Types of Poems – Epigrams, hymns, odes, elegies, satires and more

We explain what are the types of poems and the characteristics of the main poetic subgenres of the West.

types of poems
Poetry is one of the broadest and most subjective genres that exist.

What are the types of poem?

A poem is a literary composition that expresses a point of view, a feeling or a deep reflection, through a subjective language that can be in verse or prose. Poems belong to the genre of poetry, and specifically to what is known as lyrical poetry, historically more related to song, than to narrative (the old epic poetry) and theater (the old dramatic poetry).

The world of poetry is extremely free, since it is one of the most complex and subjective literary genres that exist. Its evolution over time led to the current free verse poem, in which there are basically not too many rules regarding what may or may not be in a poem and how it may or may not be written.

But that was not always the case, and there were times when poetry adhered to a more or less strict typology, which was defined by its subject, its type of meter and other formal aspects.

This classification goes beyond rhyming poems or prose poems, and also beyond how many syllables each verse has: it is about a classification by subject or by intention of the poet. We refer to the hymn, the ode, the elegy, the satire, the eclogue, the romance, the epigram, the calligram, the pean and the epitalamium.

There are other possible forms of the poem, especially belonging to other traditions, such as the oriental haiku, which is a very brief and descriptive form of poem. That is why it is important to note that in this article we will focus on the main poetic subgenres of the Western tradition.


Hymns are poems or lyrical songs that often express feelings of admiration, joy, or merriment before a fact, an idea or a historical personality.

They are a very old form of poetic composition, the first examples of which date back to the 3rd millennium BC. C., and that are common to both poetry and music. Hymns are usually solemn songs, inviting fervor towards a patriotic cause (such as national anthems), religious, etc.

Examples of this genre are Homeric hymns from Greek antiquity, attributed to Homer at the time and in which the story of the birth of the Olympian Gods and of some heroes is told. Another more modern example are Hymns to the night by the German poet Novalis (1772-1801), published in 1800 in the magazine Athenaeum.


Similar in nature to hymns, odes they are celebratory songs of enthusiasm and praise, but not only to the great themes of humanity (the country, the heroes, the gods), but to any reference that is of aesthetic or subjective value for the poet.

Thus, there may be odes to friendship, to the beloved woman, or as in the case of the famous poem by the English romantic author John Keats (1795-1821), “Ode to a Greek urn.” Another possible example is the “Ode to Joy” by the German poet Friedrich Schiller (1759-1805), made to music by the German composer Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) in his famous ninth symphony.


For their part, the elegies they are funeral songs or laments. In other words, these are lyrical poems that express the poet’s pain in the face of loss, or that pay tribute to what is no longer available, be it a friend, a lover, and so on. They are generally long poems, in which pain, melancholy and sadness predominate.

Examples of elegy are many of the poems of the Greek Solon (c. 638-558 BC), or the poems of Loves or Sad and Pontics of the Roman Ovid (43 BC – 17 AD), or more recent cases such as Ode to Federico García Lorca by Pablo Neruda (1904-1973) or Something about the death of Major Sabines by Jaime Sabines (1926-1999).


types of satire poems
In satire, criticism is more important than humor.

Satire is both a type of poem and a formal procedure, common to other forms of literature and also to film, music, and other arts. It is a text that expresses through humor, parody, exaggeration and mockery, a criticism of the author towards an aspect of society, some set of ideas or even towards other rival artists.

Sarcasm and irony predominate in satire. Although it is a genre endowed with humor, its purpose is not so much fun, as criticism or opposition to what is parodied.

There are many examples of satire throughout history, as it was a genre widely and profusely cultivated by Latin writers, such as Catullus (87-57 BC), Persio (34-62), Juvenal (60-128 ), or Marcial (40-104), among others.

Many Spanish satirical writers of the Golden Age and of the picaresque novel were also famous, such as Diego Hurtado de Mendoza (1503-1575), one of the supposed authors of the Lazarillo de Tormes; Mateo Alemán (1547-1614), author of the Guzman de Alfarache; Lope de Vega (1562-1635), author of around 3000 sonnets.

Miguel de Cervantes himself (1547-1616) is a satirical author, whose works The Colloquium of the dogs and The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quijote of La Mancha they are very famous.


Eclogue It is a type of poetry with a love theme and a pastoral style, which often operates as a small one-act play, either as a monologue or as a dialogue between characters. Music also plays a leading role in it, and it is usually set in bucolic and rural landscapes.

