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7 Poetic Forms Year 8 Students Must Know (and How To Talk About Them)

Do you or your child struggle with poetry? In this article, we discuss the 7 poetic forms Year 8 student must know and their key features and conventions.

Does your child struggle with poetry? Don’t worry, many students find poetry difficult. To help you out, in this article we’ll discuss the 5 poetic forms Year 8 students must know (and how to talk about them) to turbocharge your marks.


7 Poetic Forms Year 8 Students Must Know (and How To Talk About Them)

Many students don’t realise that there’s a hack for doing well with poetry. What they don’t understand is that different poetic forms have traditions and conventions that can shape the meaning in them.

If students can get on top of the meanings and conventions of these forms, they will do far better when trying to analyse and write about poems.


In this article, we’ll discuss

Now we know what we’re going to discuss, let’s us go now, you and I.


Form and convention

Before we go any further, it is worth defining the key terms of this discussion:

  • Form: This is the structure and shape of the poem. Form dictates:
    • Length of the poem
    • Length of the line
    • Rhyme scheme (if any)
    • Patterns of repetition
    • Rhythm of the poem
  • Convention: A convention is a standard about the poetic form. Sometimes this standard can refer (confusingly) to the form, but normally it refers to the:
    • Subject matter of the poem
    • Tone of the poem
    • The speaker’s role

Form and convention are used to signal to the reader the sort of poem they are reading.

Form and the attendant conventions develop expectations about the content.

When we encounter a sonnet, for example, we expect it to be about love. When we encounter an elegy, we expect it to be mourning an individual.

Important terms

Before we get into the discussion of forms and conventions, we need to define some important terms and ideas.

  • Line/Verse – a single line of poetry
  • Stanza – a unit of lines that function as a whole. Stanza can range from one line and up. For example,
    • Couplet – Two lines
    • Tercet – Three lines
    • Quatrain – Four lines
  • Metre / Meter (US)  The rhythm of the line. That is, which syllables are stressed or unstressed. The common metres are:
    • Iamb – 1st syllable unstressed, 2nd stressed (da-dum) as in un-seen
    • Trochee – 1st syllable stressed , 2nd unstressed (dum-da) as in fast-er
    • Spondee – both 1st and 2nd syllable stressed (dumdum) as in door-way or sun-shine
  • Rhyme – The repetition of a sound at the end of a line or inside a verse
  • Rhyme Scheme – the organisation of rhymes at the end of a line throughout the poem.


blog english Y8 English 7 poetic forms year 8 students must know structure

Open and closed forms

When we talk about poetic forms we can break these down into two distinct categories:

    • Closed forms: Forms where a strict set of rules about line length, rhythm, rhyme scheme, and other conventions need to be followed
    • Open Forms: Forms where rules don’t apply. These are types of free verse poems that don’t adhere to any traditional or agreed-upon rules. Free verse is open form.



The importance of conventions

Why do we need to know about forms and conventions?

Forms and conventions guide both the reader and the writer of a poem. The writer of, say,  a villanelle, needs to adhere to a set of strict rules and tends to focus on pastoral ideas or obsession. The reader knows to expect a poem discussing pastoral themes and involving a lot of repetition – which helps to convey notions of obsession.

Knowing the conventions of a particular poetic form helps readers and critics unpack the meaning of the poem. For example, a reader of a sonnet might expect its speaker to relate a piece of advice or express love to a subject.

Poets can challenge conventions and surprise readers by utilising a form and its conventions to discuss something outside of the traditions. A good example of this is Percy Bryce Shelley’s “Ozymandias” (see below) which addresses the hubris of man and the sublime power of nature instead.


Okay, now we know the terms we’re looking at, let’s dig into the 7 poetic forms Year 8 students must know.



Ballads (or Bush Ballads as they are sometimes known) are probably the most common form of traditional folk poetry. Ballads usually tell narratives about characters and events. Ballads were traditionally passed down orally. Ballads in England date back to the 13th Century


Features and conventions of Ballads

Ballads normally relate the story of an individuals life and trials and tribulations. Ballads were often accompanied by music.

Ballads would often tell a tragic or heroic story about a character. During the 187th and 18th Century in England, the Romantics coopted the form as a Lyrical Ballad.

Lyrical Ballads were devised by William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge. They aimed to overturn the intellectual and highly contrived forms of poetry of the period and produce poetry that celebrated nature and the common person.

Lyrical Ballads focus on pastoral themes and concerns and conveyed the idea that humanity was essentially good but corrupted by society. In Australia, Bush Ballads tell the tales of convicts, bushrangers, and drovers. Bush Ballads either celebrated figures or highlighted the plight of the working class where they were exploited by landowners or the upper-classes.


Ballads don’t have a set form, but they do have distinct conventions of rhyme and repetition. They usually contain:

  • Shorter lines
  • A regular rhythm
  • A simple and consistent rhyming scheme
  • A chorus that is repeated.

