We’ve been writing poetry and linking it here at d’Verse for a year, and prior to that at OneStopPoetry. In commemoration of the upcoming first year anniversary of d’Verse Poets Pub, I thought we’d talk about Poetry. We could then write about how we define it, what it ought to do, why we love it (if we do), how it has changed, and what our own personal definition is of it.
It seems to me a good topic for a poem itself on this anniversary. Indeed nearly every poet has tried to define what poetry is to them, why it takes hold of them, why it’s their chosen writing style and within poetry why do our poems take the shape and form they do.
Most scholars agree that poetry is linked to our most primitive past, and came into existence in an expression of emotions usually accompanied by rhythms (percussion, drums, singing, chanting,) and music. Therefore it enjoys the station of one of man’s oldest and basic arts. When a tribe or a people experienced any great event, a war, a migration, a flood, it seemed natural to chronicle and preserve these episodes in dance and song. Rhyme a strong mnemonic device naturally gave way to lyrics and tied to melody meant that it was preserved by those methods becoming its history and traditions. The compositions were once thought to have originated as a communal activity, but now most anthropologists think that each reflected the talent of an individual just as they do now.
Poetry seems to have evolved over the millenia – somewhat differently in different places but having certain things in common. Its content seems to have been inspired by emotions influenced by beauty, experience, or attachment. Sometimes it is rich in sentiment and passion. It is equally imaginative.
To quote Shakespeare in A Midsummer Night’s Dream:
“The poet’s eye, in a fine frenzy rolling
Doth glance from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven
As imagination bodies forth
The forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen
Turns them to shapes and gives to airy nothing
A local habitation and a name.
Such tricks hath strong imagination.
That, if it would but apprehend some joy,
It comprehends some bringer of that joy.”
Within poetry lie certain elements of truth, thought, idea, and meaning. Poetry must have significance, it should contribute to the human knowledge of experience. This may have been what E. A. Robinson meant when he said that poetry tries to tell us “something that cannot be said”. Leigh Hunt said that poetry is a “passion for truth, beauty, and power”. To Wordsworth it meant “strong feeling,” to Ruskin it was “noble grounds for noble emotions.” Emily Dickinson’s test was that “real poetry left her whole body so cold no fire could ever warm her.” All these requisites indicate a need for honesty of emotion, for a depth of passion and for a feeling of power. Beauty clearly inspires poetry although there is no agreement on what form beauty may take. Shelley said “Poetry turns all things to loveliness, it exalts the beauty of that which is most beautiful and it adds beauty to that which is most deformed..it strips the veil of familiarity from the world, and lays bare the naked and sleeping beauty, which is the spirit of its forms.”
Next we come to form after content. In form poetry can often be more clear-cut. Sometimes, of course, it reads as prose as in polyphonic prose, or free verse where the distinction may at times be murky; nevertheless in most forms we can say that one or more of the following things exist. First, rhythm marked by a regularity that usually surpasses that in prose with some irregularities presented which as in music surprises and gives pleasure. The ear recognizes patterns and their variations by the regularity of accents. Secondly rhyme which affords an obvious difference by which one may distinguish poetry from prose. Next arrangement and order. The pattern of the verse with its combinations of rhythm and rhyme bring an aesthetic pleasure that is only randomly found in prose.
Some license is allowed the poet in using other devices which are not given to the writer of prose, although in modern poetry these are usually eschewed–such as inversion in sequence and syntax. Poetry usually being short is distinguished especially by compactness of thought and expression, an intense unity to be carefully arranged in climactic order. Vital to poetry is concreteness. It is specific in its images and subtle by way of its use of metaphors. Being specific gives life to poetry; however, if some think otherwise it is because they may not be attuned to that subtlety of expression, beauty of imagery, and particular music of the words. Lastly, within form we come to language. Milton said the language of poetry was “simple,sensuous and impassioned.” The poet needs to choose language which succeeds in making his images concrete. It should be rich in figures of speech, in symbolism, and in metaphor.
The final function of poetry would be effect. While prose may have ten thousand uses, poetry chiefly has only one and that is to please. It is an aesthetic art. It’s chief function is to give pleasure and while over the years it has been a vehicle for drama, for history, and for personal emotions, it can now be chiefly divided into three types: the epic, the dramatic and the lyric. Those are then broken down into the types of forms we have been discussing here for the last year and for some time before that at One Stop Poetry.
So this week the call is to write your own poem on poetry and link with one another, read and comment. This is a time of celebration and poetry is its voice! If you’d like to read other poems on the subject, there are many famous ones here: