Lyric Poetry: Definition, Characteristics, and Examples

The lyric is the commonest kind of poetry of self-expression. Man has always liked to pour out his intensely-felt feelings and emotion, and hence the lyric is among the earliest forms of poetry to be written in the literary history of any people. When moved by some intense emotion, love, hatred, joy, sorrow, wonder, admiration, etc., man has always expressed himself in a poetic language, and this accounts for the early appearance of the lyric among all peoples.

In the beginning, the word 1yric’ was used for any song meant to be sung with the lyre, a stringed musical instrument known to the Greeks. In the course of time, this musical accompaniment of the lyric was dropped and the word came to signify any short poem or song expressing the personal emotions and experiences of the poet.

A lyric may embody any kind of emotion. We have the convivial or bacchanalian lyric; The lyric which skims the lighter things of life, as in the so-called verse de Societe; the lyric of love in all its phases, and with all its attendant hopes and longings, joys and sorrows, the lyric of patriotism; of religious emotion: and countless other kinds of lyrics.

There is also the reflective lyric in which the element of thought becomes prominent, and the poet philosophizes on human life and human experiences.

Essentials of a Good Lyric

The chief qualities of a good lyric are as follows:

1. It is a short poem, characterized by simplicity in language and treatment.

2. It deals with a single emotion which is generally stated in the first few lines. 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 conclusion reached by the poet. Such is the development of a lyric in general. In moments of intense emotional excitement, the poet may be carried away by his emotions and the lyric may develop along entirely different lines.

3. It is musical. Verbal-music is an important element in its appeal and charm. Various devices are used by poets to enhance the music of their lyrics.

4. A lyric is always an expression of the moods and emotions of a poet. The best lyrics are emotional in tone, a poet may not express merely his emotions, he may also analyze them intellectually. This gives the lyric a hard intellectual tone. Such an intellectual analysis of emotion is an important characteristic of the metaphysical lyrics of the early 17 century. Such lyrics are also more elaborate than the ordinary lyric.

5. It is characterized by intensity and poignancy. The best lyrics are the expressions of intensely felt emotions. Like fire, the intensity of the poet’s emotion burns out the non-essentials, all attention is concentrated and the basic emotion and the gain in poignancy are enormous. It comes directly out of the heart of the poet, and so goes directly to the heart of the readers. The lyric at its best is poignant, pathetic and intense,

6. Spontaneity is another important quality of a lyric. The lyric poet sings in strains of unpremeditated art. He sings effortlessly because he must, because of the inner urge for self-expression. Any conscious effort on his part makes the lyrics look unnatural and artificial.