Types Of Short-Form Poetry You Might Not Know About

Beyond haikus there are a multitude of short style poems. With witty phrases and nature ballads, explore some short form poetry that may be new to you.

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While epics like The Iliad and Ulysses can be striking simply because of their mass and complicated structure, the brevity of short poems can be equally powerful. The world of poetry is vast and varied, some you’ll like more than others. For example, most of us can remember being forced to come up with cliché-filled haikus in English class. Typically arranged as 17 syllables in three lines; the first has five syllables, then 7, then 5. Haiku are most commonly about nature, often containing a seasonal reference. They also tend to contain two juxtaposed images or ideas. But they’re not the only type of short-form poetry. Below, discover some shorter poetic forms that might come to capture your heart.


Similar to a haiku, the tanka (which translates to “short poem”) is an ultra-brief traditional Japanese poem presented as a single unbroken sentence containing 31 syllables. When translated into English, the number of lines typically takes a three, or five-line form to highlight the turn or twist at the last third of the poem. The subject of the poem can be nature, as it generally is for haiku, but this isn’t required:

Cherry, cherry cherry trees begin to bloom,

and bloom is over —

In the park where nothing (it seems) ever happened.

Untitled by Machi Tawara

the hot water in

the abandoned kettle

slowly cools

still carrying the resentment

of colder water

“A Spray of Water” by Tada Chimako


An epigram is a brief, interesting, memorable, and sometimes surprising or satirical statement. Epigrams don’t have to be poems, but they often are. The Greek tradition of epigrams began as poems inscribed on votive offerings at sanctuaries – including statues of athletes – and on funerary monuments, for example, “Go tell it to the Spartans, passersby…”. These original epigrams did the same job as a short prose text might have done but in verse. By extension the term is also applied to any striking sentence in a novel, play, poem, or conversation that appears to express a succinct truth, usually in the form of a generalization:

These Strangers, in a foreign World,
Protection asked of me―
Befriend them, lest Yourself in Heaven
Be found a Refugee.

“These Strangers, in a foreign World” by Emily Dickinson

Whoever believes it is of yesterday’s wine that Acerra smells, is mistaken: Acerra always drinks till morning.

“On Accerra” by Martial


Acrostic poems are a type of poem where the first letter of each line (or each paragraph) forms a hidden word or message. Useful for odes to your beloved or forms of dissent (public resignations by disgruntled officials are a particularly popular place to deploy one), they can be very simple and spare, or take a more understated form in full verse:

Nuggets of gold, money and authority

Ultimate luxury, status and handy men

Gathered he through all bloody means

Giving not a damn to humane feelings

Equipoise is but nature’s patent strategy

Tamed is he by crippling ailments

So sad! Spends life like a frozen vegetable!

“Nuggets” by Sathya Narayana

Elizabeth it is in vain you say

“Love not” — thou sayest it in so sweet a way:

In vain those words from thee or L.E.L.

Zantippe’s talents had enforced so well:

Ah! if that language from thy heart arise,

Breath it less gently forth — and veil thine eyes.

Endymion, recollect, when Luna tried

To cure his love — was cured of all beside —

His follie — pride — and passion — for he died.

“An Acrostic” by Edgar Allan Poe


Another funny type of poem is a limerick. You’re probably familiar with the limerick form, even if you don’t get the details of it, because its sound is so distinctive: two longer lines, two short ones, and a closing longer line that makes a joke, often a ribald one. If you want the technical details, here you go: limericks have a rhyme scheme of AABBA and use anapestic meter, with three feet in the longer lines and two in the shorter:

There was an Old Man with a beard

Who said, “It is just as I feared!”

Two Owls and a Hen

Four Larks and a Wren,

Have all built their nests in my beard!

“There Was an Old Man with a Beard” by Edward Lear

There was a young lady of station

‘I love man’ was her sole exclamation

But when men cried, ‘you flatter’

She replied, ‘Oh! No matter!’

Isle of Man is the true explanation.

“There Was a Young Lady of Station” by Lewis Carroll


The villanelle, like the sonnet, is an old form with lots of rules. Basically, there’s a lot of repetition. They are made up of 19 lines, organized into five stanzas of three lines each, and one closing stanza of four lines. The rhyme scheme is ABA ABA ABA ABA ABA ABAA. Notice there are only two rhyming sounds here! In addition, line 1 gets repeated in lines 6, 12, and 18. Line 3 gets repeated in lines 9, 15, and 19. So many rules:

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

“Do not go gentle into that good night” by Dylan Thomas


A Sijo is a three-line poem that is believed to have first appeared in fourteenth-century Korea. The structure is familiar to fans of Japanese haiku and tanka: There are three lines in total, each with about 14–16 syllables, for a total syllable count of 44–46. The rhythm and lilt of each line are determined by its grouping pattern; poets can and do take liberties with how these groups are formed, but the total syllable count for the line remains the same:

The spring breeze melted snow on the hills then quickly disappeared.

I wish I could borrow it briefly to blow over my hair

And melt away the aging frost forming now about my ears.

by U T’ak


For more on short-form poetry, specifically, haikus, click here!