What is Poetry?

To ask What is poetry is very much like asking “What is literature?” and in fact the answers to both these questions overlap. Poetry is perceived as fictional, it uses specialized language, in many cases it lacks a pragmatic function, it is also ambiguous.

Ourward Indications

In addition, there are number of outward signs that indicate a poem: Most obviotaly, the inferitful text lines in poetry do not fill the entire width of the page. Thus, befine hey have actually started reading, readers of poetry are given an instam indication that what they are going to read is probably a poem. In consequence, a reader’s attention is likely to focus on ‘poetic features of the text.

Poetry oficis associated not only with specialised language but with a very dense use of ineli specialised language Poems usually try to express their meaning in much less space than, say, a novel or even a short story. Alexander Pope once explained that he preferred to write poetry even when he wrote about philosophy because it enabled him to express himself more briefly (Pope, Part Ery de Man, 1734). As a result of its relative brevity, poetry tends to make more concentrated use of formal elements, it displays a tendency for structural, phonological, morphological and syntactic overstructuring, concept which onginated in formalist and structuralist criticism It means that poetry uses elements such as sound patterns, verse and metre, tictonical devices, style, stanza form or imagery more frequently than other types of test Obviously, not all poems use all these elements and not all Poems verse is poetry, as John Hollander remarks (Hollander 2001: 1). Especially modern poets deliberately daunt render expectations about poetic language (see the ‘found poem’ in ch 12). Nonetheless, most poetry depends on the aestheuc effects of formalised use of language. of language.

Some p people associate poetry with subjectivity and the expression of intense personal experience While this is tric for sothe poetry, especially Irrical poetry, then re great number of poems this does not apply to; for example natrative pets like Scott’s Marice or didactic and philosophical poems like Pope’s Hang on Man or John Philips Cyder. Just as it is often misleading to identify the author of a novel with its narrator, one should not assume that the author of a poem is identical with its speaker and thus even lynical poems cannot be treated as subjective expressions of the author. The two levels of author and speaker should always be kept separate. The communication situation in poetry is very similar to the one in prose, except that poetry very often does not include dialogue, thus the inner box is optional.

Searching for a definition of poetry, other readers look for universal truth or some other deeper meaning in poetry more than in prose, the famous nineteenth-century critic Matthew Amold for instance see Arnold 1880) Again, while some poetry might very well deal with universal truths, this is probably not the case for all. There is no doubt some poetry which is very lovely and very popular but which, at bottom, is really neither very profound nor the expression of a universal truth Take these hines by Ben Jonson for instance, one of the most popular love songs in the last 400 years.

To Celia

Drink to me only with thine eyes And I will pledge with mine, Or leave a kiss but in the cup, And I’ll not look for wine. The thirst that from the soul doth rise, Doth ask a drink divine I would not change for thine. But might I of Jove’s nectar sup.

In fact, to expect statements of universal truth from poetry can be rather misleading if one deduces from this that what matters in a poem is somehow what lies behind the language and its use (for this problem see the discussion in Warren/Brooks 1960: 6-20), whereas modern cnticism insists that form cannot be separated from meaning (See also Theme ch. 1.5).

It is difficult to answer the question What is Poetry?’ conclusively. though most people are more or less able to recognise poetry when they see m One recent critic has suggested the following criteria in answer to the question) What is Poetry?’ (Müller-Zettelmann 2000: 73-156)

Basics of English Studies, Version 12/03, Poetry

Poetic tests have a tendency to relauve brevity (with some notable exceptions) dense expression capress subjecurity more than other texts chsplay mucal or conglike quality be structurally and phonologically overstructured be syntactically and morphologically reestructured . deviate from everyday language aestheac self-referentiality (which means that they draw attention to the moves as an form both through the form in which they are written and through explici teferences to the writing of poetry) With all the difficulties of defining poetry it is worth remembering that poetry, especially in the form of woog, a one of the oldest forms of artistic expression, much older than prose, and that it seems to answer or to originate in-a human impulse that reaches for expression in joy, grief, doubt, hope, loneliness, and much more.


Types of Poetry

When studying poetry, it is useful first of all to consider the theme and the overall development of the theme in the poem (see ch 1.5). Obviously, the son of development that takes place depends to a considerable extent on the type of poems one is dealing with It is useful to keep two general distinctions in mund (for more detailed definitions consult Abrams 1999 and Preminger et al 1993). Ivric poetry and narrative poetry.

