Breathe-in experience, breathe-out poetry.
Poetry, in a sense, is the art of making nothing mean something. Famed French poet and playwright, Jean Cocteau once said that, “A true poet does not bother to be poetical. Much in the way a gardener does not scent his roses.” True poetry is often regarded as having no meaning but the one the reader ascribes to it. Much the way the smell of flowers may stir emotions or invoke memories in someone. That is not to say that poetry can’t also have a structure or a specific theme, it is still usually full of metaphor and embellishment.
The history of poetry is as long as the history of modern man. Many scholars believe poetry predates literacy. The oldest written works on Earth are all presented in some poetic form. The style is believed to have aided memorization and oral transmission. The Ancient Sumerian poem, Epic of Gilgamesh , is one of the earliest pieces of literature in existence. An epic poem,it tells of the adventures of a King who spurned the advances of a goddess and embarks on a quest for immortality.
Ancient Greeks were fond of relaying historical events in the form of poetry. Homer’s Odyssey and Iliad being the most well known examples. Epic poems were the way to transfer your great story to the masses. It was understandable to a wide range of citizenry. It was also around this time that short form poetry such as hymns, psalms, suras, and hadiths were becoming widespread. Many of them took on a rhythmic structure approaching a form of music. Most notably hymns which were written to be sung. This branch of poetry sprung from the more pleasant side of religion as worshipers looked to exalt their GOD or GOds in song. It was inevitable that poetry and music would mix. From the Ancient Greek “orchestras” to the bards of the Renaissance, poetry and music were a match made in heaven. The first “song lyrics”. Other examples of rhythmic poetry include limericks, riddles, and many jokes.
Not all poetry is rhythmic though. Poetry in prose is poetry written almost as a novel. Using grammatical structure and natural flow of speech rather than rhythmic structure. Prose poetry is debatable as poetry though. Many argue that it’s focus on narrative and objective truths negate it from being true poetry. It is merely prose. The other side argues that it’s use of metaphor and heightened attention to language, make it real poetry. There is yet another group who believe it’s subversive nature does not fit into either genre. Oscar Wilde picked up prose poetry simply for it’s subversive nature. Poetry nerds are not about to let the debate go either.
Here is a link that further elaborates on the many forms of poetry. Far too much to put into one article: http://www.types-of-poetry.org.uk/
Let’s take a moment now to discuss some of the great poets throughout history. And please forgive me if I fail to mention your favorite. There are just so many. I briefly mentioned Homer before and his great works the Odyssey and the Iliad. Believed to have lived between the 8th and 11th centuries B.C., he had a distinct style to his poetry known simply as the “Homeric Style”. A structured concept pushed rapidly through a singular narrative in hexameter form. A style that has become one of the most common in poetry.
- Nor any other wold like Cotswold ever sped,
- So rich and fair a vale in fortuning to wed
In the far east, the works of Lao Tzu/Laozi formed the concepts that would lead to the establishment of Taoism. There is much debate as to whether or not Lao Tzu ever actually existed or, if he did, whether his works are all his. His influence on Chinese culture and poetry is beyond debate. Lao Tzu’s works are notable for the time as some are highly political.
Gotta mention Chaucer. As his Wikipedia page points out, he is considered the “father of English literature” and the greatest English poet of the Middle Ages. Canterbury Tales is a collection of some of his greatest works, presented as “stories” told by travelers. A must read for anyone. Some of the finest examples of rhythmic verse poetry in existence. He invented the rhyme royal. A method of presenting rhythmic stanzas. A form used by many poets since, including Shakespeare.
William Bryant was the first great American poet. Born in 1794, barely a decade after the end of the Revolutionary War, his poetry,at first,was an afterthought to his pursuit of a legal career. His most famous poem, “Thanatopsis” was said to have been found on his desk by his father and submitted by him to the North American Review. After some confusion over whether it was his work or his father’s, he began writing for them on a consistent basis. Receiving much critical acclaim. In his later years he served as a mentor to another famed poet, Walt Whitman.
Arguably the greatest modern English language poet is T.S. Eliot. He is responsible for several of the most well known poems in the English language. Ash Wednesday, Four Quartets, and Murder in a Cathedral among them. Though some of his works have encountered controversy with accusations of anti-Semitism, his impact on modern poetry is far reaching. He is one of the most, if not the most, honored poets in American history.
That concludes our look at some of the great poets through history. Again, I apologize if your favorite was not mentioned. Whitman, Thoreau, and Frost, among others, were just SO obvious and could be discussed at length for HOURS. I don’t blame you if you rage quit the article, though.
I’ve been thinking of away to end this article, so I thought I’d do it this way:
“Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”
Thank you for reading and let the discussions begin.