Poetry Kaleidoscope: Guide to Poetry
Nature of Poetry | End-stopping | Groups and Movements | National Poetry | Periods | Poetic closure | Poetic diction | Styles | Technical means | Verse
Greek: ποιεω (poieo) = I create) is traditionally a written
art form (although there is also an ancient and modern poetry which
relies mainly upon oral or pictorial representations) in which human
language is used for its aesthetic qualities in addition to, or instead
of, its notional and semantic content. The increased emphasis on the
aesthetics of language and the deliberate use of features such as
rhyme, are what are commonly used to distinguish poetry from
but debates over such distinctions still persist, while the issue is
confounded by such forms as
prose poetry and poetic prose. Some modernists (such as the
Surrealists) approach this problem of definition by defining poetry
not as a literary genre within a set of genres, but as the very
manifestation of human imagination, the substance which all creative
acts derive from.
Poetry often uses condensed form to convey an emotion or idea to the reader
or listener, as well as using devices such as
alliteration and repetition to achieve
musical or incantatory effects. Furthermore, poems often make heavy use of
imagery, word association, and musical qualities. Because of its reliance on
"accidental" features of language and connotational meaning, poetry is
notoriously difficult to translate. Similarly, poetry's use of nuance and symbolism can make it
difficult to interpret a poem or can leave a poem open to multiple
It is difficult to define poetry definitively, especially when one considers
that poetry encompasses forms as different as epic narratives and haiku.
Needless to say, many poets have given their own definitions. Carl Sandburg said
that, "poetry is the synthesis of hyacinths and biscuits."
Robert Frost once said "Poetry is the first thing lost in translation."
Nature of poetry
Poetry can be differentiated from
prose, which is language meant to convey meaning in a less condensed way, using
more logical or narrative structures. This does not imply poetry is illogical.
Poetry is often created from the desire to escape the logical, as well as
expressing feelings and other expressions in a tight, condensed manner. English
Romantic poet John Keats termed this escape from logic Negative Capability.
Prose poetry combines the characteristics of poetry with the superficial
appearance of prose. Other forms include narrative poetry and dramatic poetry,
used to tell stories and so resemble
novels and plays.
verb ποιέω [poiéō (= I make or create)], gave rise to three words:
ποιητής [poiētḗs (= the one who creates)], ποίησις [poíēsis (= the
act of creation)] and ποίημα [poíēma (= the thing created)]. From these
we get three English words: poet (the creator), poesy (the
creation) and poem (the created). A poet is therefore one who creates and
poetry is what the poet creates. The underlying concept of the poet as creator
is not uncommon. For example, in
Anglo-Saxon a poet is a
scop (shaper or
maker) and in
Perhaps the most vital element of sound in poetry is
the rhythm of each line is arranged in a particular
meter. Different types of meter played key roles in Classical, Early
European, Eastern and Modern poetry. In the case of
the rhythm of lines is often organized into looser units of cadence.
Robinson Jeffers, Marianne Moore, and William Carlos Williams were three notable poets who rejected the idea that
meter was a critical element of poetry, claiming it was an unnatural imposition
Poetry in English and other modern European languages often uses
rhyme. Rhyme at
the end of lines is the basis of a number of common poetic forms, such as
However, the use of rhyme is not universal. Much
poetry avoids traditional
Greek and Latin
poetry did not use rhyme. Rhyme did not enter European poetry until the
High Middle Ages, when adopted from the
Arabic language. Arabs have always used rhymes extensively, most notably in
their long, rhyming qasidas. Some classical poetry forms, such as Venpa of the
Tamil language, had rigid grammars (to the point that they could be expressed as
a context-free grammar), which ensured a rhythm.
Alliteration played a key role in structuring early Germanic and English
forms of poetry,
alliterative verse. The alliterative patterns of early Germanic poetry and
the rhyme schemes of Modern European poetry include meter as a key part of their
structure, which determines when the listener expects instances of rhyme or
alliteration to occur. Alliteration and rhyme, when used in poetic structures,
help emphasise and define a rhythmic pattern. By contrast, the chief device of
Biblical poetry in ancient
Hebrew was parallelism, a rhetorical structure in which successive lines
reflected each other in grammatical structure, sound structure, notional
content, or all three; which lent itself to antiphonal or call-and-response performance.
