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Epic and lyric poems describe two of the most common and well-known types of literature.

better understanding the ways that these types of poetry differ, readers in general and students
who are studying these types of works can not only identify an epic or a lyric but can also better
understand the meaning and purpose of these styles.

Epic poems are usually quite long, much longer than lyric poems, which are short by definition.
The most famous epic poems, "The Iliad" and "The Odyssey," both written by Homer, are as
long as a contemporary novel. A lyric poem, meanwhile, is usually less than a page long.

The purpose of an epic poem is to show us the exploits of a particular hero or set of heroes. It
usually involves important elements of history and can spread across several countries and
periods of time or across different planes of existence (for example, "The Divine Comedy" by
Dante takes place in heaven and hell. A lyric poem, though, is usually focused on an individual
emotion or experience.

Main Character
The epic poem is often written from a third-person perspective, with a writer describing the
exploits of a hero at the center of the action. For example, Achilles is the hero at the center of
"The Iliad," and Odysseus is the hero of the epic poem "The Odyssey." A lyric poem often is
written from a first-person point of view, with an "I" telling the reader about a personal
experience or emotional response.

Epic poems come in several different forms, depending on the language in which they are written
and the time period. The similarity, though, is that all epics are written in some poetic form,
often including rhyming. Lyric poetry, though often in forms (such as the sonnet), may also be
written in free verse with lines that do not rhyme.

Definition & Etymology of Epic

It is imperative to know about the etymology of the word epic. The word epic has been derived a Greek word
epikos, which means a word, song or speech. An epic is well-defined as a long story in verse dwelling upon an
important theme in a most elegant style and language. According to Webster’s New World dictionary, “epic is a
long narrative poem in a dignified style about the deeds of a traditional or historical hero or heroes; typically a
poem like Iliad or the Odyssey with certain formal characteristics.” An epic is absolutely much like a ballad
pretty much in all its features, however just one thing that differentiates epic from a ballad is its length. An epic
is a long narrative in verse, while ballad is a short story in verse.
Definition of Epic
Britannica Encyclopedia explains the word epic as:

"epic, long narrative poem recounting heroic deeds. .... literary usage, the term encompasses both oral
and written compositions. The prime examples of the oral epic are Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey."

Characteristics of an Epic
There are several characteristics of an epic , which distinguishes it from other forms of poetry . They are
discussed below:

 The first and foremost characteristic of an epic is its bulky size . An epic is an extensive and prolonged
narrative in verse. Usually, every single epic has been broken down in to multiple books. For example,
Homer’s epics are divided into twenty four books .Similarly, John Milton’s Paradise Lost has been divided
into twelve books.
 Another essential feature of an epic is the fact that it dwells upon the achievements of a historical or
traditional hero, or a person of national or international significance. Every epic extolls the valour, deeds,
bravery, character and personality of a person, who is having incredible physical and mental traits.
 Exaggeration is also an important part of an epic. The poet uses hyperbole to reveal the prowess of a
hero. He doesn’t think twice to use exaggeration to make an impression on the audience.
 Supernaturalism is a must-have feature of an every epic. Without having to use supernatural elements,
no epic would certainly produce awe and wonder. There are certainly gods, demons, angels, fairies, and
use of supernatural forces like natural catastrophes in every epic. Milton’s Paradise Lost, Homer’s Iliad,
Beowulf and Spenser’s Faerie Queen are replete with supernatural elements.
 Morality is a key characteristic of an epic. The poet’s foremost purpose in writing an epic is to give a
moral lesson to his readers. For instance, Johan Milton’s Paradise Lost is a perfect example in this
regard. The poet wants to justify the ways of God to man through the story of Adam. This is the most
didactic theme of the epic.
 The theme of each epic is sublime, elegant and having universal significance. It may not be an
insignificant theme, which is only limited to the personality or the locality of the poet. It deals with the
entire humanity .Thus; John Milton’s Paradise Lost is a great example in this regard. The theme of this
epic is certainly of great importance and deals with entire humanity. It’s them is to justify the ways of
God to man.
 Invocation to the Muse is another important quality of an epic. The poet, at the very beginning of the epic,
seeks the help of the Muse while writing his epic. Look at the beginning lines of the Iliad,
Odyssey and Paradise Lost.
 The diction of every epic is lofty, grand and elegant. No trivial, common or colloquial language is used in
epic. The poet tries to use sublime words to describe the events.
 Use of Epic Simile is another feature of an epic. Epic simile is a far-fetched comparison between two
objects, which runs through many lines to describe the valour, bravery and gigantic stature of the hero. It
is also called Homeric simile.

