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What Is a Lyric? Definition & Characteristics of a Lyric

Muhammad Rafiq is a freelance writer, blogger, and translator with a master's degree in English literature from the University of Malakand.

What is a Lyric?

What is a Lyric?

Definition & Origin of Lyric

Lyric is a very common kind of subjective poetry. It is the most widely used means of self-expression and catharsis. Man has always loved to give catharsis to his pent-up feelings through the means of lyric. That is the reason; lyric is considered to be amongst the earliest forms of poetry in the history of English literature.

In the ancient times, the word lyric was employed for any song, which was meant to be sung with a special musical instrument called lyre. With the passage of time, this musical instrument was abandoned and the word lyric came to be known as any poem expressing personal emotions and feelings of the poet. Hudson is of the opinion that a lyric is almost unlimited in range and variety, for it may touch nearly all aspects of experience, from those which are interests of our common humanity.

Pablo Neruda: A Great Modern Lyrical Poet

Pablo Neruda: A Great Modern Lyrical Poet

Characteristics of a Lyric

Simplicity is a prominent feature of a lyric. Every lyric is composed in such a language that every person can understand it easily. For example, look at the songs of modern times. Any lyric, which is simple and expresses pent-up feelings and emotions of the poet, has an extraordinary appeal to the readers, audience and viewers. In this connection, songs of ACCENT BAND have greater appeal to the public.

Every lyric deals with a single emotion, which is usually stated in the very first line of the lyric. Then the poet gives us the thoughts suggested by that particular emotion. The last and concluding part is in the nature of a summary or it embodies the conclusions reached by the poet.

One of the most important qualities of a lyric is its musical quality. Musical quality makes it the most popular and widely used form of poetry in the history of English literature. Every lyric is incomplete without the accompaniment of music. Just listen to a song without music! You will certainly feel the difference between the lyric with music and lyric without music. I’m pretty sure that a lyric with music will certainly appeal to you. That’s the power of music!

Catharsis of emotions is another important quality of a lyric. Every poet tries his best to give vent to his internal feelings and emotions through the means of a lyric. That’s why; when we are alone, we also whisper songs and enjoy ourselves. It depends upon our mood. If we are happy, then we tend to sing a jubilant song. If not, then we tend to sing a sad song. Whatever may be the case, lyric is a means of catharsis of our emotions.

Intensity is also another characteristic of a lyric. Every lyric consists of such lines, which reveal the intensity of the emotions of the author. Modern love songs are best examples in this regard. Every song expresses the intensity of love of the author for his or her beloved.

Spontaneity is the backbone of any lyric. Any lyric, which lacks in spontaneity, may not be as appealing to the readers as other. Thus spontaneity plays an important role in the composition of a lyric. Without spontaneity, no lyric can be sung with a musical instrument. Those lyrics, which are spontaneous in reading, can be sung easily with any musical instrument.

Elizabethan Lyric

Elizabethan age is considered to be the most glorious age for the development of lyrical poetry. Lyrical poetry thrived a great deal in this age. Every poet and every man sang lyric and it was widely used not only by the poets but dramatists like Shakespeare in his plays. There are many features of Elizabethan lyric. Elizabethan lyric is fine and free from impurities of traditional song. Traditional songs had to be clumsy, unrefined and coarse, while the Elizabethan lyric is graceful, refined and musical. As it was very popular genera of poetry in the Elizabethan age, every poet tried his hands on it. Thus, it gave rise to artificiality in the production of lyrics. Not every lyric was the expression of hidden feelings of the poet. It was an artificial attempt of the poet. Elizabethan lyric is different from the romantic lyric in a sense that it is not the spontaneous overflow of feelings. It lacks in spontaneity, which is required for any good lyric. Impersonality is another characteristic of Elizabethan lyric. Subjectivity lost its presence in the Elizabethan lyric. A vein of moralizing runs through the Elizabethan lyric. One thing that is the cause of popularity of Elizabethan lyric is its musical quality. Though, the lyric of Elizabethan Age lacks in originally, yet its musical quality gives it a prominent place in the history of English literature. S. A Brooke asserts in this regard, “In the Elizabethan lyric are blended the aroma of antiquity and the secret of modernity.”

A Love Lyric by William Shakespeare

A Love Lyric by William Shakespeare

Seventeenth Century Lyric

The Seventeenth Century Lyric has been divided into three categories: Metaphysical Lyric, Religious lyric and Caroline or Cavalier lyric.

Metaphysical Lyric

Metaphysical lyric is a kind of lyric, which was written by metaphysical school of poets like John Donne. It is a detailed and elaborate lyric with intellectual tone. It is very hard to understand due to its terse, compact and hard to understand language. John Donne is considered to be the founder of metaphysical lyric. He has composed some of the best lyrics in his literary career.

It is pertinent to mention here that emotional intensity is the starter for a metaphysical lyric. The poet is overwhelmed by an emotion, which he analyses as he proceeds through the lines of lyric. The poet puts forward arguments in favour of his subject in such a way that the reader is startled to know the genuineness of the ideas of the poet. In Valediction: Forbidding Mourning, John Donne puts forward arguments in support of his view that that the true lovers need not mourn at the time of parting as they will come closer again. He has compared his and himself to the two legs of a compass, wherein the standing leg is his wife, while the rotating leg is the poet himself. The rotating leg will eventually come closer to the standing leg. This intellectual analysis of emotion is something new and original in the English lyric. It is also called fusion of though and emotion in metaphysical poetry. T.S Eliot commended the metaphysical lyric and regarded Donne as one of the greatest of the English poets. Metaphysical conceit is another important quality of metaphysical lyric.

