Lyric poetry refers to a short poem, often with songlike qualities, that expresses the speaker’s personal emotions and feelings. Historically intended to be sung and accompany musical instrumentation, lyric now describes a broad category of non-narrative poetry, including elegies, odes, and sonnets.

History of Lyric Poetry:

Lyric poetry began as a fixture of ancient Greece, classified against other categories of poetry at the time of classical antiquity: dramas (written in verse) and epic poems. The lyric was far shorter, distinguished also by its focus on the poet’s state of mind and personal themes rather than narrative arc.

Most typically accompanying the lyre, a harp-like instrument from which lyric poetry derives its name, these poems would also be sung to other instruments and other times recited. Classical musician-poets from the Archaic Greek period include Sappho, one of the most widely regarded lyric poets of all time. Her lyric, numbered “XII,” begins: 

In a dream I spoke with the Cyprus-born,

      And said to her,

“Mother of beauty, mother of joy,

Why hast thou given to men


“This thing called love, like the ache of a wound

      In beauty's side,

To burn and throb and be quelled for an hour

And never wholly depart?“

Lyric poetry appears in a variety of forms, the most popular of which is arguably the sonnet: traditionally, a fourteen-line poem written in iambic pentameter. Sir Thomas Wyatt and of course William Shakespeare helped popularize the classical form for English audiences. William Wordsworth’s “The World Is Too Much With Us” is a great example of a sonnet adapted, at the time, for the 19th century.

The ode, a formal address to an event, a person, or a thing not present, is another common branch of lyric poetry. There are three typical types of odes: the Pindaric, Horatian, and Irregular. Percy Bysshe Shelley’sOde to the West Wind” is a great example of a Pindaric and one of the most celebrated odes of the English language.

Other famous examples of lyric poems include Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven,” Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s “My Lost Youth,” and Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “Ode to Dejection.”