Lyric Poetry

A lyric poem is comparatively short, non-narrative poem in which a single speaker presents a state of mind or an emotional state: Lyric poetry retains some of the elements of song which is said to be its origin For Greek writers the lyric was song accompanied by the lyre.

  •  lyric poetry ciety unnet dramatic monolog. 
  • occasional poetry.
  • narrative poetry.
  • spic epic mock-epic ballad descriptive poetry.
  • dramatic poetry didactic poetry.
  •  prodesic et delectar Subcategones of the lyric are, for example elegy, ode, sonnet and dramatic monologue and most occasional poetry.

In modem usage, elegy is a formal lament for the death of a particular person (for example Tennyson’s In Memonam H.H). More broadly defined, the term elegy is also used for solemn meditations often on questions of death, such as Gray’s hlep Written Country Churchyard.

An ode along lvnc poem with a serious subject written in an elevated style.

Famous examples are Wordsworth’s Hymn to Duty or Keats’ Ode to a Grician The sonner was originale a love poem which dealt with the lover’s sufferings and hopes-It originated in Italy and became popular in England in the Basics of English Studies Veil 12/03, Poetry.

Renaissance, when Thomas Wyatt and the Bad of Surrey translated and imitated the sonnets written by Petrarch (Petrarchan sonnet). From the seventeenth century onwards the sonnet was also used for other topics than love, for instance for religious experience (by Donne and Milton), reflections on art (by Keats or Shelley) or even the war experience (by Brooke or Owen). The sonnet uses a single stanza of (usually) fourteen lines and an intricate rhyme partern (see stanza forms ch. 4.5.), Many poets wrote a series of sonnets linked by the same theme, so-called sonnet cycles (for instance Petrarch Spenser, Shakespeare, Drayton, Barret-Browning, Meredith) which depict the various stages of a love relationship.

In a dramatic monologue a speaker, who is explicitly someone other than the author, makes a speech to a silent auditor in a specific situation and at a critical moment. Without intending to do so, the speaker reveals aspects of his temperament and character In Browning’s My Last Diders for instance, the Duke shows the picture of his last wife to the emissary from his prospective new wife and reveals his excessive pride in his position and his jealous temperament Occasional poetry is written for a specific occasions a wedding (then it is called an epithalamion, for instance Spenser’s Epithan), the return of a king from exile (for instance Dryden’s Anna Miralalt a death (for example Milton’s Lycida), etc.

Narrative Poetry

Narrative poetry gives a verbal representation, in verse, of a sequence of connected events, propels characters through a plot. It is always told by a narrator (see narrator in narrative prose). Narrative poems might tell of a love story (like Tennyson’s Mand), the story of a father and son (like Wordsworth’s Michael or the deeds of a hero or heroine (like Walter Scott’s Lay of the Last Minstrel Sub-categories of narrative poetry are for example epic, mock-epic or ballad.

Epics usually operate on a large scale, both in length and topic, such as the founding of a nation (Virgil’s Aeneid) or the beginning of world history (Milton’s Paradise Lost), they tend to use an elevated style of language and supernatural beings take part in the action.

The mock-epie makes use of epic conventions, like the elevated style and the assumption that the topic is of great importance, to deal with completely insignificant occurrences: A famous example is Pope’s The Rape of the Lack, which tells the story of a young beauty whose suitor secretly cuts off a lock of her hair.

 A ballad is a song, originally transmitted orally, which tells a story. It is an important form of folk poetry which was adapted for literary uses from the sixteenth century onwards. The ballad stanza is usually a four-line stanza, alternating tetrameter and trimeter (see also ballad stanza ch.4.5).

Descriptive and Didactic Poetry

Both lyric and narrative poetry can contain lengthy and detailed descriptions (descriptive poetry) or scenes in direct speech (dramatic poetry).

The purpose of a didactic poem is primarily to teach something. This can take the form of very specific instructions, such as how to catch a fish, as in James Thomson’s The Seasons (Spring 379-442) or how to write good poetry as in Alexander Pope’s Essay on Criticism. But it can also be meant as instructive in a general way. Until the twentieth century all literature was expected to have a didactic purpose in a general sense, that is, to impart moral, theoretical or even practical knowledge; Horace famously demanded that poetry should combine prodesse (learning) and delectare (pleasure). The twentieth century was more reluctant to proclaim literature openly as a teaching tool.