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[Detail] Millions of acres, Iowa and Nebraska, 1872

Satire | Poetry: The Elegy | Poetry: Lyric Poems | Songs | Art

Poetry: Lyric Poems

A lyric poem expresses the emotions or feelings of a speaker, who may or may not be the poet. Lyric poems are generally short and can be written in many forms; an ode or sonnet can, for example, be a lyric poem.

Poet Louise Bogan said the following about writing lyric poetry:

"The lyric gift — the talent for writing lyric poetry — has been recognized, since antiquity, as chancy and unreliable. The symbol of the Muse once represented the unknowable process by which emotion is translated into a pattern of words. The emotion must be strong enough not only to produce the initial creative impulse, but to prefigure, in part, the structure of the poem as a whole. Not everything is "given," but enough of the design should come through to determine the poem's shape, direction and speed. The rest must be filled in by the conscious mind, which, ideally, knows all the artful devices of language."

From July Dawn

Read the poem "July Dawn," which accompanied the explanation above, and answer the following questions:

  • Does this poem fit the definition of a lyric poem given above? Explain your answer.
  • What emotion is expressed in the poem? How did the speaker's emotions change as he or she viewed the sickle moon?
  • In the excerpt above, Bogan speaks of a poem having shape, direction, and speed. What can you detect about this poem's shape, direction, or speed? How are the poet's choices about these characteristics well-suited to the emotion conveyed in the poem?

Locate other poems in the collection, using a Keyword Search on the term poem or looking in the Contributors for such poets as Robert Frost, Denise Levertov, Mark Van Doren, Adrienne Rich, Gary Snyder, Archibald Macleish, Josephine Miles, Thomas Merton, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Edgar Allan Poe, Boris Pasternak, Gwendolyn Brooks, John Greenleaf Whittier, John Galsworthy, and Walt Whitman. Choose two poems to analyze. Write a paragraph about each poem, answering the following questions:

  • Is this a lyric poem? Explain your answer.
  • If it is a lyric poem, what emotion is expressed? How did the poet use language to convey that emotion?
  • If it is not a lyric poem, how would you describe the poem (for example, is it a narrative, dramatic, or satiric poem)?
  • What do you notice about the poem's shape, direction, and speed? Are these characteristics important to poems that are not lyric?

Note that several of the items referred to in this section — poems printed on hand-made paper and signed by the poet — are quite unlike other items in An American Time Capsule, in that they were meant to be saved.