I am stealing this description of poetry from someone else because I have never heard a better definition. “At it’s most base description, poetry is a form of writing that uses the aesthetic and rhythmic qualities of a language, combined with simile and metaphor, to bring out meanings deeper than the mere definition of the words”(they were not quoted so I am not sure who they were).
Poetry is meant to capture the moment in time it was written, whether that is historic, legendary, rhetoric, song, drama, or comedy. In England they called their poets ‘Bards’, of which the most famous, of course, was William Shakespeare. His poetry was turned into plays and performed before audiences both then, as well as now. His poems teach us about how people lived in his day, what they thought, and some of the history that went on around them. Living peacefully was the desire of most poets, even though they often referred to wars going on around them, their hope was for peace among all mankind. Perhaps since man has walked the face of the earth, the desire for peace has always been in the forefront. Perhaps that’s why there are a lot of poems a there certainly have been a lot of wars.
Emotions always run stronger during the time of war, love is more cherished, and the moments of peace are so welcome. Rudyard Kipling tries to get us up close and personal to war in “GungaDin”.
There are more than 50 styles of poetry, the most common are Haiku, free verse, sonnets, and name poems. They all have been used to try and describe war and the gambit of emotions people go through while living in those times. Poets like Walt Whitman fought during the American Civil War but served as a nurse while he wrote of the horrors of war.
Another favorite subject is all about love. Here poets try to describe something that most of us know can’t be described. Love is not about words, but nearly every poet that has ever lived has tried to explain it. Some of us know better, but I admire their persistence. You can describe a rose because you can see it, but love is something different in everybody’s eyes. Perhaps the best poets for love are the many songwriters out there that add another layer to the meaning by describing it in song, another feeling you cannot see.
And of course nature is a popular subject for poets, or more so, the destruction of nature. “I think that I shall never see. A poem lovely as a tree.”, by Joyce Kilmer explains it all. There is little doubt that we are destroying nature around us. Maybe someday it will only live in poems but Kilmer is correct, no poem can be as beautiful as the subject it is describing. Not that poems aren’t beautiful or useful, they are, but so often they are trying to teach us about emotions that they can never quite reach the same end.
Then there are the tales of the bizarre, as in Edgar Allan Poe’s, “The Raven”. You sort of have to wonder what he was on when he wrote his poems. They are exciting, but very, very dark.
Some of the best poets of all time are listed here, along with those I’ve already mentioned. Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost, William Blake, Elzabeth Barrett Browning, Maya Angelou, Williams Wordsworth, Alfred Lord Tennyson Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Robert Burns, Carl Sandberg, John Keats, Robert Browning, George Gordon Byron, Ogden Nash, OscarWilde, E.E. Cummings, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Robert Louis Stevenson, T.S. Elliot, Henry David Thoreau, J. R.R. Tolkien, Oscar Wilde, and Percy Oyssae Shelly.
How to celebrate – Try writing a poem yourself, if it’s good enough, see if you can get it published. Read poems from the masters as those listed above. Come to an understanding of the different styles of poetry.