My Attempt To Define Poetry Essay, Research Paper
It is difficult to have a single definition of poetry that fits all its varying
structures, styles, and subject material. A typical dictionary might define
poetry as literary composition written in verse with meaning. This simple
definition only characterizes poetry on the surface, but there is so much more
to poetry than just words. One can never define poetry, however one can make an
attempt to describe its properties, function, and characteristics as clearly as
Poetry is an ancient mode of expression. Even before the development of
writing, primitive societies achieved poetic interpretations of their religious,
historical, and cultural awareness and handed them down to the next generation
in hymns, incantations, and narrative poems. Among the many different forms of
human expression, poetry has always had a distinctive place. It has always stood
apart from all other forms of literature. It is the basis of every branch of
literary and artistic expression. That is why we say that novels, paintings,
musical compositions and films are poetic. Some modern poets claim that poetry
is a way to access the individual and collective unconscious experience of life.
A poem may serve a purpose, such as sharing an emotion, teaching a lesson,
commenting on society, describing a mood, or conveying any other theme the
author wishes. Several authors have written poems giving their own definitions
of poetry to expand on that of the dictionary.
Poets use language to express and communicate an idea: to make it tangible in a
form that can be shared. In The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner, Randall
Jarrell illustrates a very grim idea with the last line, When I died they washed
me out of the turret with a hose. (720). This line expresses the idea of a very
apathetic end to a wasted life. If one is dealing with similar ideas and
perspectives, conventional forms of language may not be sufficient to express
these new ideas as emphatically. That is why poetry has evolved and taken so
many different linguistic forms over the centuries.
Poetry may be distinguished from prose literature in terms of form by its
smaller size, by its frequent use of meter and rhyme, by its dependence on the
line as a formal unit, by its heightened vocabulary, and by its freedom of
syntax. There is also somewhat of a freedom of word order to present a visual
image as poets such as e.e.cummings frequently do. There is also a radical
distinction between the emotion felt from reading a story and the emotions
stimulated by poetry; the former is derived from incident, the latter from the
representation of feeling. In poetry, the source of the emotion is the
exhibition of human sensibility; in prose, the source is merely a series of
outward circumstances. The combination of these two is what renders an author
like Shakespeare so generally engaging, each reader finding in him what is
suitable to their own taste. To the many he is great as a storyteller and to
many others he is a master poet.
The object of poetry is to act upon the emotions. The characteristic emotional
content of poetry finds expression through a variety of techniques, from direct
description to highly personalized symbolism. One of the oldest and most common
of these techniques is the use of metaphor and simile to alter and expand the
reader’s imagination through implied or clear comparison. Rainer Maria Rilke
presents a good example in lines six and seven of The Panther.
?the movement of his powerful soft strides / is like a ritual dance?(767)
Thus, by conjuring up pictures or images and by invoking different kinds of
associations, the poet elicits his own feeling and consciousness in others.
Another thing that differentiates the poet from other writers is not only the
focus on mode but on language itself. Thus, poetry can also be described as the
art of language. One significant way that authors exhibit this art is through
the use of imagery, which is basically language that triggers your mind to
recall and combine images. It compels the reader to fuse together old and new
memories or mental pictures of sights, sounds, tastes, smells, and sensations of
touch. Imagery draws the reader into poetic experiences by touching on images
the reader already knows. In the poem The Fish, Elizabeth Bishop writes, ?his
brown skin hung in strips? (682) in line ten and,?until everything was rainbow,
rainbow, rainbow! (684) in line 75. By using such vivid imagery, Bishop tries to
draw the reader into imagining and becoming a part of the experience that is
In conclusion, it is my firm belief that while the meaning or definition of
poetry can be discussed, debated, and analyzed, it cannot be understood in
concrete terms. As individuals, we all try to find echoes and correspondences in
the world beyond ourselves, seeking a sign, a direction, a purpose; poetry is a
sharing, a way of helping ourselves and each other cope with an often
bewildering existence. In its shared traditions we find that we are not alone
in our quest to find meaning in our lives. In a world full of unknowns and
secrets, poetry becomes a means of survival, a way of coping. Through poetry,
one learns to deal with change, to come to terms with joy and grief, and to
celebrate the wonder still to be found in the extraordinary energy of daily
life. Because of this aspect alone, poetry cannot be limited by definitions. It
cannot be communicated or fathomed other than by the use of poetry itself.
Gregory D. Corbitt
Meyer, Michael, ed. The Bedford Introduction to Literature: Reading, Thinking,
Writing. 5th ed. Boston: Bedford / St. Martin?s, 1999
Bishop, Elizabeth. ?The Fish.? Meyer 682-684.
Jarrell, Randall. ?The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner.? Meyer 720.
Rilke, Rainer Maria. ?The Panther.? Meyer 767.