Descriptive-Meditative Structure

As Corey Marks discusses more fully in his chapter “The Descriptive-Meditative Structure” in Structure & Surprise: Engaging Poetic Turns, the descriptive-meditative structure is a kind of dramatic monologue that has three parts: it opens with the description of a scene, then (often due to an external trigger) turns to an interior meditation (for example, the expression and/or consideration of memories, concerns, anticipation), and then turns to a re-description of the scene, a scene that now seems different due to the changed mindset of the poem’s speaker.  Here is a good summary of the essential features of this structure.  Below are supplemental poems and discussion.

The classic:

“Tintern Abbey,” by William Wordsworth

And some further excellent uses of this structure:

“One o’Clock in the Morning,” by Charles Baudelaire

“In Late August,” by Peter Campion

“Now,” by Landon Godfrey, in Second-Skin Rhinestone-Spangled Nude Souffle Chiffon Gown (Halifax, PA: Cider Press Review, 2011): 17.

“Sunflower Sutra,” by Allen Ginsberg

“Church Going,” by Philip Larkin

“Sunflowers, Wyoming,” by Deborah Slicer, in The White Calf Kicks (Pittsburgh, PA: Autumn House Press, 2003): 17.

“The Lyric ‘I’ Drives to Pick up Her Children from School: A Poem in the Postconfessional Mode,” by Olena Kalytiak Davis

Davis’s poem does not itself employ the descriptive-meditative structure, but it does reference it significantly.  Knowing about the structure (and that Davis uses the structure so fully and convincingly in an earlier poem, “Resolutions in a Parked Car,” reprinted in Structure & Surprise), allows one to better feel the irresolution of Davis’s more-recent poem–the forlorn quality of “The Lyric ‘I’…” is more fully felt when experienced in contrast to a structure like the descriptive-meditative which so often involves moving toward some kind of resolution.


New thinking about the continuing relevance of the descriptive-meditative lyric can be found here.


As Corey Marks notes in “The Descriptive-Meditative Structure,” this structure was first identified by M. H. Abrams in his essay “Structure and Style in the Greater Romantic Lyric.”  A great act of literary criticism, Abrams’s essay is well worth reading in full.  This essay can be found in Harold Bloom’s Romanticism and Consciousness.

9 responses

5 05 2009
OKD and the DMS « Structure & Surprise

[…] incorporates (about half-way through) in her largely associative poem an extended summary of the descriptive-meditative structure, as it is spelled out in M.H. Abrams’s “Structure and Style in the Greater Romantic […]

30 05 2009
A Speaker(1)-Speaker(2) Structure (?) « Structure & Surprise

[…] a substantial change in a speaker–just check out the Dejection-Elation Structure or the Descriptive-Meditative Structure, or read Coleridge’s “This Lime-Tree Bower, My Prison,” a poem that combines […]

16 07 2009
Two (More) Great Essays on the Turn « Structure & Surprise

[…] While some of the plots Stillinger discusses are in fact narrative plots, others are much more what are refered to on this blog as structures, particular patterns of turns in poems.  Stillinger, for example, discusses what is called here the dialectical argument structure, stating, “There are numerous ‘binary’ oppositions and conflicts, with resolutions involving the triumph of one side, a merging of the two sides, or the introduction of some third term.”  Additionally, he examines “Ode on a Grecian Urn” in light of its connections with the greater Romantic lyric, that is, the descriptive-meditative structure. […]

19 02 2012
Six Approaches to Structuring a Poem « Structure & Surprise

[…] for the descriptive-meditative structure at the end of a long day, I had participants follow the basic structure of Charles Wright’s […]

29 01 2014
I Did Poetry Things | M&T's Books and Things

[…] the first poetic structure we learned about was the Descriptive-Medatative poem. I’ve hyperlinked the word to the actual author of the book that we’re learning from […]

7 11 2014
New Thinking on the Descriptive-Meditative Lyric | Structure & Surprise

[…] More information on the descriptive-meditative structure can be found in the essay on that structure by Corey Marks in Structure & Surprise.  Additional examples of the descriptive-meditative structure are available here. […]

20 06 2017
27 06 2022
Realizing the Turn in Jonathan Culler’s Theory of the Lyric | Structure & Surprise

[…] Descriptive-Meditative Structure […]

20 07 2022
Lucy Alford’s *Structures* of Poetic Attention | Structure & Surprise

[…] Descriptive-Meditative Structure […]

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