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Poems are literary works meant to be read or spoken, usually relying strongly on word choice, sounds, and imagery to create a mood in the audience's mind or ear which may be romantic, ominous, wistful, sensual, inspiring, or daring. Poetry, the art of creating poems, also known as verse, may be defined in opposition to prose, which is language which is meant to convey meaning, with lesser emphasis on mood, word choice, and exact form of expression. Because the structure and exact wording of poetry is normally more important than it is in prose, poets are more likely compose their work with care over a period of time. However, poetry can be composed spontaneously (see improvisation and surrealist automatism) just as prose can, and it is possible to spend just as much time on writing prose as writing poetry. The difference, when it comes down to it, is in structure and style.

Poetry is, to paraphrase Justice Harlan[?] on pornography, not easy to define but you'll know it when you see it. Poetry is as old as human speech and is a compressed form of speech (and song) in an imaginative manner that at its best evokes and releases human emotions and intuition. Shelley called it "the record of the best and happiest moments of the happiest and best minds." And, William Wordsworth called this "impassioned expression" "the breath and finer spirit of all knowledge."

Poetry often rhymes, though it is by no means required to do so. It also tends to place emphasis on the rhythm of the words, frequently arranging them into lines of a particular metre. The exact sounds of the words also tends to be important, with devices such as alliteration and assonance common, as well as other rhetorical devices such as similes and metaphors. The devices used tend to vary between languages, times and places, as well as between individual poets. For example Ancient Greek metre was based on vowel length rather than stress patterns, and Old English poetry used alliteration extensively; neither made great use of rhyme.

Due to its nature, poetry is generally much more difficult to translate than prose. Indeed Robert Frost famously defined poetry to be "what gets lost in translation". Also, the vocabulary of poetry tends to be larger and more obscure than that of prose, because poets are apt to take greater liberties with the language and to retain old words and invent new words in order to express themselves within the structure of their poetry. These facts mean that understanding foreign language poetry can be especially difficult. On the other hand, poetry can often be enjoyed for its sound without necessarily understanding its exact meaning, which is usually open to interpretation anyway.

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The History of Poetry The use of poetry predates written languages in most societies. In some cases, the poetry of pre-literate peoples was passed down to later generations, often as part of a tradition of oral history. Epic poetry is perhaps one of the best known of the early styles.

In the Dark Ages in Europe, most writing was in the form of poetry, even official documents.

For further information, try The Columbia History of American Poetry.





Artistical means

Measures of verse

Types of metre Types of line

National poetries


See also: literature, the short story, theater, and the novel

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