Some poems are written around groups of four lines that are known as quatrains or groups of two lines known as couplets.

Ballads tend to fall into three categories:

  1. Heroic – The ballad celebrates the accomplishment of an individual. In England, there are many folk ballads about Robin Hood. Some Bush ballads are ironically heroic as they celebrate the stories of bushrangers and convicts and their tragic demises. These ballads tend to challenge the traditional expectations of a ballad having a pure hero.
  2. Comedic – These are ballads that relate funny anecdotes or situations.
  3. Tragic – Ballads that convey a tragic story that ends int eh protagonists death.


Famous Ballads

Some famous ballads include:

blog english Y8 English 7 poetic forms year 8 students must know sonnet



A sonnet is a poem of strict set length and rhyme scheme.

Sonnets originated in Italy and were devised and developed by the poet Francesco Petrach in the 14th century. Sonnets were popularised in England in 16th Century by Edmund Spenser and William Shakespeare.

Sonnets are often written as a sequence like those of Shakespeare’s addressed to the Fair Youth and Dark Lady or Elizabeth Barret Browning’s Sonnets from the Portuguese.

Features and conventions of Sonnets

Traditionally, sonnets have fallen into two categories:

  1. Poems that are professions of love
  2. Poems that are pieces of advice

The original poems of Petrach were unrequited professions of love from a man of lowly position to a woman of high position. These were part of the chivalric tradition.

Petrach’s poems followed a strict rules of:

  • Fourteen lines
  • Being a strict mediation on a single idea with a witty turn or clarification of the idea when the rhyme pattern shifts from ABBA

Shakespeare popularised the sonnet with his collection of 154 sonnets – 126 dedicated to an unknown young man called the Fair Youth and 28 to the woman called The Dark Lady.

The Fair Youth sonnets are all pieces of advice given affectionately to the young man by the speaker. The Dark Lady sonnets are romantic and lustful in nature.

Shakespeare’s sonnets follow the form: ABAB CDCD EFEF GG. All are in iambic pentameter.

The Metaphysical Poets and Romantic Poets used the sonnet form for the own Ends. Romantic Poets took the poems subject matter of love and adulation and turned it on the sublime power of nature. John Donne, the Metaphysical Poet, write a sequence of Holy Sonnets where he wrestles with his faith.

Later poets, like Elizabeth Baret Browning, returned to the romantic and amorous traditions of the sonnet only scandalously for the period gave the speaker a female voice and desire.


Famous Sonnets



Odes are a type of traditional lyric poems that celebrate an idea, a thing, person, or place. A lyric is a piece of poetry that express a feeling or an emotion towards something.

Odes were a key part of Classical Greek poetry and have continued to be a popular lyric form in contemporary poetry.

Features and conventions of Odes

English language Odes tend to fall into three categories:

  • Pindaric odes: named after the Greek poet, Pindar. These odes tended to celebrate achievements and were composed to be accompanied to music.
  • Horatian odes: Named after the Roman poet, Horatio. These odes are typically written in quatrains. Horatian odes tend to be philosophical in tone or topic.
  • Sapphic odes: Written in the tradition of Spaho, these odes have a romantic or amorous focus. These have quatrains of particular line length and a specific and strict rhythm/meter.

Aside from having particular forms and subject matter, odes also have a specific structure. Traditionally the Ancient Greeks and Romans composed odes with 3 parts:

  1. Strophe: An introductory part for the poem which introduces an idea or theme
  2. Antistrophe: The antistrophe followed the strophe and gave a thematic counter-balance to the strophe. If the strophe was celebratory, the antistrophe was dark and melancholy
  3. Epode: the epode was structured quite distinctly from the rest of the ode in length and meter and served to conclude or summarise the narrative or song.

In English language odes, only the strophe and antistrophe remain. The epode is something rarely employed in English.

A good example of the relation between strophe and antisrophe in English language poetry can be found in Keats’ “Ode to a Nightingale“.

In the 2nd and 3rd stanzas below, you can clearly see a contrast between the positive imagery of the initial stanza – or strophe – and the darker imagery of the following stanza- or antistrophe .

O, for a draught of vintage! that hath been
Cool’d a long age in the deep-delved earth,
Tasting of Flora and the country green,
Dance, and Provençal song, and sunburnt mirth!
O for a beaker full of the warm South,
Full of the true, the blushful Hippocrene,
With beaded bubbles winking at the brim,
And purple-stained mouth;
That I might drink, and leave the world unseen,
And with thee fade away into the forest dim:

Fade far away, dissolve, and quite forget
What thou among the leaves hast never known,
The weariness, the fever, and the fret
Here, where men sit and hear each other groan;
Where palsy shakes a few, sad, last gray hairs,
Where youth grows pale, and spectre-thin, and dies;
Where but to think is to be full of sorrow
And leaden-eyed despairs,
Where Beauty cannot keep her lustrous eyes,
Or new Love pine at them beyond to-morrow.

