The Lyric Poem

Lyric poems come in all shapes and sizes but share one common trait: They're musical. The word lyric is derived from the Greek lyra (musical instrument) and melic (melody). It does not tell a story as narrative poetry does, describing events or action in the external world, but focuses intensely on a subject and tries to awaken or evoke emotions within the listener (as music does). Instead of using notes, however, the lyric poet relies on words and poetic devices —metaphor, simile, cadence, meter, rhyme, voice, etc. —as in this lovely example by Robert Burns:


0 my luve's like a red, red rose, That's newly sprung in June;

0 my luve's like the melodie That's sweetly played in tune.

As fair art thou, my bonnie lass, So deep in luve am I;

And I will luve thee still, my dear, Till a' the seas gang dry.

Till a' the seas gang dry, my dear, And the rocks melt wi' the sun:

0 I will love thee still, my dear, While the sands o' life shall run.

And fare thee weel, my only luve, And fare thee weel awhile!

And I will come again, my luve, Though it were ten thousand mile.

Seemingly simple, this famous song by Burns focuses on a moment (a rose newly sprung in June); on objects (seas, rocks, sands); on living things (rose, bonnie lass); on a concept (love); and on an experience

(parting). His lyric encompasses all of the topics typically expressed in this mode. Moreover Burns relies on language — meter, rhyme, simile—to draw out in the listener the same emotion the narrator feels.

The lyric poet's job is twofold: to investigate and/or re-create moments, objects, living things, concepts or experiences and to expound on them musically, using poetic devices to reveal their true essence.

Few poets have done a better job composing such verse than William Blake. He focuses intensely on each of the typical topics associated with the lyric and uses language and poetic devices —the way a blacksmith uses tools —to shape his songs so they resonate in the reader.

Here is a selection:


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