The first eclogues in history arose in Greco-Roman antiquity, and consisted of small poems like the Idylls of Theocritus (c. 310-260 BC), or the Eclogues of the Roman writer Virgil (70-19 BC). In the Spanish language, many authors of eclogues were Juan del Encina (1468-1529), Garcilaso de la Vega (1498-1536), Lope de Vega (1562-1635), Pedro Soto de Rojas (1584-1658).


The romance is a typical poem of the Hispanic and Hispano-American tradition, very popular in the fifteenth century, and that was composed with a particular style of meter, which consists of eight syllable verses rhyming assonance in even verses. It should not be confused with the narrative genre of the same name.

Romance used to be collected in compilations or anthologies known as “romanceros”, and many times they were texts devoid of a specific authorship, that is, belonging to an oral and popular tradition, linked to the singing of medieval troubadours or minstrels. However, this tradition was rescued by later authors, such as Federico García Lorca (1898-1936), whose Gypsy romance it is particularly famous.


types of poems pean
The pean sought the protection of the gods, mainly in times of war.

In its Greek origins, the pean It was a religious song, directed to the god Apollo to ask him for healing of a sick person; although later it came to be used in the worship of other gods, such as Ares or Dionysus, although always linked to protection and healing, especially in times of war.

Hence, it is considered as an ancient type of warrior poem, of which only some fragments of ancient composers such as Baquílides de Ceos and Pindar, both from the VI-V centuries BC, are preserved. C.


Another type of lyric poetry of Greek origin, later cultivated by the Romans, it is fundamentally a wedding song, that is, of a song to celebrate a wedding.

In ancient times it was sung by choirs of young men and maidens, accompanied by flutes and other instruments, at the door of the bride and groom’s room. In Ancient Rome they gave rise to the fescenine verses, popular poems of vulgar and obscene content, which were in vogue until the times of the Latin poet Catullus (87-57 BC).

After the Middle Ages, the epitalamian was rediscovered by Renaissance poets, and later cultivated by authors from very different times and literary schools, such as Luis de Góngora (1561-1627), Rubén Darío (1867-1916) or Pablo Neruda (1904-1973). His collection of poems serves as an example of the latter The captain’s verses from 1952.


Epigrams consist of a short poetic composition in which some kind of thought is expressed in a festive, witty or satirical way or reflection.

Its origin, like that of so many other poetic genres, dates back to Ancient Greece: they were deep or poetic phrases that were inscribed in a gift, an offering or a statue or tomb, and therefore had to be short and deep. A good compendium of them were collected in the Palatine Anthology (917), definitive version of previous Greco-Latin compilations.

The epigram was widely cultivated in the Western literary tradition, adapting to the spirit of the times. At times it was spicier and more popular, at others it tended to be more formal and educational.

Many modern epigrams formed an important part of the work of authors such as the Spanish Ramón Gómez de la Serna (1888-1963), with his famous greguerías or aphorisms; or the Argentine Oliverio Girondo (1891-1967) with his letterheads. Also in the Anglo-Saxon tradition, the authors John Donne (1572-1631), Jonathan Swift (1667-1745), Alexander Pope (1688-1744) and Oscar Wilde (1854-1900) shone in the epigramist profession.


Guillaume_Apollinaire_-types of calligram poems
Apollinaire’s calligrams arranged the verses to form a figure.

It’s called a calligram (from the French calligramme) to a type of poetry that combines written and visual expression, by arranging his verses on the page in such a way that they compose an allegorical drawing, figure or illustration regarding the content of the poem.

It was a typical exercise of the avant-garde of European and American modernity, which tried to break with the western aesthetic tradition, such as literary cubism, creationism and ultraism.

The first calligrams arose in the twentieth century, the work of the French Guillaume Apollinaire (1880-1918), although they already existed for hundreds of years in the Arabic calligraphic tradition, for example.

The first collection of this type of poetry published in France was Apollinaire’s “Alcohols” of 1913, and later his book Calligrams. Poems of peace and war from 1918.

Other important authors who ventured into the calligram were the Chilean Vicente Huidobro (1893-1948), the Spanish Guillermo de la Torre (1900-1971), the Cuban Guillermo Cabrera Infante (1929-2005) and the Uruguayan Francisco Esteban Acuña de Figueroa ( 1791-1862).