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What Is A Praise Poem?

Quick Summary

A praise poem is a form of poetry that expresses admiration and gratitude towards a person, deity, animal, place, or any other subject. It is a tribute that can be found in various cultures throughout history, particularly in African traditions. Praise poems are characterized by metaphors, similes, and storytelling that celebrate and affirm the subject, offering a powerful way to connect with heritage, strengthen writing skills, and reflect on personal and collective histories.


A praise poem is a type of poetry that expresses admiration, gratitude, and homage towards a person, deity, animal, place or any other subject. It serves as a form of tribute to honor the qualities and achievements of its subject. Praise poems have been present in various cultures throughout history and hold significant cultural value.

In African traditions specifically, praise poems are known by different names such as Oriki in Yorùbá culture (Nigeria), Isibongo in Zulu culture (South Africa), Maboko in Tswana culture (Botswana) among others. These forms of oral tradition play an integral role within their respective communities.

Praise poets were highly regarded individuals who possessed exceptional storytelling skills combined with deep knowledge about their tribe’s history and customs. They would chant these poetic praises during important occasions like royal ceremonies or gatherings where chiefs were being honored.

The purpose behind writing or reciting praise poems was not only to celebrate the individual but also to preserve collective memory through vivid imagery and captivating narratives that captured the essence of both past events and contemporary times.

However, it should be noted that while traditional African cultures heavily emphasize on praising people for their accomplishments, modern-day interpretations allow for broader definitions wherein one can express gratitude towards anything they find worthy – from nature’s beauty to personal experiences.

What is a Praise Poem?

A praise poem, also known as a tribute or panegyric, is a type of poetry that expresses admiration, gratitude, and homage towards a person, deity, animal, place or any other subject. It serves as an ode to celebrate the qualities and achievements of its subject.

Praise poems have been present in various cultures throughout history. They were particularly popular during the medieval period and Renaissance where they often celebrated heroes, kings, and deities. In African cultures specifically, Yorùbá refers to them as Oriki, Zulu calls it Isibongo while Tswana uses Maboko. These poems are an integral part of oral tradition with professional bards chanting them as praise singers for chiefs and court historians of their tribe.

The purpose behind writing a praise poem varies depending on culture but generally includes expressing respect, honoring accomplishments, preserving cultural heritage, and strengthening social bonds. Praise poets use vivid imagery, narrative storytelling, rhythmic patterns, and metaphors/similes to capture the essence of the person being praised. Their words paint pictures that bring forth emotions, evoking pride, a sense of identity, cultural values, family lineage, and historical significance. They serve not only to uplift individuals but also to unite communities by acknowledging shared experiences, making connections between past, present, and future generations.

Examples abound across different cultures. In Elizabeth Alexander’s “Praise Song for the Day,” she celebrates America’s diversity, the power of democracy, and social progress. Angelo Geter’s “Praise poem” is dedicated to a mother who has overcome adversity, written with deep appreciation for her strength. W.S. Merwin, in his poem “Thanks”, expresses gratitude towards the natural world around him. It serves as an acknowledgment that everything in life deserves recognition and everything has contributed to who he is today.

Praise Poems in African Tradition

Praise poems hold a special place in the rich tapestry of African literature and cultural expression. These poetic tributes, known by various names across different African languages, are deeply rooted in tradition and serve as powerful vehicles for celebrating individuals, communities, events, and even animals.

In Zulu culture, praise poetry is called “izibongo,” which refers to poetic expressions that not only define but also name an individual. Similarly, Yorùbá culture recognizes praise poems as “Oriki,” while Tswana culture refers to them as “Maboko.” Each term carries its own unique characteristics within their respective cultures.

African praise poems are characterized by bold imagery expressed through carefully selected language. They often celebrate heritage, family ties, and significant places or landmarks associated with the subject being praised. They can focus on specific people who have made remarkable contributions or achieved great feats. These vibrant verses capture both personal experiences and collective histories, making connections between past, present, and future generations.

The oral tradition plays a vital role in preserving these ancient forms of artistic expression. Praise poets act as custodians of history, culture, and traditions. Their performances bring life to words, serving not just entertainment purposes, but also educational ones. In many societies, Africa’s professional bards chant these praises at important gatherings such as royal courts, weddings, birthdays, naming ceremonies, and funerals. This ensures that knowledge about ancestors, living heroes, kings, and great warriors is passed down from generation to generation. It helps maintain social cohesion among community members by reinforcing shared values, honoring achievements of notable figures, and fostering pride in one’s roots.

