Lyric poetry is poetry which has a song-like quality and gives expression to the thoughts and feelings of the poet. A lyric poem is usually quite short, often divided into stanzas, sometimes with a refrain. In fact most of the poems in poetry anthologies will be examples of lyric poetry. The word lyric comes from the Greek lurikos (λυρικός), an adjective meaning: of or for the lyre - the earliest lyric poems (by such Greek poets as Alcaeus (7th cent. BCE) and Sappho (6th cent. BCE)) were composed to be sung to the accompaniment of the lyre.
Lyric poetry may therefore be contrasted, e.g., with various forms of narrative poetry (such as ballad and epic) and with dramatic poetry (i.e., the poetry spoken by the characters in a verse drama, such as a Greek tragedy or T.S. Eliot's Murder in the Cathedral, or in a dramatic monologue.) (This classification of different types of poetry began with the ancient Greeks: see, e.g., Plato, Republic, 379a, and Aristotle, Poetics, chs. 1-5.)
A lyric poem may be written in any of a great variety of poetic forms and metres: it may, e.g., consist of a number of quatrains (i.e., 4-line stanzas), or it may be a sonnet or a ballade, or exemplify some other poetic form. Most traditional lyric poems make use of rhyme, but rhyme is not an essential feature of a lyric poem.
Here, as an example, is a poem by Ernest Dowson (1867-1900). It is taken from his collection Verses (1896), and the Latin title of the poem Vitae summa brevis spem nos vetat incohare longam (which means: The brief sum of life forbids us entertaining any hope of enduring long) is a quotation from a poem (Carmina (Odes) I iv) by the Roman lyric poet Horace (65-8 BCE).
- They are not long, the weeping and the laughter,
- Love, and desire, and hate:
- I think they have no portion in us after
- We pass the gate.
- They are not long, the days of wine and roses:
- Out of a misty dream
- Our path emerges for a while, then closes
- Within a dream.