Poems that Tell a Story

Though narrative and poetry are not often considered together, these examples of poems that tell a story will prove that poems are great narrative devices.

Poems that tell a story, also known as narrative poems, have a long history in poetry. Some of the most famous poems of all time, like The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe, fall into this category. With rhythmic cadence and vivid imagery, they unfold narratives that captivate the heart and mind.

As human beings we love stories, we love narrative arc, mystery, love, sadness, regret, despair. We love it all. Though narrative and poetry are not often considered together, these examples of poems that tell a story will prove that poems are great narrative devices.

The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore—
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
“’Tis some visitor,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door—
Only this and nothing more.”

Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December;
And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.
Eagerly I wished the morrow;—vainly I had sought to borrow
From my books surcease of sorrow—sorrow for the lost Lenore—
For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore—
Nameless here for evermore.

Read the full poem here.

In this famous narrative poem from the collection also called The Raven, a grieving man is visited by a mysterious talking raven, leading to a descent into madness. Poe’s poems are known for their eerie atmosphere and haunting storytelling.

The Charge of the Light Brigade by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Half a league, half a league,
Half a league onward,
All in the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.
“Forward, the Light Brigade!
Charge for the guns!” he said.
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

“Forward, the Light Brigade!”
Was there a man dismayed?
Not though the soldier knew
Someone had blundered.
Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die.
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon in front of them
Volleyed and thundered;
Stormed at with shot and shell,
Boldly they rode and well,
Into the jaws of Death,
Into the mouth of hell
Rode the six hundred.

Read the full poem here.

This narrative poem commemorates the sacrifice of British soldiers during the Charge of the Light Brigade at the Battle of Balaclava during the Crimean War. It vividly describes the soldiers in the face of a deadly charge.

Home by Warsan Shire

no one leaves home unless
home is the mouth of a shark
you only run for the border
when you see the whole city running as well

your neighbors running faster than you

breath bloody in their throats
the boy you went to school with
who kissed you dizzy behind the old tin factory
is holding a gun bigger than his body
you only leave home
when home won’t let you stay.

no one leaves home unless home chases you
fire under feet
hot blood in your belly
it’s not something you ever thought of doing
until the blade burnt threats into
your neck
and even then you carried the anthem under
your breath
only tearing up your passport in an airport toilet
sobbing as each mouthful of paper
made it clear that you wouldn’t be going back.

Read the full poem here.

Warsan Shire’s poem “Home” explores the experiences of refugees and immigrants, telling the story of displacement, loss, and the search for a new home. It vividly captures the struggles and hopes of those forced to leave their homes and start anew in a foreign land.

Oranges by Gary Soto

The first time I walked
With a girl, I was twelve,
Cold, and weighted down
With two oranges in my jacket.
December. Frost cracking
Beneath my steps, my breath
Before me, then gone,
As I walked toward
Her house, the one whose
Porch light burned yellow
Night and day, in any weather.
A dog barked at me, until
She came out pulling
At her gloves, face bright
With rouge. I smiled,
Touched her shoulder, and led
Her down the street, across
A used car lot and a line
Of newly planted trees,
Until we were breathing
Before a drugstore.

Read the full poem here.

Gary Soto tells a beautiful slice-of-life story in his classic fruit poem, Oranges. The narrative aspects of this poem allow us into the life and mind of the speaker in a unique way. A story of young love as timeless as the subject.

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Sam and Corey started Poetry is Pretentious to demystify poetry. More importantly, their 5th grade teacher told them they couldn’t go through life as a team. 18 years later they’re here to prove her wrong.


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