What Is Poetry? Essay, Research Paper
Poetry is one of the most powerful ways to convey an idea or opinion. Through vivid imagery and compelling metaphors as well as other literary devices, a poem gives the reader the exact feeling the author wanted. Poetry is as universal as language and almost as ancient thus causing poetry to have several different definitions. According to Perrine s Sound and Sense, poetry may be commonly defined as a kind of language that says more and says it more intensely than does ordinary language. But according to Webster, poetry is defined as writing that formulates a concentrated imaginative awareness of experience in language chosen and arranged to create a specific emotional response through meaning, sound, and rhythm. However, the poet Ralph Waldo Emerson created the best definition of poetry that fits the poems I have read and my view of poetry. Emerson defines poetry as:
It is not meters, but a meter-making argument, that makes a poem—a thought so passionate and alive that, like the spirit of a plant or animal, it has an architecture of its own and adorns nature with a new thing.
Rather then defining poetry, readers of poetry are more successful at understanding and appreciating it. Therefore, a reader of poetry does not have to define it, in order to understand and enjoy reading it.
The poem Dulce et Decorum Est, an descriptive anti-war poem by Wilfred Owen, makes great use of the various literary resources and devices. This poem is very effective because of its excellent manipulation of the mechanical and emotional parts of poetry. Owen s use of exact diction and vivid figurative language emphasizes his point, showing that war is terrible and devastating. Tone and voice implicitly but passionately express the burning tensions of desperation, suffering, and powerlessness. And flound ring like a man in fire or lime— (8), white eyes writhing in his face (8), and guttering, choking, drowning (8), are some of the images which perfectly support his verbal irony by referring to dulce et decorum est, por partia mori (8) as the old lie. Furthermore, the utilization of extremely graphic imagery adds even more to his argument. Through the effective use of all of these literary tools and devices, this poem conveys a strong meaning and persuasive argument.
The poem s use of excellent diction helps to more clearly define what the author is saying. Words like guttering , choking , and drowning not only show how the man is suffering, but that he is in terrible pain that no human being should endure. Other words like writhing and froth-corrupted say precisely how the man is being tormented. Moreover, the phrase blood shod shows how the troops have been on their feet for days, never resting. Also, the fact that the gassed man was flung into the wagon reveals the urgency and occupation with fighting. The only thing they can do is toss him into a wagon. The fact one word can add to the meaning so much shows how the diction of this poem adds greatly to its effectiveness.
Likewise, the use of figurative language in this poem also helps to emphasize the points that are being made. As Perrine says, people use metaphors because they say …what we want to say more vividly and forcefully… Owen capitalizes greatly on this by using strong metaphors and similes. Right off in the first line, he describes the troops as being like old beggars under sacks (7). This not only says that they are tired, but that they are so tired they have been brought down to the level of beggars who have not slept in a bed for weeks on end. Owen also compares the victim s face to the devil, seeming corrupted and baneful. A metaphor even more effective is one that compares …vile, incurable sores… with the memories of the troops. It not only tells the reader how the troops will never forget the experience, but also how they are frightening tales, ones that the troops will never be able to tell without remembering the extremely painful experience. These comparisons illustrate the point so vividly that they increase the effectiveness of the poem.
The most important means of developing the effectiveness of Dulce et Decorum Est, is the graphic imagery. The images can draw such pictures that no other poetic means can, such as in line twenty-two: Come gargling from the froth corrupted lungs (8). This shows troops being brutally slaughtered very vividly, evoking images in the reader s mind. In the beginning of the poem the troops were portrayed as drunk with fatigue. With this you can almost imagine large numbers of people dragging their boots through the mud, tripping over their own shadow. Later in the poem when the gas was dropped, it painted a psychological image that would disturb the mind. The troops were torn out of their nightmarish walk and surrounded by gas bombs. The graphic image of a person running out into a blood bath of war displayed here is profoundly affecting and can never be forgotten.
The poem, Dulce et Decorum Est, ties the meaning of the poem all together in the last few lines. In Latin, the phrase Dulce et decorum est pro partria mori (8) means: It is sweet and becoming to die for one s country. Owen calls this a lie by using good diction, vivid comparisons, and graphic images to have the reader feel disgusted at what war is capable of. This poem is extremely effective as an anti-war poem, making war seem absolutely horrid and revolting, just as the author wanted it to.
Another war related poem, which is similar to Dulce et Decorum Est, is The Death of a Soldier, by Wallace Stevens. The Death of a Soldier offers a succinct example of the early powers, not at all those of a detached observer of violence, but rather of one engaged totally with a world in which violence, like change, is given. This poem is consists of a marmoreal tone, the carefully chiseled rhythm, which falls with controlled dignity through each triplet or stanza, thus showing the reader the pertinent imagery of natural death as opposed to sacramental death. This poem not only shows the reader the sureness of Stevens s mature style, but also his true feelings, that death is an absolute.
The Death of a Soldier which uniquely maintains its identity as a war poem, consists of simple line, unrhymed blank verse and brief stanzas, thus directing attention to Wallace Stevens s vocabulary. His stanzaic form, the tercet, modulates a rhythmic deceleration accompanying the ever-shortening lines. The poem s treatment of death plays off the process of retardation through the use of words such as contracts, falls, and stops (334), and of continuity, which can be seen in such lines as, As in a season of autumn, and The Clouds go, nevertheless, / In their direction (334). Through this poem the reader can observe the poignancy of life s cessation, however it does not have to be in the context of war. In this poem, death is portrayed as life stopping when the wind stops (334) and life resumes when The clouds go (334).
Although The Death of a Soldier is primarily about death, the poem does not call for any pity; nor does it call for any metaphor and it contains little meaning. The dead soldier does not partake of the grandeur of Jesus rebirth, nor does the death call for any pomp, in either the rituals of culture or the gaudiness of language. Even the one rather weak metaphor for the death, As in the season of autumn (334), which is protracted into meaninglessness when it is repeated in the third tercet, not to enlarge the single death by locating it in a natural cycle but to reveal that this seasonal decline is indifferent to human sorrow. Stevens s poem is stern because he is writing not about the death of his mother, but the death of a soldier, and not an ambiguously fictive soldier, but an actual French soldier who was killed. The bareness of Stevens s poem derives from the fact that Stevens was writing not about natural death, such as the death of a loved one, but about a new kind of unnatural death, the daily death of several thousands of soldiers who died on the battlefields, those whom Steven s never personally knew.
Therefore these related poems, Dulce et Decorum Est and The Death of a Soldier supports the definition of poetry by Ralph Waldo Emerson. The purpose of poetry is to build an image in the reader s mind, through the use of various literary devices and techniques, which communicates an emotion or felling, a lesson, or a message that is unique to a particular poem. In Dulce et Decorum Est an anti-war poem, the reader observes the negative aspects of war, which the poet caused the reader to feel. Through this poem, the spirit of war awakens me, it shows me the pain and tremendous sufferings most soldiers experience at war. It made me realize how precious life truly is, and in a sense made me tend to become anti-war. While in the poem The Death of a Soldier the only thing that I, being the reader observed was about the death of a soldier. I must admit that I feel that since the poem is so short it is hard to see the message or lesson the poet is trying to communicate with the reader. I feel that no matter what poetry is something, which should be appreciated, even if it does not impact one s life or communicate a particular meaning to the reader, it can still be read and enjoyed. I should also mention that I think that there is no right or correct definition of poetry, I believe that everyone has and should be entitled to his or her own definition of poetry.