Poems come in all kinds, and many of them allow for creativity in their rhyme scheme. But what about the length? How long can a poem be, and what do you need to know as a poet?

A poem can be as long or as short as you want: these are known as acrostic or free verse poems. But other poems must be a certain length, like haikus, sonnets, villanelles, limericks, and ballads. These poems also have some rhyming and line-length restrictions and specific lengths. 

This article explains which poems have a specific length, how long they should be, and which poems can be as long or as short as you want. 

Poems With a Specific Length

In general, poems can be any length, but specific types of poems need to have a certain number of lines. If you do not follow the length requirements for these types of poems, then the poems are not classified as the following types. 

These poems have a specific length:

  • Haiku
  • Sonnet
  • Villanelle
  • Limerick
  • Ballad

Haiku

Haikus are the shortest poems. They only have three lines, also called a tercet. 

Not only do they follow a specific length, but each line also needs to have a specific number of syllables. A haiku needs to follow this pattern:

  1. First line: Five syllables
  2. Second line: Seven syllables
  3. Third line: Five syllables

You are not writing a haiku if you do not follow this length and syllable pattern. 

Sonnet

Another type of poem that is a specific length is the Sonnet. A Sonnet has 14 lines and follows one of two rhyme schemes. 

Here are the two common rhyme schemes you will notice with Sonnets:

  • English/Shakespearean Sonnets: ABAB CDCD EFEF GG
  • Italian/Petrarchan Sonnets: ABBA ABBA CDE CDE

The stanzas can have a different number of lines each, but the total length of a sonnet is 14 lines. 

The rhyme scheme may also differ, but it’s always the same length. Sonnets are one of the most popular types of poems, so you may notice that many poems have 14 lines with one of the rhyme patterns listed above. 

Villanelle

The next type of poem that needs to be a certain length is the Villanelle. Villanelles are 19 lines, with the first three stanzas having three lines and the last one having four lines. 

Like the two poems above, Villanelles not only need to have 19 lines, but they also have to follow a rhyme pattern. There are only two rhymes that you can have in these poems, and they must follow this pattern: 

ABA ABA ABA ABA ABA ABAA. 

Some of the lines repeat themselves, so you need to make those lines good and make them hit, so your audience gets the meaning of the poem

Limerick

A similar but shorter poem to the Villanelle is Limericks. Limericks only have five lines, but like Villanelles, they only have two rhymes and follow this pattern: AABBA. 

Not only does the whole poem need to be a certain length, but so do the lines. 

The “A” lines, which are one, two, and five, need to be longer than the “B” lines which are lines three and four. It does not matter how much longer or shorter the lines are than each other, so you have some creative space. 

Ballad

The final poem that has a certain length is a ballad. Ballads are made up of one stanza of four lines total. Most ballads have a rhyme scheme, although there is no rhyme scheme that all ballads must follow. 

However, many ballads follow one of the two following rhyme schemes:

  • ABAB
  • ABCB

However, if you do not want to rhyme a ballad or use a different rhyme scheme, you can, and it will still be a ballad as long as it has four lines. 

Poems Without a Specific Length

Even though some poems have to be a certain length to be considered a specific type of poem, other poems can be as long as you want. 

These poems can be any length:

  • Free Verse
  • Ode
  • Acrostic

Free Verse

Free verse poems are the most general type of poetry, and they allow you to make the poem any length you want. You can write as few or as many stanzas as you want, and the stanzas can have any number of lines.

However, while it may seem easy since you do not have any guidelines to follow, brevity and conciseness are still admirable qualities in a poem, and will help to prevent readers becoming disengaged.

Ode

Odes are another poem that does not have to be any specific length, but they do tend to be short. You can make an ode as short or as long as you want, but most will be only a few lines, usually praising or highlighting something or someone. 

Acrostic

Acrostic poems are a type of poem where each line of the poem starts with the letter of a word or phrase. For example, if you are writing an Acrostic about cats, you would have four lines starting with C, A, T, and S in that order. 

Can anyone ever know

All the mysteries of this earth

Together are once?

Acrostic poems do not have a certain length they need to be, but you need to have the same number of lines as the number of letters in the word or phrase you choose. 

Final Thoughts

If you want to write a certain type of poem, like a haiku or a sonnet, you will have to make the poem a specific length and sometimes follow a certain rhyme scheme. 

But, if you do not want to follow a specific length or pattern, you should write a free verse poem with no rules you have to follow. Some poems have certain requirements but do not include length restrictions, such as Acrostic poems.

Categories: Poetry

Ol Adams

Letter Review is currently edited by Ol Adams, who is a PhD candidate in Creative Writing, casual academic, and guest lecturer at the University of New South Wales. Ol Adams has had short stories published in leading literary journals such as Overland, Southerly, Seizure, and TEXT. Ol has had novels long listed for major awards such as the KYDUMA, has received government funding to produce plays from Create NSW and screenplays from Screen NSW, and has performed / produced professional work at major theatrical venues such as the Sydney Opera House.