Types of Epic
Folk Epic

Folk epic is an ancient epic, which was originally in oral form. With the passage of time, one author or many
authors tried to preserve them in the form of writing. Thus, nobody happens to know about the exact authorship
of the folk epics. The folk epic is different from the art epic or literary epic in the simplest sense that the former
is based on a particular mythology, while the latter is based on the ideas of the author. In art epic, the poet
invents the story, while the folk epic is the product of the mythology of the locality. The folk epic is basically in
oral form, while the art or literary epic is in written form. The author of the literary epic is a well-known
personality, while the author of the folk epic may be a common man.

William Henry Hudson says in An Introduction to the Study of Literature:

“The epic of growth is fresh, spontaneous, racy, the epic of art is learned, antiquarian, bookish, imitative. Its
specifically ‘literary’ qualities-its erudition, its echoes, reminiscences, and borrowings- are indeed, as the
Aeneid and Paradise Lost will suffice to prove, among its most interesting characteristics for a cultured reader.”

Look at the following lines taken from Beowulf:


Lo! the Spear-Danes’ glory through splendid achievements

The folk-kings’ former fame we have heard of,

How princes displayed then their prowess-in-battle.

Oft Scyld the Scefing from scathers in numbers

From many a people their mead-benches tore.

Since first he found him friendless and wretched,

The earl had had terror: comfort he got for it,

Waxed ’neath the welkin, world-honor gained,

Till all his neighbors o’er sea were compelled to

Bow to his bidding and bring him their tribute:

An excellent atheling! After was borne him

A son and heir, young in his dwelling,

Whom God-Father sent to solace the people.

Poetry and Lyrics

Imagine you're driving along in your car when your favorite song comes on the radio. If you're like most people,
you will immediately start singing along without even realizing it. Did you know that when this happens, you're
actually singing poetry? All songs can be considered poetry. In fact, they fall under the category of lyric poetry.
Lyric poetry expresses personal emotions or thoughts of the speaker, just like the songs of today. Also, just like
songs, lyric poems always have a musical quality, or a specific melody which makes it easy for you to sing
along with. The term 'lyric poetry' actually comes from the ancient Greek word lyre, which refers to the
instrument in that era that accompanied the reading of the lyric poem. Almost like the first version of a live
Lyric poetry, for the most part, is short and written in first-person point of view. There is always some specific
mood or emotion being expressed. Often that mood is about the extremes in life, mostly love or death or some
other intense emotional experience. No matter the theme, though, all lyric poems are known for brevity,
emotional intensity and musical quality. There are many types of lyric poems, each with their own format and
purpose. Let's take a look at some.

The Sonnet
One type of lyric poem is the sonnet. Overall, sonnets have 14 lines usually written in iambic pentameter,
which is five pairs of stressed and unstressed syllables. This overall structure of predetermined syllables and
rhyme makes sonnets flow off your tongue in a similar way that a song on the radio does.
There are two types of sonnets: the Italian and the English, or Shakespearean. Both types follow a similar
structure, with the main variation being a different rhyme scheme or the pattern of end rhyme. Here is an
example of a Shakespearean sonnet focused on an intense love. See if you can notice the melody.
'Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer's lease hath all too short a date.
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often in his gold complexion dimmed;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance, or nature's changing course, untrimmed.
But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow'st
Nor shall death brag thou wand'rest in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou grow'st
So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.'

The Elegy
Another type of lyric poem is the elegy. The elegy originally had a strict structure dealing with meter alternating
between six foot and five foot lines. Nowadays, elegies don't follow a specific format, but always have the same
Usually, elegies commemorate the dead and are melancholy, mournful and contemplative. The structure may
no longer exist, but this darker theme is always apparent in elegies. Here is the first stanza of Walt Whitman's
famous elegy 'O Captain! My Captain!' Notice not only the somber mood and intense sadness but also the
melodic flow of the words.
'O Captain! my Captain! our fearful trip is done,
The ship has weather'd every rack,
the prize we sought is won,
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring;
But O heart! heart! heart!
O the bleeding drops of red,
Where on the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.
O Captain! my Captain! rise up and hear the bells;
Rise up- for you the flag is flung- for
you the bugle trills'

The Ode
A third example of lyric poetry is the ode. Like the elegy, there is no strict structure or format for an ode. It is
common for many odes to have refrains, or repeated lines or stanza, but that is not a requirement. Also, odes
are often longer than other types of lyric poetry.
Odes maintain the dignified mood of lyric poetry, but there is one important difference: odes are often about
positive topics, such as truth, love, art, freedom and justice. Here is an excerpt from Percy Shelley's poem 'Ode
to the West Wind.' Notice the easy flow of the words and the positive topic.

