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The Bot Versus The Bard – A Lighthearted Look At ChatGPT’s Capabilities As A Poet

Can ChatGPT write poetry? A poet sits writing with a quill while a robot generates lines of text.

As I mentioned in a previous post, ChatGPT – A Good Or A Bad Thing?, I read that ChatGPT could write poetry. And that, in a spirit of enquiry, I decided to try it out.

This post is mainly for fun and interest. You’ll find no marketing information or big insights here. However there is a serious point to take away. If you are interested in that but don’t want to read about ChatGPT’s poetic efforts you’ll find it here.

But back to AI poetry. It’s a novel concept. Can something without a soul write something that is surely the definition of human soulfulness? And how much direction is required to get it to do that? Just “Write me a poem” would be far too vague an instruction wouldn’t it? Maybe. But it seemed a good starting point so I tried it. To my surprise, ChatGPT didn’t as much as ask for a topic. Instead, the bot instantly grabbed its figurative quill and ruffled shirt and off it went.

ChatGPT’s First poem – No Prompts Supplied

“In fields of green and skies so blue” ChatGPT warbled “I see the world, a beautiful view”. And in 5 verses it explained how grateful it is for the world’s beauty, which is a mesmerising marvel that takes ChatGPT’s breath away and causes it to “stand in awe and wonder”. Well good for you, ChatGPT!

Excerpt from poem 1 states how ChatGPT is grateful for the world's grandeur.

It wasn’t great poetry. Despite its talk of “life’s wondrous dance” and “beauty divine” there was – unsurprisingly – nothing to move the soul. But in honesty it was not much worse than the outpourings of the aspiring Wordsworths who pop up regularly in church magazines and the like.

It suffered from nasty sentence-reversals. “The world’s beauty, it takes my breath” and “Nature’s beauty, I cannot replace” were examples. Yuck! These awkward constructions are a personal bugbear of mine. But again, they are all too often used by human writers to make poetry rhyme so ChatGPT was no worse than the rest.

On the other hand, I find it impossible to take a forgiving view on lines such as:

ChatGPT matches secrets untold with a story unfold to create a rhyme

Unfold…? Ouch! I wonder why ChatGPT created that awkward rhyme when the Internet is chocka with “secrets unfold… …a story untold” matches? It would have been easier and much wiser to stick with the crowd.

I repeated the same simple instruction several times more and got a set of surprisingly coherent pieces of verse of six or seven stanzas apiece.

ChatGPT’s Unprompted poems 2, 3 and 4 – excerpts

All of the poems ChatGPT produced with no guidance on subject, tone and form were pretty similar, evoking the world’s beauty, which, we are told, fills us with peace, delight, joy or some other variant of a positive emotion. Or, as an alternative, giving poetry itself much the same treatment.

It seems that if left to itself, the bot lives in a world of blue skies and optimism. How nice.

It was also noticeable that each poem was composed in octosyllabic rhyming couplets. So it appears that that is ChatGPT’s go-to style.

Excerpt from poem 2 about the magic of the night
Poem 2 (excerpt)
excerpt from poem 3 about finding peace and harmony in the world
Poem 3 (excerpt)
excerpt from poem 4 states that nature paints a rare canvas and soaring birds fill us with delight
Poem 4 (excerpt)

Getting Technical – Iambic Pentameter

I felt I had identified the baseline for ChatGPT’s poetic efforts. But was a simple 8-beat rhyming couplet format the extent of its capabilities? What if I asked for something different?

My request to “Write me a poem in iambic pentameter” resulted in just that. In 10-beat iambic pentameter (Think Shakespeare’s “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? Thou art more lovely and more temperate.”) ChatGPT waxed lyrical about the wonders of our world and the beauty of nature – again. And again, and then again, on two subsequent requests. Once more, its efforts were pretty creditable, though lacking in variety of subject.