Famous Odes

Some famous odes are:

 blog english Y8 English 7 poetic forms year 8 students must know elegy


Elegies are poems written in mourning of somebody or something.

Elegies have a poetic history stretching from today back to Ancient Greece! Traditional elegies used elegiac couplets to compose witty or erotic verse, popularised by the Roman poet Cattalus. They were also popular for writing epitaphs (short pieces honouring the dead).

Over time, the topic of elegies has become mournful and philosophical.


Features and conventions of Elegy

In English language poetry, the elegy is today most commonly associated with death. IN the 17th Century this began to change, but some poets, like Donne, were still producing Elegies that followed the meditative tradition.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote of the elegy that, “Elegy is a form of poetry natural to the reflective mind. It may treat of any subject, but it must treat of no subject for itself; but always and exclusively with reference to the poet. As he will feel regret for the past or desire for the future, so sorrow and love became the principal themes of the elegy. Elegy presents every thing as lost and gone or absent and future.”

While there is no set form an elegy, they do follow some conventions;

  • They are usually written in the first person
  • Elegies usually contrast the person’s life to the subject’s life
  • Elegies often become a meditation or exploration of complex philosophical ideas
  • Elegies focused on Mourning usually have a turn towards consolation in the closing verses
  • While elegies often mourn an individual or philosophise, they don’t necessarily have a plot

Famous Elegies

Elegies have been around for quite some time. Here are a selection of famous elegies from across the centuries:



The villanelle, like the sonnet, is a very restricted and complex form. The first villanelle – titled “Villanelle’ – was French and composed by Jean Passerat.

Villanelles have a strict rhyming scheme and use of repetition as well as a rhythm.


Features and conventions of Villanelle

Traditionally, the villanelle was pastoral in subject – meaning that it was about rural life or in rural settings. The name comes from the French, meaning “Peasant.”

Today, the subject of the form varies widely, but the rules of the form still apply (although with some variations)

The villanelle has only 19 lines and two rhymes throughout. English Villanelles are usually in iambic pentameter.

The rules of a villanelle are that it has:

  • 19 lines
  • 5 stanzas of three lines (a tercet)
  • The rhythm is in iambic pentameter
  • It contains two repeating rhymes, only
  • It has two refrains
  • The 1st line of the 1st stanza is used as the last line of the 2nd and 4th stanzas
  • The 3rd line of the 1st stanza is used as the last line of the 3rd and 5th stanza

The form can be expressed as A1 b A2 / a b A1 / a b A2 / a b A1 / a b A2 / a b A1 A2 where A and B are refrains and b and a are the rhymes and the / denotes a break between stanzas.

Famous Villanelles


Blank Verse

Blank verse is the arguably the most common form of English language poetry over the past 400 years. Blank verse is the basis for Shakespeare’s dialogue and Milton’s epics to much contemporary poetry.

Blank verse originated in the 16th century.


Features and conventions of Blank Verse

Blank verse became popularised by 16th and 17th Century drama. The lines on stage were spoken in blank verse. Blank verse has three conventions

  1. Each line has ten syllables
  2. Each line is written in iambs
  3. It is mostly unrhymed

The playwrights William Shakespeare and Christopher Marlowe popularised the form on the London theatre stages. From there, it spread to become a popular form of poets in general.

It was adopted by English poets writing epic poems such as Milton in his epic, Paradise Lost. 

Famous pieces of Blank Verse

Here is a selection of poems written in blank verse (we’ve excluded drama):

 blog english Y8 English 7 poetic forms year 8 students must know free verse


Free Verse

Free verse is the most common form of poetry in English since the 20th century. It is poetry that eschews a set rhythm, structure or consistent rhyme.

The American poet Walt Whitman experimented with free verse and the sound of spoken language extensively in the late 19th century. in England, Matthew Arnold was exploring similar things.

Free verse was popularised by the Modernists.


Features and conventions of Free Verse

The biggest feature or convention of free verse is that it has no real conventions or features!

Free verse mostly:

  • Avoids consistent rhythm
  • Doesn’t adhere to a set rhyme scheme if it uses any
  • Doesn’t follow a set stanza structure
  • Stick to any subject matter
  • Follow rules around perspective or speaker.

The Modernists, such as Ezra Pound, TS Eliot, WH Auden, and HD, popularised free verse and it has remained popular since due to its huge possibilities.


Famous Verse Poems

Some examples of free verse are:


Need more help understanding poetry?

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Written by Patrick Condliffe

Patrick has a Bachelor of Arts (Hons. 1st Class - Australian Literature) from USYD. His poetry, short stories, and essays have been published online and in print and he regularly reviews film and other media. Patrick is the editor of the popular Matrix blog and has been an English teacher at Matrix since 2012.


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