PoetryPoetry is an art form in which human language is used for its aesthetic qualities in addition to, or instead of, its notional and semantic content. It consists largely of oral or literary works in which language is used in a manner that is felt by its user and audience to differ from ordinary prose. It may use condensed or compressed form to convey emotion or ideas to the reader's or listener's mind or ear; it may also use devices such as assonance and repetition to achieve musical or incantatory effects. Poems frequently rely for their effect on imagery, word association, and the musical qualities of the language used. Because of its nature of emphasising linguistic form rather than using language purely for its content, poetry is notoriously difficult to translate from one language into another.
Nature of poetry
Poetry can be differentiated most of the time from prose, which is language meant to convey meaning in a more expansive and less condensed way, frequently using more complete logical or narrative structures than poetry does. A further complication is that prose poetry combines the characteristics of poetry with the superficial appearance of prose. And there is, of course, narrative poetry, not to mention dramatic poetry, both of which are used to tell stories and so resemble novels and playss. However, both these forms of poetry use the specific features of verse composition to make these stories more memorable or to enhance them in some way.
The Greek verb poieo (I make or create), gave rise to three words: poietis (the one who creates), poiesis (the act of creation), and poiema (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 maker or creator is not uncommon. For example, in Anglo-Saxon a poet is a scop (shaper or maker) and in Scots makar.
Sound in poetry
Perhaps the most vital element of sound in poetry is rhythm. Often 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 free verse, the rhythm of lines is often organized into looser units of cadence.
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 ballads, sonnets and rhyming coupletss. However, the use of rhyme is not universal. Much modern poetry, for example, avoids traditional rhyme schemes. Furthermore, Classical Greek and Latin poetry did not use rhyme. In fact, rhyme did not enter European poetry at all until the High Middle Ages, when it was adopted from the Arabic language. The Arabs have always used it extensively, for example in the Koran.
Alliteration played a key role in structuring early Germanic and English forms of poetry (called Alliterative verse), akin to the role of rhyme in later European poetry.
The alliterative patterns of early Germanic poetry and the rhyme schemes of Modern European poetry alike both include meter as a key part of their structure which determines when the listener expects instances rhyme or alliteration to occur. In this sense, both alliteration and rhyme when used in poetic structures help to emphasize and define a rhythmic pattern.
In addition to the forms of rhyme, alliteration and rhythm that structure much poetry, sound plays a more subtle role in even free verse poetry in creating pleasing, varied patterns and emphasizing or sometimes even illustrating semantic elements of the poem. Devices such as alliteration, assonance, consonance, dissonance and internal rhyme are among the ways poets use sound.
Poetry and form
As it is created using language, poetry tends to use formal linguistic units like phrases, sentences and paragraphs. In addition, it uses units of organisation that are purely poetic. The main units that are used are the line, the couplet, the strophe, the stanza, and the verse paragraph.
Lines may be self-contained units of sense, as in the famous 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. The linguistic unit is generally completed in the next line: The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. This technique is called enjambment, and is used to create a sense of expectation in the reader and/or to add a dynamic to the movement of the verse.
Couplets, stanzas, and strophes are generally self-contained units of sense, although a kind of enjambment may also be used across these units. In blank verse, verse paragraphs are employed to indicate natural breaks in the flow of the poem.
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. Modernist 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 the writing of concrete poetry.
Poetry and rhetoric
Rhetorical devices such as simile and metaphor are frequently used in poetry. Indeed, Aristotle wrote in his Poetics that "the greatest thing by far is to be a master of metaphor". However, particularly since the rise of Modernism, many poets have opted for reduced use of these devices, preferring rather to attempt the direct presentation of things and experiences.
The history of poetry
Poetry as an art form predates literacy. In pre-literate societies, poetry was frequently employed as a means of recording oral history, storytelling (epic poetry), genealogy, law and other forms of expression or knowledge that modern societies might expect to be handled in prose. Poetry is also often closely identified with liturgy in these societies, as the formal nature of poetry makes it easier to remember priestly incantations or prophecies. The greater part of the world's sacred scriptures are made up of poetry rather than prose.
