with sorrow laden if, within the distant Aidenn,

It shall clasp a sainted maiden whom the angels name Lenore —

Clasp a rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore.”

Quoth the Raven, “Nevermore.”

“Be that word our sign of parting, bird or fiend!” I shrieked, upstarting—

“Get thee back into the tempest and the Night’s Plutonian shore!

Leave no black plume as a token of that lie thy soul hath spoken!

Leave my loneliness unbroken!—quit the bust above my door!

Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door!”

Quoth the Raven, “Nevermore.”

And the Raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting

On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;

And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon’s that is dreaming,

And the lamp-light o’er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;

And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor

Shall be lifted—nevermore!

Source: http://www.blackcatpoems.com/p/the_raven.html

Poe’s “The Raven” is one of the classics among the classics.  I removed a large portion of the middle of the poem for brevity purposes but its effect is hopefully just as striking.  The unnamed narrator appears in a typically Gothic setting with a lonely apartment, a dying fire, and a “bleak December” night while wearily studying his books in an attempt to distract himself from his troubles. He thinks occasionally of Lenore but is generally able to control his emotions, although the effort required to do so tires him and makes his words equally slow and outwardly pacified. However, over the course of the narrative, the protagonist becomes more and more agitated both in mind and in action, a progression that he demonstrates through his rationalizations and eventually through his increasingly exclamation-ridden monologue. In every stanza near the end, however, his exclamations are punctuated by the calm desolation of the sentence “Quoth the Raven, ‘Nevermore,'” reflecting the despair of his soul.

This poem, like many other beautifully written narrative poems, captures the essence of a full story but adds the metered beauty embedded in poetry.  Narrative poems, in that way, are a nicer, more audibly pleasant alternative to the traditional novel.

Page Last Updated: February 2020

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