The lyric is a poem which expresses and explores a thought, feeling, or state of mind.  A lyric poem can be written in many forms, including the sonnet, elegy, ode or hymn.  Lyric poems are generally short, and often have a musical quality.


The lyric originated in Ancient Greece as a song, normally accompanied by the lyre. It was divided into two types, choral lyric (sung by a chorus), and monody (a solo). Choral lyrics were usually performed in public at religious ceremonies, while monodies were performed at private gatherings. Their themes were varied, but included, love, desire, suffering, and patriotism. Sappho and Pindar are among the more well known Greek lyric poets.

Renaissance lyrics

Renaissance lyrics were frequently still set to music, and performed in a courtly setting. Lyric poetry covered a variety of themes from love and nature, to religion and patriotism. A typical Renaissance lyric would be:

  • Short
  • Non-narrative
  • An expression of intense, but generalized thoughts and feelings.


The Elizabethan love lyric, often written in sonnet form, was common in the period from around 1550 - 1650. Some lyrics, like those of Sidney and Spenser, embraced the traditions of courtly love.  Others were cynical about the courtly idealisation of women, as can be seen in Donne's Go and catch a falling star, and Herrick's A Meditation for His Mistress.

The Romantic lyric

Perhaps because of the lyric's departure from musical accompaniment and the Romantic emphasis on individualism, the Romantic lyric is much broader in scope of subject matter, form and language. The Romantic lyric has a single speaker— often the poet— who is expressing a state of mind inspired by a person, thing, or situation. The Romantic lyric is distinguished particularly by its:

  • Heightened emotional state, in which feelings are expressed passionately and subjectively
  • Extensive use of natural imagery.


Romantic poet William Wordsworth's I wandered lonely as a cloud is one of his best known lyrics.  Wordsworth is meditating on the beauty of daffodils and declares that the memory of them will cheer his soul when his mood is darker.  In this lyric, as in others, Wordsworth uses the language of common speech to make his point.  Other famous Romantic lyrists include Coleridge, Shelley, Byron and Keats.

Twentieth century lyrics

At the start of the twentieth century, poets like A.E. Houseman and W.B. Yeats continued the lyric tradition. Subsequently, although the Modernist poets criticized the lyric for its simple ideas and elaborate language, the lyric form persisted. It can, for instance, be seen in the poetry of American poet, Robert Frost.

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