Sound plays a more subtle role in free verse poetry by creating pleasing,
varied patterns and emphasizing or illustrating semantic elements of the poem.
internal rhyme are among the ways poets use sound.
refers to the musical, flowing quality of words arranged in an aesthetically
Poetry depends less on linguistic units of sentences and paragraphs. The
structural elements are the
Lines may be self-contained units of sense, as in the well-known lines from
William Shakespeare's Hamlet:
- To be, or not to be: that is the question.
Alternatively a line may end in mid-phrase or sentence:
- Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
this linguistic unit is completed in the next line,
- The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.
This technique is called
and is used to create expectation, adding dynamic tension to the verse.
In many instances, the effectiveness of a poem derives from the tension
between the use of linguistic and formal units. With the advent of printing,
poets gained greater control over the visual presentation of their work. As a
result, the use of these formal elements, and of the white space they help
create, became an important part of the poet's toolbox.
poetry tends to take this to an extreme, with the placement of individual lines
or groups of lines on the page forming an integral part of the poem's
composition. In its most extreme form, this leads to
Rhetorical devices such as
metaphor are frequently used in poetry. Aristotle wrote in his Poetics that "the greatest thing by far is to be a master of metaphor".
Since the rise of
some poets have opted for reduced use of these devices, attempting the direct
presentation of things and experiences.
Surrealists have pushed rhetorical devices to their limits, making frequent use
Poetry as an art form predates
literacy. Poetry was employed as a means of recording oral history, storytelling (epic
poetry), genealogy, and law. Poetry is often closely identified with liturgy
in pre-literate societies. Many of the scriptures
currently held to be sacred by contemporary religious traditions with their
roots in antiquity were composed as poetry rather than prose to aid memorization
and help guarantee the accuracy of oral transmission in pre-literate societies.
As a result many of the poems surviving from the ancient world are a form of
recorded cultural information about the people of the past, and their poems are
prayers or stories about religious subject matter, histories about their
politics and wars, and the important organizing myths of their societies.
Manuscript of the Rig Veda, Sanskrit verse composed in the 2nd millennium BC.
The use of verse to transmit cultural information continues today. Many
English-speaking Americans know that "in 1492,
Columbus sailed the ocean blue". An alphabet song teaches the names and order of
the letters of the alphabet; another jingle states the lengths and names of the
months in the Gregorian calendar. Some writers believe poetry has its origins in
song. Most of the characteristics that distinguish it from other forms of
utterance—rhythm, rhyme, compression, intensity of feeling, the use of
refrains—appear to have come about from efforts to fit words to musical forms.
In the European tradition the earliest surviving poems, the Homeric and Hesiodic epics,
identify themselves as poems to be recited or chanted to a musical accompaniment
rather than as pure song. Another interpretation is that rhythm, refrains, and
devices that enable the reciter to reconstruct the poem from memory.
In preliterate societies, these forms of poetry were composed for, and
sometimes during, performance. There was a certain degree of fluidity to the
exact wording of poems. The introduction of
writing fixed the content of a poem to the version that happened to be written
down and survive. Written composition meant poets began to compose for an absent
reader. The invention of printing
accelerated these trends. Poets were now writing more for the eye than for the
Bust of Homer, one of the earliest European poets, in the
The development of literacy gave rise to more personal, shorter poems
intended to be sung. These are called
derives from the Greek lura or
instrument that was used to accompany the performance of Greek lyrics from about
the seventh century BC onward. The Greek's practice of singing hymns in large
choruses gave rise in the sixth century BC to
dramatic verse, and to the practice of writing poetic
plays for performance in their theatres. In
more recent times, the introduction of electronic media and the rise of the
poetry reading have led to a resurgence of
performance poetry. The late 20th-century rise of the
singer-songwriter, Rap culture,
and the increase in popularity of
poetry have led to a split between the academic and popular views.
TermsPeriods, styles and movements
- For movements see
List of schools of poetry.
Measures of verse
External linksReference material and resources
Poetry collections and anthologies
Poetry organizations and publications
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