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Poetry is an art form in which human language is used for its aesthetic qualities in addition to, orinstead of, its notional and semantic content. It consists largely of oral or literary works in which language isused in a manner that is felt by its user and audience to differ from ordinary prose . Itmay use condensed or compressed form to convey emotion or ideas to the reader's or listener's mind or ear; it may also usedevices such as assonance and repetition to achieve musical or incantatory effects. Poems frequently rely for theireffect on imagery, word association, and the musical qualities of the language used. Because of its nature of emphasisinglinguistic form rather than using language purely for its content, poetry is notoriously difficult to translate from one language into another. In poetry, it is the connotations and the 'baggage' that wordscarry (the weight of words) that are most important. These shades and nuances of meaning can be difficult to interpret and cancause different readers to 'hear' a particular piece of poetry differently. While there are reasonable interpretations, there cannever be a definitive interpretation.


Nature of poetry

Poetry can be differentiated most of the time from prose , which islanguage meant to convey meaning in a more expansive and less condensed way, frequently using more complete logical or narrativestructures 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, notto mention dramatic poetry, both of which are used to tell stories and so resemble novels and plays . However, both these forms of poetry use the specificfeatures of verse composition to make these stories more memorable or to enhance them insome way.

The Greek verb poieo (I make or create), gave rise to threewords: 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) andpoem (the created). A poet is therefore one who creates, and poetry is what the poet creates. The underlyingconcept 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 ofeach line is arranged in a particular meter . Different types ofmeter 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 theend of lines is the basis of a number of common poetic forms such as ballads , sonnets and rhyming couplets . However, the use ofrhyme 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 notenter European poetry at all until the High Middle Ages , when it was adoptedfrom 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 Englishforms of poetry (called Alliterative verse ), akin to the roleof rhyme in later European poetry.

The alliterative patterns of early Germanic poetry and the rhyme schemes of Modern European poetry alike both include meter asa 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 evenfree verse poetry in creating pleasing, varied patterns and emphasizing or sometimes even illustrating semantic elements of thepoem. Devices such as alliteration, assonance , consonance , dissonance and internal rhyme are among the wayspoets use sound.

Poetry and form

As it is created using language, poetry tends to use formal linguistic unitslike phrases , sentences and paragraphs . In addition, it uses units of organisation that are purely poetic. The mainunits 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. Alternativelya line may end in mid-phrase or sentence: Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer. The linguistic unit is generallycompleted 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 adynamic 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 usedacross 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. Withthe advent of printing, poets gained greater control over the visual presentation of their work. As a result, the use of theseformal 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 linesor groups of lines on the page forming an integral part of the poem's composition. In its most extreme form, this leads to thewriting of concrete poetry .

Poetry and rhetoric

Rhetorical devices such as simile and metaphor are frequently used in poetry. Or, maybe moreaccurately, rhetorics has learned these powerful ways of forging connections outside logical reasoning from poetry. Indeed, Aristotle wrote inhis 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 forreduced 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 wasfrequently 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 behandled in prose. Poetry is also often closely identified with liturgy in these societies, as the formal nature of poetry makesit easier to remember priestly incantations or prophecies. The greater part of the world's sacred scriptures are made up ofpoetry rather than prose.

Some writers believe that poetry has its origins in song. Most of the characteristics that distinguish it from other forms ofutterance - 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 survivingpoems, the Homeric and Hesiodic epics, identify themselves as poems to be recited or chanted to a musical accompaniment ratherthan 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 acertain 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 thathappened to be written down and survive. Written composition also meant that poets began to compose not for an audience that wassitting 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'spractice 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 forperformance 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 earcoexist, sometimes in the same poem.


Verse forms

Periods, styles and movements

Technical means


Measures of verse

Types of metreTypes of line

Poetry of specific cultures/languages

Main article: List of nationalpoetries


Related genres

External links

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