Poetry Facts

A Brief Introduction to Closed Form Poetry

Last Updated: September 10, 2022
rhyme scheme

This article is about closed form poetry (also known as fixed form poetry) and everything related to it. You’ll learn what exactly is closed form poetry, how is it different from open form poetry and some of its common types. Of course, we’re going to look at some examples of closed form poems as well. So if you’re interested, read on!

What is closed form poetry?

Closed form poetry is a type of poetry that follows structured form and governed by specific rules.

In poetry, form refers to the physical structure of a poem, such as line length or patterns of rhyme. The form strongly influences both how the poem looks and how it sounds.

Closed form poems dominated poetry from its origin. Since the beginning, all poems were written in closed form. It was not up until the middle of the 19th century that poets started to write poems without prescribed forms, or open form poetry as we know now a day.

Open vs closed form poetry

rhyme schemes, open and closed poetic, blank verse

Poetry has two main forms: open and closed. As we know, closed form poems follow specific rules, whereas open form poems do not. Open form poems don’t follow any patterns, they’re very free.

To make things simple, if you read a poem and it doesn’t rhyme, you can be pretty sure that it’s an open form poem. Otherwise, it’s a closed form poem.

It’s not hard to see that open form poems are significantly less rigid than closed form poems, usually in regard to line, stanza, meter, everything formal that makes a poem a poem in the traditional sense.

Both forms of poetry has their own advantages. Open form poems have more freedom to provide pleasure to readers. However, the rigidness of close form poems helps us appreciate the word play and the freedom that language can attain within that artificial restraint.

5 common types of closed form poetry and their examples

There are many types of closed form poetry, each follows an unique model and set of rules to serve different purposes. Below are some of its most common types, and keep in mind that this is not an exhaustive list.

1. Sonnet

Sonnet is probably one of the most common types of closed form poem. Sonnet has two main types: the Shakespearean (or Elizabethan) sonnet and the Italian sonnet. Both types have fourteen lines, and are written in iambic pentameter. Sonnets are almost always about love, here is a good example:

Sonnet 73 by William Shakespeare

That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruined choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.
In me thou see’st the twilight of such day
As after sunset fadeth in the west;
Which by and by black night doth take away,
Death’s second self, that seals up all in rest.
In me thou see’st the glowing of such fire,
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,
As the deathbed whereon it must expire,
Consumed with that which it was nourished by.
    This thou perceiv’st, which makes thy love more strong,
    To love that well which thou must leave ere long.

2. Haiku

Haiku is a type of poetry that originated in Japan. It’s considered the epitome of compression of ideas through imagery, since Haiku poems only have three line and have to follow a strict pattern. The main theme of Haiku is nature, here’s a good example:

The Old Pond by Matsuo Bashō

An old pond!
A frog jumps in –
The sound of water.

3. Villanelle

Villanelle is another traditional type of closed form poem. It began in France and consist of nineteen lines (five triplets and a quatrain). The most impart part in the rhyme scheme of villanelle is the repetition of line one and line three throughout the poem. The first line is repeated as line 6, 12, and 18. The third line is repeated as lines 9, 15, and 19. When a poet writes villanelle, it’s usually about loss, the poem below is a good example:

The Home on the Hill by Edward A. Robinson

They are all gone away,
The house is shut and still,
There is nothing more to say

Through broken walls and gray,
The wind blows bleak and shrill,
They are all gone away

Nor is there one today,
To speak them good or ill
There is nothing more to say

Why is it then we stray
Around the sunken sill?
They are all gone away

And our poor fancy play
For them is wasted skill,
There is nothing more to say

There is ruin and decay
In the House on the Hill:
They are all gone away,
There is nothing more to say.

4. Ballad

Ballad is a type of closed form poem that tells a story and meant to be sung. Ballads usually have a quatrain that is repeated several times through out a poem (also known as a chorus). The stories that ballads tell can be historical, national or personal. Here’s one example:

Annabel Lee by Edgar Allan Poe

It was many and many a year ago,
   In a kingdom by the sea,
That a maiden there lived whom you may know
   By the name of Annabel Lee;
And this maiden she lived with no other thought
   Than to love and be loved by me.

I was a child and she was a child,
   In this kingdom by the sea:
But we loved with a love that was more than love—
   I and my Annabel Lee;
With a love that the winged seraphs of heaven
   Coveted her and me.

And this was the reason that, long ago,
   In this kingdom by the sea,
A wind blew out of a cloud, chilling
   My beautiful Annabel Lee;
So that her highborn kinsman came
   And bore her away from me,
To shut her up in a sepulchre
   In this kingdom by the sea.

The angels, not half so happy in heaven,
   Went envying her and me—
Yes!—that was the reason (as all men know,
   In this kingdom by the sea)
That the wind came out of the cloud by night,
   Chilling and killing my Annabel Lee.

But our love it was stronger by far than the love
   Of those who were older than we—
   Of many far wiser than we—
And neither the angels in heaven above,
   Nor the demons down under the sea,
Can ever dissever my soul from the soul
   Of the beautiful Annabel Lee:

For the moon never beams, without bringing me dreams
   Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And the stars never rise, but I feel the bright eyes
   Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And so, all the night-tide, I lie down by the side
Of my darling—my darling—my life and my bride,
   In her sepulchre there by the sea,
   In her tomb by the sounding sea.

5. Sestina

The sestina is a complex thirty-nine-line poem originated from French in the 12th century. It follows a strict pattern of repetition of the initial six end-words of the first stanza throughout the remaining stanzas. The complexity of sestina was intentional because it was conceived as a poetic challenge between rivals back in the days. Thus, overcoming challenge is the central motif to sestina, as you can see when reading the poem below:

Sestina by Algernon Charles Swinburne

I saw my soul at rest upon a day
      As a bird sleeping in the nest of night,
Among soft leaves that give the starlight way
      To touch its wings but not its eyes with light;
So that it knew as one in visions may,
      And knew not as men waking, of delight.

This was the measure of my soul’s delight;
      It had no power of joy to fly by day,
Nor part in the large lordship of the light;
      But in a secret moon-beholden way
Had all its will of dreams and pleasant night,
      And all the love and life that sleepers may.

But such life’s triumph as men waking may
      It might not have to feed its faint delight
Between the stars by night and sun by day,
      Shut up with green leaves and a little light;
Because its way was as a lost star’s way,
      A world’s not wholly known of day or night.

All loves and dreams and sounds and gleams of night
      Made it all music that such minstrels may,
And all they had they gave it of delight;
      But in the full face of the fire of day
What place shall be for any starry light,
      What part of heaven in all the wide sun’s way?

Yet the soul woke not, sleeping by the way,
      Watched as a nursling of the large-eyed night,
And sought no strength nor knowledge of the day,
      Nor closer touch conclusive of delight,
Nor mightier joy nor truer than dreamers may,
      Nor more of song than they, nor more of light.

For who sleeps once and sees the secret light
      Whereby sleep shows the soul a fairer way
Between the rise and rest of day and night,
      Shall care no more to fare as all men may,
But be his place of pain or of delight,
      There shall he dwell, beholding night as day.

Song, have thy day and take thy fill of light
      Before the night be fallen across thy way;
Sing while he may, man hath no long delight.

Final thoughts

I hope that you’ve learned something new about closed form poetry after reading this article. Some people believe that it had been exhausted, that nothing new could be done with it, hence the creation of open form poetry.

But I still think that if you look at things from a holistic point of view, there are still many values retain in closed form poems, and they still have their own beauty.

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