ChatGPT praises the world's beauty in iambic pentameter

The Programming Peeks Through

It had become evident that the bot has particular habits. Here’s what I noticed during my limited testing:

  • when no subject was specified, almost every poem was about the wonders of the world. The remainder were about the greatness of poetry itself. I guess we can give ChatGPT credit for being cheerful.
  • almost every poem started with a preposition of position – in (3 of 8), amidst (3 of 8), beneath (1 of 8). “In fields of green”, “Amidst the world” and “Beneath the boughs” started the first 3 of its poems.
  • almost every poem ends by inviting us to cherish (6 of 8) or revel (1 of 8) in something positive. (ditto re. cheerfulness)
  • the bot likes to write rhyming couplets. So much so, that it continued to do this even when I specifically requested it not to.
  • if asked to write in iambic pentameter, ChatGPT introduces archaic english such as “doth” (3 of 3) and o’er (1 of 3) as well as “do” constructs – the sun/brook/birds/wind do/doth rise/babble/sing/whisper.
  • In its eagerness to rhyme, ChatGPT can produce a few nasties. “As leaves rustle, a story unfold” was joined by “…a tale of love and loss, of hope and fail” and “A symphony of sound that never cease”, as well as some “rhymes” which really went beyond a stretch to a strain.

What does all this tell us? Well, it gives hints about the rules that ChatGPT is working to. And suggests that its defaults are to stick to uncontroversial topics and to “send ’em home happy”. Even when I challenged this by asking for a poem about death, the bot closed by urging us to “face this mystery with grace” as “there’s beauty in the journey that lies ahead”. Upbeat as ever, ChatGPT!

Upon a direct request however, it did supply a poem without a happy ending. In fact, it took the idea and ran with it, generating 16 lines ranging from “A feeling of dread, a sense of fear” through “the pain of loss and grieving” to “…destruction and sorrow, a world undone”. Wow. Well, I did ask.

ChatGPT's poem without a happy ending includes a desperate shout, no rescue, and hope drowining

ChatGPT And The Little Green Frog

By this point my curiosity was satisfied so I decided to leave it there.

To finish – and to counterbalance all that gloom and despair – I asked for something fun and simple. A talent for doggerel runs in my family so I asked ChatGPT to write a limerick about a little green frog while I did the same, so I could compare the results.

A frog sitting on a lily pad in a chilly swamp

Here they are:


There once was a little green frog
Who lived in a pond full of smog
He jumped and he hopped
And never once stopped
Till he found a clean lilypad to jog


There once was a little green frog
Whose home was a damp chilly bog
Till fed up and soggy
The poor little froggy
Moved into a nice cosy log

Neither effort is worthy of the T.S. Eliot Prize however I maintain that since smog is smoke-based you won’t find it in a pond and that ChatGPT’s version doesn’t scan correctly so mine is better. Maybe I’m just being defensive.

Final Thoughts

As I said at the start, this was all just a bit of fun. My testing was not, and was never intended to be, either particularly systematic or exhaustive. But it was enlightening to understand more about what ChatGPT is capable of. And to see evidence of its programming in its output. Overall, I have to say that I was impressed. I’ve seen much worse poetic efforts created by humans.

Are there any real takeaways? I can think of a couple:

The first – Don’t have ChatGPT write your poetry for you without a firm steer on subject and tone. Unless, of course, you feel like cherishing the world in all its beauty or watching hope drown in a sea of despair.

The second, more serious one; should you decide to use ChatGPT for any purpose, be wary of the results and check them thoroughly. Here, it was just rhymes, grammar and minor logic that were off. But in other contexts it can be more serious information that is wrong. During my previous testing (on known subjects otherwise how would I know if the output was correct?) ChatGPT stated confidently that Facebook ads are more cost-effective than PPC ads then backtracked completely when I queried this statement, saying what amounted to “Did I say that? Oops! Silly me!”. If you are relying on the information from ChatGPT for research, or for any other serious purpose, you need to know it is accurate. And it seems that the only way to be sure is to check it yourself.

Caveat emptor, as they say.

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