Lyric Genre – Concept, origin, elements and characteristics

We explain what the lyrical genre is, its origin, elements and other characteristics. Also, examples and subgenres.

The lyrical genre conveys feelings, perspectives, sensations and reflections.

What is the lyrical genre?

The lyric or lyrical genre is one of the oldest literary genres, whose usual expression is the poem, in its many and very different possible presentations.

That is to say, lyric is the traditional name for what we modernly call poetry, although its ancient origins were more linked to singing and music, than contemporary literary composition, and encompassed different types of song that today we consider a separate genre.

We speak of the lyrical genre in opposition, normally, to the epic genre, that is, to the narrative. However, both are ancient literary categories.

Since the traditional historical expression of any literary work was verse, especially before the invention of writing (it served as a mnemonic rule), the term was used for a long time lyric poetry to refer to the forms of poetry, in distinction to the term epic poetry, which alluded to narrative texts in verse.

The difference between one and the other lies, as today, in that the narrative tells a story, while poetry focuses on the transmission of feelings, perspectives, sensations and reflections through a metaphorical or poetic language.

Characteristics of the lyrical genre

In general, the lyrical genre is characterized by the following:

  • Express a subjective reality of the poet or composer, such as his feelings, impressions, reflections, etc., using his own, original language, in which rhetorical resources abound, such as metaphor.
  • Use the verse to express themselves, so much so that in the past the lyric was studied according to the meter, that is, the type of verse used according to its number of syllables. Nowadays, on the other hand, free verse is preferred, without meter, and there are also poetic prose and prose poem.
  • Formerly it was accompanied by music, as what today we understand by song or song, while at present it is reserved for silent reading or for declamation, in recitals and poetry readings.
  • Use language rich in literary figures and playful twists, which can even be cryptic, that is, dark or difficult to understand.

Origin of the lyrical genre

lyrical genre origin
Originally, the lyrical genre was accompanied by a lyre, hence its name.

The lyrical genre was born in antiquity, as a common form of expression of the cultures of the time, usually accompanied by different musical instruments.

In fact, seems to be the oldest form of poetic composition, present even in sacred or religious texts, such as the Canticles of Moses and the Psalms of david of the Old Testament, or in ancient Indian poems such as the Rig-veda (15th century BC). We must understand that these texts, although today they are not considered poetry (in some cases not even literature), they are prior to the very idea of ​​poetry that we handle today.

As in many other arts, the great cultists and scholars of lyricism in the West were the ancient Greeks, who accompanied her with the sound of the lyre (where its name comes from) or other musical instruments, and used for her a certain type of very specific versification.

The philosopher Plato (c. 427-347 BC) considered the lyric as the proper genre “of the poet’s recital”, while his disciple Aristotle (384-322 BC) devoted himself to its formal study in the Poetics (335 BC), understanding it as the word sung and accompanied by music, without any intention of telling.

Subgenres of the lyrical genre

The lyric has had numerous subgenres throughout its history, many of which are considered extinct today. Among the best known are:

  • Ode. Poetic composition of high tone and often sung, in which the poet expresses the admiration of the poet for some vital aspect that captures his reflection, such as homeland, love, etc.
  • Elegy. Similar to the ode, but lamentable in character, the elegy is a poem or song of pain in the face of something lost: a lover, life, youth, illusion, homeland, etc. Their inscription on tombstones or mortuary statues, related to the epigram, was common.
  • Epigram. Very brief poem in which a festive, satirical or ironic thought is expressed, in a similar way to an aphorism, commonly to be engraved on the surface of an object of sentimental value.
  • Anthem. A type of lyrical song in which joy and celebration are expressed, especially in joyous or historical situations, such as victory, the founding of the homeland or divine glory. They may therefore be dedicated to the gods, the homeland, or a particular hero.
  • Ballad. Typical of the Middle Ages and the 14th century, the ballad is a poetic composition that evokes a very marked musicality, without the need to be accompanied by instruments. To do this, repeat a verse or chorus at the end of every three verses, as if it were a song.
  • Sonnet. One of the most popular poetic forms during the Renaissance, whose poems on different themes were always structured according to the same order: fourteen verses of major art (hendecasyllables), organized into four stanzas: two quartets and two triplets. In this way, the sonnet had an introduction, development and conclusion in its approach to the subject.

Elements of the lyrical genre

Works of the lyrical genre usually consist of the following elements:

  • Poem. A poem is a work of variable length, written in verses, in which a poetic speaker expresses a subjective reality through his own language. Thus, a book of poetry obviously contains poems.
  • Verse. Each of the lines in which a poem is written, and that can have a variable length and be written with or without a final rhyme. It is therefore opposable to prose (the continuous text).
  • Stanza. A stanza is a set of verses that constitute a unit within the poem, and that must be read together, apart from the rest of the text. They are equivalent to paragraphs of prose.
  • Rhyme. This is the name given to the phonetic similarity that two or more verses present in their final syllables, and which can be of two types: assonance, when the final letter coincides, and consonant, when the entire final syllable coincides.
  • Metrics. Formerly, the metric was used as a form of study of the poem, measuring the number of syllables per verse (and of verses per type of poem), based on fixed and recurring criteria.

Examples of lyrical genre

Possible examples of lyrical composition are the following:

  • Bucolicum carmen (1357) by the Italian poet Francesco Petrarca (1304-1375).
  • The ode to joy (1786) by the German poet Friedrich Schiller (1759-1805), brought to music by Ludwig van Beethoven in 1793.
  • Hymns to the night (1800) by the German poet Novalis (1772-1801).
  • In the beginning erat verbum of the Spanish poet and religious Saint John of the Cross (1542-1591).