Caroline or Cavalier Lyric

According to Britannica Encyclopaedia, “Cavalier poet, any of a group of English gentlemen poets, called Cavaliers because of their loyalty to Charles I (1625–49) during the English Civil Wars, as opposed to Roundheads, who supported Parliament. They were also cavaliers in their style of life and counted the writing of polished and elegant lyrics as only one of their many accomplishments as soldiers, courtiers, gallants, and wits. Hence, any lyric, written by the Cavalier Poets, is called a Caroline or Cavalier lyric. A Caroline lyric has the following important features:

The Caroline lyric is characterized by sweetness, music and melody. Keeping in view its diction, it almost touches the extreme heights of perfection.

It is artificial as it was the result of their intellect not the product of their inner voice. Thus, we find the Cavalier lyrics to be highly artificial and contained an abnormal degree of frivolousness and eroticism.

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As the poets were courtiers, they reflected the true picture of the court of their age. They mirrored the manners, temper, mood and indecency of the court of their age.

The Cavalier lyric also dwells on the beauty of nature. They observed nature closely and described it with feelings.

Romantic Poet

Romantic lyric is a term, which was coined by the American scholar M. H. Abrams in his essay ‘Structure and Style in the Greater Romantic Lyric’, while dwelling upon the Romantic Lyric. He says, “Romantic lyric is an extended lyric poem of description and serious meditation, as practiced by some of the English Romantic poets, William Wordsworth, S. T. Coleridge P. B. Shelley, and John Keats. Romantic lyric occupies an eminent position in the history of English literature. It was Shelley, who took the romantic lyric to the pinnacle of glory. He has been remained unexcelled in the history of English literature. His lyrics are marked with spontaneity and effortlessness. A critic says in this regards, “the success of romantic lyric has, in the second place, been due to the fine appreciation, by the lyric writers, of the delicate balance subsisting between subject and form. Never before has such a variety of subject found its way into English lyrical verse and been so completely absorbed as to give a certain intellectual value and tone to the poems without in any way detracting from their lyrical worth.”

Victorian Lyric

Lyric continued to be written in the Victorian age. In the Victorian age, there are a number of lyric poets, who wrote one of the best lyrics in the history of English literature. Tennyson and Browning are one of them. Tennyson is a great artist with words and so his lyrics are characterized by verbal felicity of a high order. Browning is also a great lyricist, who mostly wrote dramatic lyrics. One of the most important features of Browning’s lyrics is that he does not give vent to his feelings, but that of an imaginary character. It is only in some of his lyrics that he expresses his emotional feelings.

Modern Lyric

Modern lyric has transformed into a unique genera of lyrical poetry. Nowadays, lyric dwells upon on almost every aspect of human life. With the vast expansion of ideas generated by information technology, industrial developments, terrorism, droughts, floods etc, the lyric has become the sole means of communicating a message to the public. Due to film industry, the lyric has become an important kind of lyrical poetry. Today, you can watch thousands of lyrics on YouTube and other channels. Some of the modern lyric poets are W.B Yeats, W.H Davies, James Elory Flecker, John Masefield, Edword Morgan, Margaret Afwoods etc.

What is a Lyric?

What is a Lyric?

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© 2014 Muhammad Rafiq


Navya on September 09, 2020:

Sir can you please defin lyric song and choric song

attajaliat on April 13, 2020:

Thanks for a well thought out hub. I enjoyed reading it! keep it up

Banashree on November 10, 2019:

Can u say me the features and characteristics of religious lyric?

PoetikalyAnointed on December 21, 2018:

Thank you for this Hub, Muhammad.

I appreciate learning about various forms of poetry. Lyric Poetry is probably my favorite for so many reasons. Writing in general is very cathartic for me so I tend to express myself lyrically in verse.

Think I'll bookmark this and read up on this further.

Muhammad Rafiq (author) from Pakistan on November 02, 2016:

Thanks for commenting. Please, watch my videos on

Here you will find lots of videos about English literature.

Muhammad Rafiq (author) from Pakistan on January 23, 2015:

Thanks Elsie Hagley for stopping by and commenting! I am glad you liked it. Have a nice time.

Elsie Hagley from New Zealand on January 23, 2015:

Enjoyed the way you explained the different terms of what a lyric is.

I do write a little poetry, so found this article interesting which will make me stop and think about the next poem I write about, I prefer keeping it as modern lyrics as I don't think I would be able to keep up with the Victoria style of poetry.

Muhammad Rafiq (author) from Pakistan on January 21, 2015:

Thanks christine for your comments. Have a nice time!

christinemariezzz on November 17, 2014:


Nice. I particular. like the statements made in second paragraph of the Lyric Characteristic section. I want to think on that! I am not a singer songwriter, but I find what you are saying may delineate the newer generations ability to compose their songs in a way that they stick...or not stick....something in these new creations is lacking but not without hope if they keep writing lyrics, something is sure to really please like "HELP" by the Beatles , or Tapestry by Carol Keene or Night Moves by Bob Seger, I heard those lyrics back in 1970 and they are still in my head...genuinely "one emotion "as you state in your hub. I may be bias, but I think my generation of singer songwriters had it together in regards to lyrics, one emotion. Just saying.

I will return to this hub when I start to get more serious about writing lyrics...that hold to the purity of a lyric- which you bring put through and through with graceful simplicity. Thanks so much. ~christinemarie

Muhammad Rafiq (author) from Pakistan on November 17, 2014:

Thanks Bill for your continuous encouragement! Have a nice time.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on November 16, 2014:

Great information. Well done! I learned a few things here and for that I thank you.

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