These skilled performers, dubbed ‘praise singers,’ possess deep understandings of their subjects’ lives, the historical context surrounding them, their accomplishments, and challenges faced along the way. They use this wealth of information to craft eloquent verses that captivate audiences with their rhythmic flow and captivating storytelling. Praise singers are highly respected members of African societies, as they play a crucial role in preserving cultural heritage and ensuring the continuity of traditions.

Praise poems have endured for centuries as an integral part of African culture. They serve not only to honor individuals but also to inspire others, instill pride, and foster unity within communities. Through these poetic expressions, Africans celebrate their history, cultural diversity, and shared values. Praise poetry continues to thrive today, keeping alive the spirits of those who came before us while shaping the narratives that will be passed on for generations yet unborn.

Elements of a Praise Poem

Metaphors and Similes in Praise Poems:

Praise poems are known for their rich use of metaphors and similes. These literary devices help to create vivid imagery, making the praise poem more engaging and impactful. Metaphors compare the subject being praised to something else, while similes use “like” or “as” to draw comparisons. By employing metaphoric language, praise poets can elevate the qualities of their subjects by associating them with powerful symbols or characteristics.

Imagery and Storytelling in Praise Poems:

One distinguishing feature of praise poems is their ability to paint vibrant pictures through descriptive imagery. The poet uses words that appeal to our senses – sight, sound, taste, touch, smell – allowing readers or listeners to visualize the subject’s attributes clearly. Through storytelling techniques such as anecdotes or narratives about significant events involving the subject being praised; these elements add depth and emotional resonance.

Themes and Subjects Commonly Found in Praise Poems:

While there is no limit on what can be celebrated within a praise poem since it depends on cultural context; certain themes tend to recur across different cultures when composing this type of poetry.

  • Ancestry: Many praises songs honor one’s lineage by acknowledging ancestors’ contributions.
  • Nature: Drawing inspiration from nature allows poets not only celebrate natural beauty but also connect human experiences with larger cosmic forces.
  • Courage/Bravery: Praising acts demonstrating courage often occurs when celebrating heroes who have overcome challenges.
  • Love/Friendship/Bonds: Celebrations may focus on relationships between individuals highlighting love, family bonds, and friendship.

These themes provide an opportunity for both personal reflection as well as communal celebration.

How Praises Songs Celebrate And Affirm The Subject:

The primary purpose behind writing a praise poem is to celebrate and affirm the subject. Praise poems highlight the subject’s positive qualities, achievements, and contributions. They serve as a form of recognition and appreciation, elevating the subject’s status and inspiring others. Praise poems can also be a way to honor and preserve cultural traditions, as they often incorporate elements of heritage, history, and community values.

Writing a Praise Poem

Writing a praise poem is an art form that allows you to celebrate and honor someone or something through the power of words. Whether it’s expressing admiration for a loved one, paying tribute to historical figures, or praising nature’s beauty, crafting a praise poem requires careful thought and creativity. Here are some tips and techniques to help you write your own heartfelt praise poem:

1. Understand Your Subject:

Before starting your praise poem, take time to deeply understand the subject you want to celebrate. Research their achievements, qualities, and significance in order to capture their essence accurately.

2. Tap into Personal Experiences:

Incorporating personal experiences can add depth and authenticity to your praise poem. Reflect on moments when the subject made an impact on your life or inspired you personally.

3. Use Vivid Imagery:

Praise poems often rely heavily on vivid imagery as they aim not only describe but also evoke emotions within readers/listeners. Visualize how best each line will paint pictures in people’s minds by using metaphors, similes, and descriptive language.

4. Structure & Form:

Consider choosing poetic forms such as sonnets, villanelles, or haikus depending upon length preference. These structures provide guidelines which may assist with organizing thoughts effectively.

5. Incorporate Cultural References:

If writing about cultural icons, historical events, or traditions, it adds richness if references from relevant culture(s) are included. Researching folklore, music, dance, literature, etc. can inspire ideas while ensuring accuracy.

6. Edit & Revise:

After completing the initial draft, take time away before revisiting. Review content critically, paying attention to rhythm, rhyme scheme, line breaks. Consider removing unnecessary phrases/words so focus remains solely upon celebrating the chosen topic/person.

7. Seek Feedback:

Share work-in-progress with trusted friends, family members, writing groups who can offer constructive criticism. This feedback helps refine the final version, making it more impactful.

By following these tips and techniques, you can create a praise poem that truly captures the essence of your subject. Remember to let your creativity flow and infuse personal experiences, cultural references, and vivid imagery into your writing.

