What Is Poetry?
Goal: This exercise defines and explains poetry. The information given helps the writer with later lessons and exercises.
From the writings of poets over the centuries, we discover certain words attached to the meaning of poetry: emotion, imagination, idea (thought), truth (meaning), sentiment, passion, power, sense impression, interpretation, beauty, dignity, rhythm, freshness of expression, orderly arrangement, concreteness, pleasure.
Therefore, we can find three qualities common to all poetry: content, form, and effect.
Content of poetry is usually emotional, imaginative, compact with meaning, marked with by power, beauty, and dignity. (C. Hugh Holman, A Handbook to Literature, 1972, page 406)
1. Poetry involves emotion, is full of sentiment and passion. The emotions that a scene, an experience, or an attachment evoke in the writer are transformed into words.
2. Poetry is imaginative. A poet doesn’t speak or write in factual or scientific language but wants the reader to respond to the physical effect of something rather than the abstract concept. For example, he would write about the sky as the heavens, as azure, as the effect that the sky creates in his imagination, not the elements that compose the atmosphere.
3. Poetry has significance. Poetry, according to E. A. Robinson, tries to tell us something that cannot be said.
4. Beauty is found in poetry. According to Shelley, “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.”
5. Poetry is dignified, usually. It is grand, magnificent and marches with fanfare.
Poetry has form.
1. Rhythm is found in poetry. Reading poetry, one finds “variety in uniformity,” a shifting of rhythms which returns to the basic pattern. Even in free verse a recurrence of rhythm is more uniform than in prose.
2. Arrangement / order is another key to poetry.
a. Rhythm and rhyme result in a “poetic” arrangement of phrases and clauses. In other words, the line length is effected.
b. Inversion is justified in poetry.
3. Poetry is concrete. Most poetry is characterized by compactness of thought and expression, possessing an intense unity, carefully arranged in climatic order.
A vital element of great poetry is concreteness, insisting on the specific, the concrete. Lines of poetry should present a concrete image.
According to Milton, the language of poetry is “simple, sensuous, and impassioned..” The function of poetry is to present images concretely. Therefore, the responsibility of the poet is to select language which succeeds in making his images concrete.
The language of poetry is rich in figure of speech, metonomy, synecdoche (the part represents the whole), and metaphor.
Poetry has an effect or purpose. The ultimate purpose of poetry is to please.
The various senses may be appealed to, the various emotions may be called forth.
Three types of poetry (the epic, the dramatic, the lyric) have evolved into subgroups that include all poetry. Further subdivisions have been made on the basis of mood and purpose.