Saturday, December 31, 2011

What is poetry?

Defining poetry seems difficult because the genre includes such an astonishing variety of forms and approaches—from lengthy Greek epics to three-line haikus, from complex metrical schemes to the apparent formlessness of some free verse.  When we analyze a poem, we do so to make the poem mean more to us, not less.  Whenever we read a poem that excites us, knowing the skill that makes the poem work can make the poem more alive and lasting.  No one better than poets can provide the best definitions of what poetry is: 

W.H. Auden: "the clear expression of mixed feelings"

Samuel Taylor Coleridge: "the best words in the best order"

   Percy Shelley: "the record of the best and happiest moments of the happiest and best minds"

Thomas Carlyle: "musical thoughts"

Matthew Arnold: "at bottom, a criticism of life"

     Emily Dickinson: "If I read a book and it makes my whole body so cold no fire can ever warm me, I know that it is poetry. If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that it is poetry. These are the only ways I know it. Is there any other way?"

     Gerard Manley Hopkins: "speech framed... to be heard for its own sake and interest even over and above its interest of meaning"

Wallace Stevens: "a revelation in words by means of the words"

        T.S. Eliot: "not the assertion that something is true, but the making of that truth more fully real to us"

            William Stafford: "anything said in such a way, or put on the page in such a way, as to invite from the hearer or the reader a certain kind of attention"

Archibald MacLeish: "A poem should not mean/But be"

Paul Valery: "Poetry is to prose as dancing is to walking"

      Francois Ponge: "[The function of poetry] is to nourish the spirit of man by giving him the cosmos to suckle"

       Allen Ginsberg: "Poetry is a kind of meditation that slows me down and brings me back to myself"

    Edith Sitwell: "The poet speaks to all men of that other life of theirs that they have smothered and forgotten"

Robert Wallace: "No magic, no poem"

Christopher Fry: "Poetry is the language in which man explores his own amazement"

Janet Rice: "The interaction with a particular poem, or the performance of it, becomes a rite of passage from one stage of awareness of self to another, with the poem as the facilitator or guide during the process"

 Robert Bly: "My feeling is that poetry is also a healing process, and then when a person tries to write poetry with depth or beauty, he will find himself guided along paths which will heal him, and this is more important, actually, than any of the poetry he writes.”

Thomas Gray: “Poetry is thoughts that breathe, and words that burn.”

Edgar Allan Poe: “Poetry is the rhythmical creation of beauty in words.”

   Edwin Arlington Robinson: “Poetry has two outstanding characteristics.  One is that is indefinable.  The other is that it is eventually unmistakable.”

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