Definition & Origin of Lyric

Lyric is a very common kind of subjective poetry. It is the most widely used means of self-expression and
catharsis. Man has always loved to give catharsis to his pent-up feelings through the means of lyric. That is the
reason; lyric is considered to be amongst the earliest forms of poetry in the history of English literature.

In the ancient times, the word lyric was employed for any song, which was meant to be sung with a special
musical instrument called lyre. With the passage of time, this musical instrument was abandoned and the
word lyric came to be known as any poem expressing personal emotions and feelings of the poet. Hudson is of
the opinion that a lyric is almost unlimited in range and variety, for it may touch nearly all aspects of experience,
from those which are interests of our common humanity.

Characteristics of a Lyric
Simplicity is a prominent feature of a lyric. Every lyric is composed in such a language that every person can
understand it easily. For example, look at the songs of modern times. Any lyric, which is simple and expresses
pent-up feelings and emotions of the poet, has an extraordinary appeal to the readers, audience and viewers.
In this connection, songs of ACCENT BAND have greater appeal to the public.

Every lyric deals with a single emotion, which is usually stated in the very first line of the lyric. Then the poet
gives us the thoughts suggested by that particular emotion. The last and concluding part is in the nature of a
summary or it embodies the conclusions reached by the poet.

One of the most important qualities of a lyric is its musical quality. Musical quality makes it the most popular
and widely used form of poetry in the history of English literature. Every lyric is incomplete without the
accompaniment of music. Just listen to a song without music! You will certainly feel the difference between the
lyric with music and lyric without music. I’m pretty sure that a lyric with music will certainly appeal to you. That’s
the power of music!

Catharsis of emotions is another important quality of a lyric. Every poet tries his best to give vent to his internal
feelings and emotions through the means of a lyric. That’s why; when we are alone, we also whisper songs and
enjoy ourselves. It depends upon our mood. If we are happy, then we tend to sing a jubilant song. If not, then
we tend to sing a sad song. Whatever may be the case, lyric is a means of catharsis of our emotions.

Intensity is also another characteristic of a lyric. Every lyric consists of such lines, which reveal the intensity of
the emotions of the author. Modern love songs are best examples in this regard. Every song expresses the
intensity of love of the author for his or her beloved.

Spontaneity is the backbone of any lyric. Any lyric, which lacks in spontaneity, may not be as appealing to the
readers as other. Thus spontaneity plays an important role in the composition of a lyric. Without spontaneity, no
lyric can be sung with a musical instrument. Those lyrics, which are spontaneous in reading, can be sung easily
with any musical instrument.

Elizabethan Lyric
Elizabethan age is considered to be the most glorious age for the development of lyrical poetry. Lyrical poetry
thrived a great deal in this age. Every poet and every man sang lyric and it was widely used not only by the
poets but dramatists like Shakespeare in his plays. There are many features of Elizabethan lyric. Elizabethan
lyric is fine and free from impurities of traditional song. Traditional songs had to be clumsy, unrefined and
coarse, while the Elizabethan lyric is graceful, refined and musical. As it was very popular genera of poetry in
the Elizabethan age, every poet tried his hands on it. Thus, it gave rise to artificiality in the production of lyrics.
Not every lyric was the expression of hidden feelings of the poet. It was an artificial attempt of the poet.
Elizabethan lyric is different from the romantic lyric in a sense that it is not the spontaneous overflow of
feelings. It lacks in spontaneity, which is required for any good lyric. Impersonality is another characteristic of
Elizabethan lyric. Subjectivity lost its presence in the Elizabethan lyric. A vein of moralizing runs through the
Elizabethan lyric. One thing that is the cause of popularity of Elizabethan lyric is its musical quality. Though, the
lyric of Elizabethan Age lacks in originally, yet its musical quality gives it a prominent place in the history of
English literature. S. A Brooke asserts in this regard, “In the Elizabethan lyric are blended the aroma of
antiquity and the secret of modernity.”

Seventeenth Century Lyric

The Seventeenth Century Lyric has been divided into three categories: Metaphysical Lyric, Religious lyric and
Caroline or Cavalier lyric.

