Definition of Narrative Poem
A narrative poem in literature is a poem which tells a story. It has a full storyline with all the elements of a traditional story. These elements include characters, plot, conflict and resolution, setting and action. Although a narrative poem does not need a rhyming pattern, it is a metered poem with clear objectives to reach a specific audience. These poems have been borrowed from oral poetic narratives from different cultures. Narrative poems include old epics, lays and ballads.
Examples of Narrative Poems
Epic of Gilgamesh by Anonymous
“He who has seen everything, I will make known to the lands.
I will teach about him who experienced all things,
Anu granted him the totality of knowledge of all.
He saw the Secret, discovered the Hidden,
he brought information of (the time) before the Flood.”
(Excerpt from Tablet-1)
This is one of the oldest narrative poems written in the ancient Mesopotamia in or around 2100 B.C. This poem narrates the story of the King of Uruk, Gilgamesh, and the wild man Enkidu, who is given the task to stop Gilgamesh’s brutality against his people. The poem is originally in twelve tablets some of which have been lost. The surviving tablets give a good clue to the narrative poem and the story it contains.
The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer
“This Chanticleer stood high upon his toes,
Stretching his neck, and both his eyes did close,
And so did crow right loudly, for the nonce;
And Russel Fox, he started up at once,
And by the gorget grabbed our Chanticleer,
Flung him on back, and toward the wood did steer,
For there was no man who as yet pursued.”
(Excerpt from The Nun’s Priest Tale)
This is another example of the narrative poem. It has a total of 24 stories whose introduction is given in its prologue. Written during the 13th or 14th century, the Canterbury Tales has a rhyming pattern, yet it is counted as the longest surviving narrative poem of English Literature. It has narrated the tales of almost all the professionals of that time including the religious figures such as a nun, monk, melee and prioress. The tales are straightforward and show the elements of a narrative poem at work.
The Raven by Edgar Allen Poe
“Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore—
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
“’Tis some visitor,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door—
Only this and nothing more.”
This is another narrative poem by a famous American short story writer and poet, Edgar Allen Poe. It narrates the story of a raven that can talk. He visits a lover who is lamenting the loss of his beloved, Lenore. As the example shows, it starts exactly like a story but has a supernatural atmosphere. It also has a fixed rhyming pattern that is against the norms of other such narrative poems, but it is still a great narrative poem having characters, settings, action, and resolution of the conflict.
The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge
It is an ancient Mariner,
And he stoppeth one of three.
‘By thy long grey beard and glittering eye,
Now wherefore stopp’st thou me?
The Bridegroom’s doors are opened wide,
And I am next of kin;
The guests are met, the feast is set:
May’st hear the merry din.’
“The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” is another narrative poem written by a famous English poet, S. T. Coleridge. The poem narrates the story of an ancient mariner. It presents not only characters and settings but also shows a conflict through its supernatural elements. Although the poem has a good rhyme scheme in different stanzas and has a metered verse and is considered as a narrative poem.
The Charge of the Light Brigade by Alfred Tennyson
When can their glory fade?
O the wild charge they made!
All the world wondered.
Honour the charge they made!
Honour the Light Brigade,
Noble six hundred!
This is a short poem by Alfred Tennyson. It narrates the story of six hundred soldiers of Light British brigade which perished when the commander made a mistake of giving the command of attack exactly at the time when the enemy was fully aware. With the setting of the battlefield and the battle command, makes an excellent narrative poem.
We are Seven by William Wordsworth
———A simple Child,
That lightly draws its breath,
And feels its life in every limb,
What should it know of death?
I met a little cottage Girl:
She was eight years old, she said;
Her hair was thick with many a curl
That clustered round her head.
This is another great narrative poem by William Wordsworth, the poet of nature. This poem is a short narrative perfectly rhymed into a poem. The narrative has two characters; the poet who inquires the little girl about her siblings, and the little girl who responds to him.
Narrative Poem Meaning and Function
A narrative poem often contains a moral at the end of the poem. It is because it narrates a story which must have some conflict and resolution. However, the moral lessons may be explicit or implicit. Hence, the readers have to draw the meaning of the poem through analysis and evaluation of the characters and their actions. Another function of the narrative poem is to create a national narrative so that the people may be inspired by it. For example, “The Charge of the Light Brigade.” Additionally, a narrative poem also functions as a national song, national anthem or a cultural requiem to make the people aware of their past to receive guidance for the future.