Understanding Narrative Poetry What is Narrative Poetry?


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Understanding Narrative Poetry

What is Narrative Poetry?

Narrative Poetry is a poem that tells a series of events using poetic devices such as rhythm, rhyme, compact language, and attention to sound. In other words, a narrative poem tells a story, but it does it with poetic flair! Many of the same elements that are found in a short story are also found in a narrative poem. Here are some elements of narrative poetry that are important:

o character

o setting

o conflict

o plot
What are the origins of Narrative Poetry?

Narratives are the oldest form of poetry. Long before there was paper to write on or ink to write with, long before the invention of the printing press, people often shared stories as a form of entertainment. These stories were also often used to relate historical events. In the same way that we spread news through newspapers today, oral stories were used to spread news of historical events long ago. In order to help recall details of the events, people began to use rhyme and rhythm to give their stories a musical quality that would allow the story to be remembered and recalled much more easily. Think about how much easier it is to remember the words to a song than it is to recall all of the words of a short story. That is exactly how narrative poems were originally created.

In what ways are narrative poems similar to short stories?

Narrative poems have many similarities to short stories. For example, short stories have characters, a setting, a conflict, and a clear beginning, middle and end. Narrative poems have all of these elements as well. Sometimes there may only be one character, or there may be many characters. At times, the setting may be implied rather than obvious, and the conflict may be an internal conflict rather than external.

How can we analyze narrative poems?

In order to analyze a narrative poem, first read through it with the following questions in mind:

Who are the characters in the poem?

What are the characters doing, or what is happening?

Why are these events happening?

How are the characters affected by the action or events?

What can be learned from the poem?
Where can we find narrative poetry in our daily lives?

Although narrative poetry is one of the oldest forms of literature, this does not mean it is no longer prevalent in today’s world. In fact, any time you turn on a radio, you can hear narrative poetry on nearly any radio station. The best place to see or hear narrative poetry today would be in songs. Songs are simply poems set to music, and the songs that tell stories are narrative poems set to music.

After reading “Gentle Alice Brown”, answer the questions from “How can we analyze narrative poems?”.


by: W.S. Gilbert (1836-1911)

T was a robber's daughter, and her name was Alice Brown.

Her father was the terror of a small Italian town;

Her mother was a foolish, weak, but amiable old thing;

But it isn't of her parents that I'm going for to sing.


As Alice was a-sitting at her window-sill one day,

A beautiful young gentleman he chanced to pass that way;

She cast her eyes upon him, and he looked so good and true,

That she thought, "I could be happy with a gentleman like you!"


And every morning passed her house that cream of gentlemen,

She knew she might expect him at a quarter unto ten,

A sorter in the Custom-house, it was his daily road

(The Custom-house was fifteen minutes' walk from her abode.)


But Alice was a pious girl, who knew it wasn't wise

To look at strange young sorters with expressive purple eyes;

So she sought the village priest to whom her family confessed,

The priest by whom their little sins were carefully assessed.


"Oh, holy father," Alice said, "'t would grieve you, would it not?

To discover that I was a most disreputable lot!

Of all unhappy sinners I'm the most unhappy one!"

The padre said, "Whatever have you been and gone and done?"


"I have helped mamma to steal a little kiddy from its dad,

I've assisted dear papa in cutting up a little lad.

I've planned a little burglary and forged a little check,

And slain a little baby for the coral on its neck!"


The worthy pastor heaved a sigh, and dropped a silent tear--

And said, "You mustn't judge yourself too heavily, my dear--

It's wrong to murder babies, little corals for to fleece;

But sins like these one expiates at half-a-crown apiece.


"Girls will be girls--you're very young, and flighty in your mind;

Old heads upon young shoulders we must not expect to find:

We mustn't be too hard upon these little girlish tricks--

Let's see--five crimes at half-a-crown--exactly twelve-and-six."


"Oh, father," little Alice cried, "your kindness makes me weep,

You do these little things for me so singularly cheap--

Your thoughtful liberality I never can forget;

But O there is another crime I haven't mentioned yet!


"A pleasant-looking gentleman, with pretty purple eyes,

I've noticed at my window, as I've sat a-catching flies;

He passes by it every day as certain as can be--

I blush to say I've winked at him and he has winked at me!"


"For shame," said Father Paul, "my erring daughter! On my word

This is the most distressing news that I have ever heard.

Why, naughty girl, your excellent papa has pledged your hand

To a promising young robber, the lieutenant of his band!


"This dreadful piece of news will pain your worthy parents so!

They are the most remunerative customers I know;

For many many years they've kept starvation from my doors,

I never knew so criminal a family as yours!


"The common country folk in this insipid neighborhood

Have nothing to confess, they're so ridiculously good;

And if you marry any one respectable at all,

Why, you'll reform, and what will then become of Father Paul?"


The worthy priest, he up and drew his cowl upon his crown,

And started off in haste to tell the news to Robber Brown;

To tell him how his daughter, who now was for marriage fit,

Had winked upon a sorter, who reciprocated it.


Good Robber Brown, he muffled up his anger pretty well,

He said, "I have a notion, and that notion I will tell;

I will nab this gay young sorter, terrify him into fits,

And get my gentle wife to chop him into little bits.


"I've studied human nature, and I know a thing or two,

Though a girl may fondly love a living gent, as many do--

A feeling of disgust upon her senses there will fall

When she looks upon his body chopped particularly small."


He traced that gallant sorter to a still suburban square;

He watched his opportunity and seized him unaware;

He took a life-preserver and he hit him on the head,

And Mrs. Brown dissected him before she went to bed.


And pretty little Alice grew more settled in her mind,

She nevermore was guilty of a weakness of the kind,

Until at length good Robber Brown bestowed her hand

On the promising young robber, the lieutenant of his band.

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