Rail yard background, from the Library of Congress

Connections

A Hypertext Resource for Literature

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Forms

Although this section will explain the technical elements of poetic form, its primary goal is to reconstruct the mental furniture that readers of poetry in English have traditionally possessed, and that writers of poetry in English have traditionally assumed those readers possessed. When William Wordsworth and Samual Taylor Coleridge released a volume called Lyrical Ballads in 1798, for example, their readers understood a great deal from the title alone: they knew what ballads had traditionally done, and they knew that an author calling new ballads "lyrical" must be altering the ballad form (which is not generally lyrical) in some way. Lyrical Ballads was published anonymously before Wordsworth and Coleridge had become famous poets; with no authors' names on the title page, the volume relied heavily on its title to attract readers and buyers. The essays in this section attempt to reproduce some of the ways writers and readers have communicated with each other in the language of poetic form, some of the ways that literary critics talk about poetic form today, and some of the important moments that have altered the history of formal poetry.

The last few pages here will introduce some of the practices of poets who have moved away from traditional forms.

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