Some writers believe that 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. However, 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, developed from 20th century studies of living Montenegran epic reciters by Milman Parry and others, is that rhythm, refrains, and kennings are essentially paratactic devices that enable the reciter to reconstruct the poem from memory.
In preliterate societies, all these forms of poetry were composed for, and sometimes during, performance. As such, there was a certain degree of fluidity to the exact wording of poems, given this could change from one performance or performer to another. The introduction of writing tended to fix the content of a poem to the version that happened to be written down and survive. Written composition also meant that poets began to compose not for an audience that was sitting in front of them but for an absent reader. Later, the invention of printing tended to accelerate these trends. Poets were now writing more for the eye than for the ear.
The development of literacy gave rise to more personal, shorter poems intended to be sung. These are called lyrics, which derives from the Greek lura or lyre, the instrument that was used to accompany the performance of Greek lyrics from about the seventh century B.C. onward. The Greek's practice of singing hymns in large choruses gave rise, in the sixth century B.C. 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 and have resulted in a situation where poetry for the eye and poetry for the ear coexist, sometimes in the same poem.
Periods, styles and movements
Alexander Pope used poetry self-referentially in "Sound and Sense", to describe how the poetic meter should reinforce the meaning.
- True ease in writing comes from art, not chance,
- As those move easiest who have learned to dance.
- 'Tis not enough no harshness gives offense,
- The sound must seem an echo to the sense:
- Soft is the strain when Zephyr gently blows,
- And the smooth stream in smoother numbers flows;
- But when loud surges lash the sounding shore,
- The hoarse, rough verse should like the torrent roar;
- When Ajax strives some rock's vast weight to throw,
- The line too labors, and the words move slow;
- Not so, when swift Camilla scours the plain,
- Flies o'er the unbending corn, and skims along the main.
- Hear how Timotheus' varied lays surprise,
- And bid alternate passions fall and rise!
Measures of verse
Poetry of specific cultures/languages
stood as a giant of 19th century American poetry.]]
Main article: List of national poetries
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Descriptions and examples of the kyrielle, terza rima, sapphics, the rondeau, the sonnet, the villanelle, and the sestina. From a course taught by Alberto Rios.
Poetry UK Home Page
Click on "Workshops," and there are seven pages that describe and give examples of the Sonnet, the Villanelle, the Rondeau, the Ballad, the Kyrielle, and various Japanese poetic forms.
A series of lessons on poetry by Al Rocheleau, including the sonnet, sestina, villanelle, and pantoum.
Poetry Forms and Terminology
A compendium of links to sites that define, explain, and give examples of a variety of poetic forms.
Suzie's Sanctuary - Poetry
Anthology by Suzanne Honour including different types of form poetry, including the cinquain, clerihew, haiku, kyrielle, rondeau, and villanelle.
Binary Tree Poems
An experimental poetic form in which elements of two verses are combined to form a third.
A collection of articles on writing poetry, including articles on such forms as the sestina, the sonnet, the triolet, and the villanelle.
Poetry at Ariadne's Web
Resources on writing poetry, including advice on writing Ghazals, Haiku, Pantoums, Sestinas, Sonnets, Triolets, and Villanelles.
Craft of Poetry
A course on writing poems in rhyme, meter, and inherited forms. Covers the sonnet, sestina, and villanelle, among others. Taught by Vince Gotera and Damon McLaughlin at the University of Northern Iowa.
Terzanelles and Villanelles by Erin A. Thomas.
Personality Quiz - What Poetry Form Am I?
A quiz of personal characteristics that leads to a humorous poem in one of several forms, including the cinquain, triolet, sonnet, and terza rima.
Poetry Terms and Poetry Forms
Definitions, with an anthology of poetry on a variety of subjects.
An online community of poets interested in trying out various poetic forms. Includes write-ups on each form, with examples, by members of the community.