Back in ancient Greece, literature was divided into two main categories: tragedy and comedy. Nowadays the list of possible types and genres of literature can seem endless. But it is still possible to narrow down the vast amount of literature available into a few basic groups.
The five genres of literature students should be familiar with are Poetry, Drama, Prose, Nonfiction, and Media—each of which is explained in more detail below. You’ll see some overlap between genres; for example prose is a broader term that includes both drama and non-fiction. At the end of this article we’ll also touch on a couple of narrower but still important literary categories.
This is often considered the oldest form of literature. Before writing was invented, oral stories were commonly put into some sort of poetic form to make them easier to remember and recite. Poetry today is usually written down, but is still sometimes performed.
A lot of people think of rhymes and counting syllables and lines when they think of poetry, and some poems certainly follow strict forms. But other types of poetry are so free-form that they lack any rhymes or common patterns. There are even kinds of poetry that cross genre lines, such as prose poetry. In general, though, a text is a poem when it has some sort of meter or rhythm, and when it focuses on the way the syllables, words, and phrases sound when put together. Poems are heavy in imagery and metaphor, and are often made up of fragments and phrases rather than complete, grammatically correct sentences. And poetry is nearly always written in stanzas and lines, creating a unique look on the page.
Poetry as experienced in the classroom is usually one of three types. There are the shorter, more modern poems, spanning anything from a few lines to a few pages. Often these are collected in books of poems by a single author or by a variety of writers. Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Raven, ” is one of the most commonly taught poems of this type. Then there are the classical, formulaic poems of Shakespeare’s time, such as the blank verse and the sonnet. And finally there are the ancient, epic poems transcribed from oral stories. These long, complex poems resemble novels, such as Homer’s The Iliad and .
Once you know what poetry is, it’s...
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