Metaphysical Lyric

Metaphysical lyric is a kind of lyric, which was written by metaphysical school of poets like John Donne. It is a
detailed and elaborate lyric with intellectual tone. It is very hard to understand due to its terse, compact and
hard to understand language. John Donne is considered to be the founder of metaphysical lyric. He has
composed some of the best lyrics in his literary career.

It is pertinent to mention here that emotional intensity is the starter for a metaphysical lyric. The poet is
overwhelmed by an emotion, which he analyses as he proceeds through the lines of lyric. The poet puts
forward arguments in favour of his subject in such a way that the reader is startled to know the genuineness of
the ideas of the poet. In Valediction: Forbidding Mourning, John Donne puts forward arguments in support of
his view that that the true lovers need not mourn at the time of parting as they will come closer again. He has
compared his and himself to the two legs of a compass, wherein the standing leg is his wife, while the rotating
leg is the poet himself. The rotating leg will eventually come closer to the standing leg. This intellectual analysis
of emotion is something new and original in the English lyric. It is also called fusion of though and emotion in
metaphysical poetry. T.S Eliot commended the metaphysical lyric and regarded Donne as one of the greatest
of the English poets. Metaphysical conceit is another important quality of metaphysical lyric.

Caroline or Cavalier Lyric

According to Britannica Encyclopaedia, “Cavalier poet, any of a group of English gentlemen poets, called
Cavaliers because of their loyalty to Charles I (1625–49) during the English Civil Wars, as opposed to
Roundheads, who supported Parliament. They were also cavaliers in their style of life and counted the writing
of polished and elegant lyrics as only one of their many accomplishments as soldiers, courtiers, gallants, and
wits. Hence, any lyric, written by the Cavalier Poets, is called a Caroline or Cavalier lyric. A Caroline lyric has
the following important features:

The Caroline lyric is characterized by sweetness, music and melody. Keeping in view its diction, it almost
touches the extreme heights of perfection.

It is artificial as it was the result of their intellect not the product of their inner voice. Thus, we find the Cavalier
lyrics to be highly artificial and contained an abnormal degree of frivolousness and eroticism.

As the poets were courtiers, they reflected the true picture of the court of their age. They mirrored the manners,
temper, mood and indecency of the court of their age.

The Cavalier lyric also dwells on the beauty of nature. They observed nature closely and described it with
Romantic Poet
Romantic lyric is a term, which was coined by the American scholar M. H. Abrams in his essay ‘Structure and
Style in the Greater Romantic Lyric’, while dwelling upon the Romantic Lyric. He says, “Romantic lyric is an
extended lyric poem of description and serious meditation, as practiced by some of the English Romantic
poets, William Wordsworth, S. T. Coleridge P. B. Shelley, and John Keats. Romantic lyric occupies an eminent
position in the history of English literature. It was Shelley, who took the romantic lyric to the pinnacle of glory.
He has been remained unexcelled in the history of English literature. His lyrics are marked with spontaneity and
effortlessness. A critic says in this regards, “the success of romantic lyric has, in the second place, been due to
the fine appreciation, by the lyric writers, of the delicate balance subsisting between subject and form. Never
before has such a variety of subject found its way into English lyrical verse and been so completely absorbed
as to give a certain intellectual value and tone to the poems without in any way detracting from their lyrical

Who is your favourite lyrical poet?

 John Keats

 P.B Shelley
 Pablo Neruda

 ST Coleridge
See results

Victorian Lyric
Lyric continued to be written in the Victorian age. In the Victorian age, there are a number of lyric poets, who
wrote one of the best lyrics in the history of English literature. Tennyson and Browning are one of them.
Tennyson is a great artist with words and so his lyrics are characterized by verbal felicity of a high order.
Browning is also a great lyricist, who mostly wrote dramatic lyrics. One of the most important features of
Browning’s lyrics is that he does not give vent to his feelings, but that of an imaginary character. It is only in
some of his lyrics that he expresses his emotional feelings.

Modern Lyric
Modern lyric has transformed into a unique genera of lyrical poetry. Nowadays, lyric dwells upon on almost
every aspect of human life. With the vast expansion of ideas generated by information technology, industrial
developments, terrorism, droughts, floods etc, the lyric has become the sole means of communicating a
message to the public. Due to film industry, the lyric has become an important kind of lyrical poetry. Today, you
can watch thousands of lyrics on YouTube and other channels. Some of the modern lyric poets are W.B Yeats,
W.H Davies, James Elory Flecker, John Masefield, Edword Morgan, Margaret Afwoods etc.