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It is not equivalent to song lyrics, though song lyrics are often in the lyric mode, and it is also not equivalent to Ancient Greek lyric poetry, which was principally limited to song lyrics, or chanted verse. The term for both modern lyric poetry and modern song lyrics derives from a form of Ancient Greek literature, the Greek lyric, which was defined by its musical accompaniment, usually on a stringed instrument known as a kithara, a seven-stringed lyre (hence "lyric").
The term owes its importance in literary theory to the division developed by Aristotle among three broad categories of poetry: lyrical, dramatic, and epic. Lyric poetry is one of the earliest forms of literature.