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What Are the Different Characteristics of Poetry?

The content of a poem can simultaneously have a literal and figurative meaning.
Because poetry developed from ancient literary forms that were performed orally in public, it often incorporates rhyme and meter.
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  • Written By: Dan Cavallari
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 12 October 2014
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Poetry is a type of writing that focuses on figurative language, the aesthetic qualities of the words and lines, and the overall meaning of the words in many cases. The characteristics of poetry can vary significantly according to the specific genre or type of poetry being read, though most poetry shares some common characteristics. Figurative language is any word or phrase that has a meaning besides the dictionary definition, and this type of language is exceptionally common in most forms of poetry. Other characteristics include rhyme, meter, enjambment, and other poetic devices intended to draw attention to the nature of language.

While many readers think of rhyme as one of the most common characteristics of poetry, many poets avoid rhyme altogether, particularly in the post-modern genre. Rhyme schemes are present in many types of poetry, and the scheme itself can vary by poetic form. An example of a rhyme scheme might look like this:

The A lines feature words that rhyme with each other, as do the B lines. The C line rhymes with neither the A nor the B lines. These words might be included in lines of poetry, known as verses, in a single stanza, or unit of poetry.

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Figurative language is one of the characteristics that can be hard to identify. Similes are usually the most identifiable figurative language, since these phrases are indicated by the use of the words "like" or "as." They are comparisons of two unlike things; metaphors are also comparisons of two unlike things, but metaphors do not use the words "like" or "as" to make these comparisons. Other figurative language includes metonymy, onomatopoeia, synecdoche, and personification.

Much of poetry is written in a certain meter, which means the lines of poetry are constructed with a certain design, rhythm, or sound. Iambic pentameter, which is a line that consists of five iambs, is a well known meter. An iamb is a combination of an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable. An example of iambic pentameter might read something like this:

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