Here you will find a general overview of lyric poetry as a genre. You will also find links to more specialized topics and to individual works.


"Lyric," Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry & Poetics.



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Lyric Poetry

Lyric poetry takes its name from the lyre, a stringed instrument played to accompany a song (pictured at left). Our most influential specimens of lyric poetry in Europe come from ancient Greece.

The lyre was also used in Anglo-Saxon England. The singers of tales in Beowulf are likely to have used them. (Here is Benjamin Bagby reciting the opening lines of Beowulf and singing Grendel's attack while playing the lyre. The full film is available in streaming from our library.) A lyre was being passed around the table in Whitby when Caedmon rushed out to the cowshed.

The image on the left is the lyre recovered from Sutton Hoo (7th century). On the right is a modern reconstruction.

Greek lyric forms are extremely complicated. They include Bacchiac and Cretic verses used for comedy, Ionic verse, Galliambic, and Aeolic verse. Aeolic verse, for example, is built on a choriamb (/xx/), around which a varying number of syllables can be set. Sappho wrote in this form. The stanza varies from the Glyconic stanza to the Asclepiad stanza to the Sapphic stanza (/x// | /xx/ | x//, 3 times, followed by /xx/ | /).

Roman poets adapted Greek lyric forms to Latin. Those forms came into the Middle Ages through handbooks and textbooks. A great deal of Medieval Latin poetry seems to arise not so much from a creative impulse, but from an impulse to attempt these forms.

Medieval and Renaissance poets were very familiar with the majority of these lyric forms, and modified them as they wrote in English.