Benefits of Writing and Reading Praise Poems

Writing and reading praise poems can have numerous benefits, both personally and creatively. Here are some key advantages:

Personal and Emotional Benefits:

Praise poems provide a platform for self-expression, allowing individuals to articulate their admiration, gratitude, or love towards someone or something. By putting these emotions into words through poetry, writers can experience catharsis and emotional release.

Connection to Heritage and Ancestry:

In many African cultures where praise poems hold significance, they serve as a means of connecting with one’s heritage and ancestry. These poetic expressions often incorporate elements of family history, cultural traditions, and the collective memory of a community. Through writing or reciting praise poems that honor ancestors or celebrate cultural values, persons feel connected to their roots while preserving important aspects of their identity.

Enhancing Writing Skills and Strengthening Voice:

Crafting a well-written praise poem requires careful attention to language use, meter, rhythm, and imagery. This process helps develop strong writing skills by encouraging poets to experiment with metaphors, similes, fresh vocabulary choices, and descriptive techniques. Poets learn how different literary devices impact the overall tone and effectiveness of their work. Writing regular praises also allows them to develop their own unique voice as they explore various styles and sounds in poetry composition. These acquired skills can be transferred to other forms of fictional or non-fictional writing projects in future endeavors.

Appreciating and Celebrating People & Things in Our Lives:

Praise poems promote gratitude by focusing on what we value most. They encourage us to take time out from our busy lives, to reflect on those who have positively impacted us. The act of composing a praise poem forces us to pay attention to details we might otherwise overlook. It allows us to celebrate our loved ones, the beauty in nature, the achievements of society members, or even personal milestones. By expressing appreciation through verse, writers not only uplift the spirits of those being praised but also cultivate a sense of gratitude and contentment within themselves.

In conclusion, writing and reading praise poems offer numerous benefits. They provide an outlet for personal expression, foster connections to heritage and ancestry, enhance writing skills, and encourage appreciation for the people and things that bring joy to our lives. Praise poetry is not only a form of artistic creation but also a means of celebrating life’s blessings while leaving behind lasting tributes in verse.

Frequently Asked Questions

Question 1: What is the difference between a praise poem and a regular poem?

A praise poem differs from a regular poem in its specific focus on admiration, gratitude, and homage towards a particular subject. While regular poems can explore various themes or emotions, praise poems are dedicated to celebrating and affirming the qualities of an individual, deity, animal, place or any other subject. Praise poems often use metaphors and similes to compare the subject with objects or features found in nature.

Question 2: Can anyone write a praise poem?

Yes! Anyone can write a praise poem as long as they have someone or something that they want to honor through their words. Whether it’s expressing appreciation for family members’ sacrifices or acknowledging personal achievements of friends – writing your own unique tribute allows you to celebrate those who hold significance in your life.

Question 3: Are praise poems only written in African cultures?

No, while African cultures have rich traditions of oral poetry known as “praise songs” such as Oriki (Yorùbá), Isibongo (Zulu), Maboko (Tswana) which form part of their cultural heritage; praising individuals using poetic expression exists across different societies worldwide. In fact, praise poetry has been present throughout history globally – during medieval times & Renaissance era where heroes, kings, & deities were celebrated. Poets like Elizabeth Alexander, Angelo Geter, W.S. Merwin also wrote modern-day examples like “Praise Song for The Day”, “Praise”, & “Thanks”.

Question 4: How long should a praise poem be?

The length of a praise poem is based on personal preference and the depth of the tribute being paid. There are no specific rules regarding length, but it’s important to consider that a praise poem should capture the significance and essence of the subject being praised. Some praise poems may be as short as a few lines, while others may extend to several pages. The key is to convey the admiration and gratitude in an impactful way that resonates with both the writer and reader.

Question 5: Can praise poems be performed or recited?

Absolutely! Praise poems are often meant to be shared orally, making them perfect for performances or recitations. In African cultures specifically, professional bards known as praise singers would chant these poems at important events like royal ceremonies or tribal gatherings. However, personalized tribute poetry can also be performed at weddings, birthdays, family gatherings or any occasion where you want to express your appreciation and admiration for someone. Praise poems bring the words alive through rhythm, tone, and gestures, making them more engaging and effective in conveying emotions to an audience.


  1. https://poets.org/glossary/praise-poem
  2. https://www.hmhco.com/blog/how-to-write-a-praise-poem
  3. https://deannamascle.com/praise-poetry/

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