Can A Poem Have A Narrative?

by Amy

Narrative poetry is a form of poetry that tells a story, combining the elements of storytelling with poetic techniques. Unlike lyric poetry, which primarily focuses on expressing personal emotions and thoughts, narrative poetry incorporates characters, a plot, and a setting to create a cohesive narrative arc. This fusion of storytelling and poetic elements allows narrative poems to engage readers through both the content of the story and the beauty of the language used.

Characteristics of Narrative Poetry

Plot: The backbone of narrative poetry is its plot, a sequence of events or actions that drive the story forward. The plot provides structure and direction, guiding the reader through the narrative.

Characters: Narrative poems often feature characters who participate in the story. These characters can be fully developed individuals with distinct personalities and motivations or more abstract entities representing broader concepts.

Setting: The setting is the time and place where the story unfolds. It provides context and can significantly influence the mood and atmosphere of the poem.

Conflict: Central to any narrative is conflict, the challenge or problem faced by the characters. Conflict creates tension and drives the plot, keeping readers engaged.

Resolution: The resolution is the outcome or solution to the conflict. It provides closure to the narrative and can leave readers with a sense of satisfaction or contemplation.

Forms of Narrative Poetry

Epic Poems: Epic poems are long, formal narratives that often focus on heroic deeds and grand adventures. Examples include Homer’s “The Iliad” and “The Odyssey.” These poems typically feature larger-than-life characters and explore themes of bravery, honor, and the human condition.

Ballads: Ballads are song-like poems that tell stories, often passed down orally through generations. They are characterized by simple language, repetition, and a regular rhyme scheme. An example is Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” which tells the eerie tale of a sailor’s fateful journey.

Lyrical Narratives: Lyrical narratives are shorter poems that blend lyrical and narrative elements. Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven” is a prime example, as it combines the haunting repetition and musicality of lyric poetry with a compelling narrative about loss and despair.

See also: Does A Poem Need To Rhyme?

Examples of Narrative Poems

“The Canterbury Tales” by Geoffrey Chaucer: This collection of stories told by pilgrims on their way to Canterbury is a classic example of narrative poetry. Each tale varies in theme and style, showcasing Chaucer’s versatility and the richness of narrative poetry.

“Beowulf”: An Old English epic poem, “Beowulf” tells the story of the hero Beowulf and his battles against the monster Grendel, Grendel’s mother, and a dragon. The poem explores themes of heroism, loyalty, and the transient nature of life.

“The Highwayman” by Alfred Noyes: This ballad tells the tragic love story of a highwayman and an innkeeper’s daughter. The poem’s rhythmic cadence and vivid imagery draw readers into the tale of love, betrayal, and sacrifice.

Analyzing lines from these examples highlights how narrative elements are woven into the poetry. For instance, in “The Highwayman,” Noyes uses repetition and vivid descriptions to create a sense of urgency and drama:

“The wind was a torrent of darkness among the gusty trees,
The moon was a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas.”

Comparison with Other Poetic Forms

Narrative poetry differs from other types of poetry, such as lyric poetry, which focuses more on expressing emotions and thoughts rather than telling a story. While lyric poems are often introspective and personal, narrative poems balance storytelling with the use of poetic devices like rhyme, meter, and imagery. This balance allows narrative poems to engage readers on multiple levels, providing both a compelling story and a rich sensory experience.

Poetic Devices in Narrative Poetry

Imagery: Vivid descriptions that create mental pictures are crucial in narrative poetry. Imagery helps to bring the story to life, making it more immersive and engaging for the reader.

Metaphor and Simile: Comparisons that add depth to the narrative, metaphors and similes can enhance the emotional and thematic layers of the poem. For example, in “Beowulf,” the hero is often described in grand, metaphorical terms that highlight his strength and bravery.

Symbolism: Symbols in narrative poetry represent larger concepts or themes. For instance, in “The Raven,” the raven itself is a symbol of death and loss, adding a deeper meaning to the narrative.

Repetition: Repetition emphasizes key ideas or themes through repeated words or phrases. This technique can create a rhythmic pattern that enhances the poem’s musicality and reinforces its central themes.

Writing Tips for Narrative Poetry

For those interested in writing narrative poetry, consider the following tips:

Develop a Clear Plot: Outline the main events of your story before writing. A well-structured plot is essential for engaging narrative poetry.

Create Compelling Characters: Give your characters distinct voices and motivations. Well-developed characters make the story more relatable and engaging.

Build a Vivid Setting: Use descriptive language to transport readers to the time and place of your story. A vivid setting can enhance the mood and atmosphere of the poem.

Incorporate Conflict and Resolution: Ensure your narrative has a clear conflict and resolution to keep readers engaged. The resolution provides closure and can leave readers with a sense of satisfaction or contemplation.

Blend Storytelling with Poetic Techniques: Use rhyme, meter, and other poetic devices to enhance the narrative and create a cohesive poem. The combination of storytelling and poetic elements can make your narrative poem both compelling and beautiful.


In conclusion, a poem can indeed have a narrative, blending the elements of storytelling with the beauty and techniques of poetry. Narrative poetry, with its rich history and diverse forms, offers poets a unique way to engage readers through both story and verse. By understanding the characteristics of narrative poetry and using poetic devices effectively, poets can create works that resonate deeply with readers, providing both a compelling narrative and a rich sensory experience. Whether through epic tales of heroism, haunting ballads, or lyrical narratives, narrative poetry continues to be a powerful and versatile form of literary expression.

FAQs about Narrative Poetry

1. Can poetry have a narrative?

Yes, poetry can have a narrative. Narrative poetry is a genre that tells a story through verse. It combines the elements of storytelling—such as characters, plot, and setting—with poetic techniques like rhyme, meter, and imagery. This blend allows poets to create rich, engaging tales that also possess the lyrical qualities of poetry.

2. What is an example of a narrative poem?

An example of a narrative poem is “The Highwayman” by Alfred Noyes. This poem tells the story of a highwayman and his tragic love affair with an innkeeper’s daughter. The narrative unfolds with vivid imagery and rhythmic language, creating a compelling and emotional tale. Another famous example is “The Canterbury Tales” by Geoffrey Chaucer, which consists of a collection of stories told by pilgrims on their way to Canterbury.

3. How do you turn a poem into a narrative?

Turning a poem into a narrative involves incorporating key elements of storytelling while maintaining the lyrical and structural aspects of poetry. Here are some steps to achieve this:

Develop a Plot: Outline a sequence of events or actions that will drive the story forward. Ensure your plot has a clear beginning, middle, and end.

Create Characters: Introduce characters who will participate in the story. Give them distinct personalities, motivations, and roles within the narrative.

Establish a Setting: Describe the time and place where the story occurs. Use vivid imagery to create a sense of atmosphere and context.

Introduce Conflict: Include a central challenge or problem that the characters must face. This conflict will create tension and keep the narrative engaging.

Resolve the Conflict: Provide a resolution to the conflict, bringing the story to a satisfying conclusion.

Incorporate Poetic Techniques: Use rhyme, meter, alliteration, and other poetic devices to enhance the narrative. Ensure that the language is lyrical and evocative, adding depth to the story.

4. Can a poem be a personal narrative?

Yes, a poem can be a personal narrative. Personal narrative poems tell stories from the poet’s own life, experiences, or perspectives. These poems blend the elements of personal storytelling with poetic techniques, allowing the poet to express emotions, reflections, and events in a concise and impactful way. Personal narrative poems often explore themes such as identity, memory, growth, and personal challenges, providing a glimpse into the poet’s inner world.

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