Introduction to Poetry
Poetry is the oldest form of literary works in every culture. It is as old as the history of mankind and primal and primary form of languages themselves. Despite that, a universal definition of poetry has never been formulated. Any attempt to define poetry only produces one or more characteristics of poem. The followings are some results of the trials to define poetry.
Etymologically, the term ‘poetry’ was adapted from the ancient Greek ποιεω (poieo), which means ‘I create’. In this sense, poetry is an art form in which human language is used for its aesthetic qualities in addition to, or instead of, its notional and semantic content. It consists largely of oral or literary works in which language is used in a manner that is felt by its user and audience to differ from ordinary prose.
Poetry is a literary work that evokes a concentrated imaginative awareness of experience or a specific emotional response through language chosen and arranged for its meaning, sound, and rhythm. It is the other way of using language, in the sense that it says more and says it more intensely than ordinary language does. It may use condensed or compressed form to convey emotion or ideas to the reader’s or listener’s mind or ear; it may also use devices such as assonance and repetition to achieve musical or incantatory effects. Poems frequently rely for their effect on imagery, word association, and the musical qualities of the language used. The interactive layering of all these effects to generate meaning is what marks poetry.
Determining the Meaning of Poems
Many people seem to feel that while they may like novels and movies well enough; poetry is somehow alien to their lives. In general, this is caused by a genuine lack of understanding of what the poet is trying to do and the techniques poets generally employ. Like other literary genres, i.e. fiction and drama, poetry has its specific characteristics, and to learn these is to enhance one’s understanding and appreciation of it forms.
As what has been explained above, poetry might be defined as a kind of language that says more and says it more intensely than ordinary language does. In order to understand this fully, we need to understand what it is that poetry “says,” because language essentially has three different uses: the practical (to provide information), the hortatory (to persuade), and the literary (to share experience). These three uses of language are not sharply divided. They may be thought as a three points of a triangle; most actual specimens of written language fall somewhere within the triangle. Most poems convey some information, and some others may persuade the reader. But since the poets’ desire to communicate experiences predominates, it goes into the domain of literary use of language, not of practical or hortatory uses.
- To understand and respond to a poem you must read it carefully and should observe the following five important rules:
- Read the poem more than once. To get a poem’s full meaning, two or more readings may be necessary. A poem is not like a newspaper, to be hastily read and cast into the wastebasket. It is to be hung on the wall of one’s mind.
- Read the poem aloud, or, if you can’t bring yourself to read aloud, at least sound the poem in your mind’s ear. Try to catch the speaker’s tone of voice. Poetry is written to be heard: its meanings are conveyed through sound as well as through print. Every word is therefore important.
- Keep a dictionary by you and use it. It is useless to try to understand poetry without troubling to learn the meanings of the words of which it is composed.
- Always pay careful attention to what the poem is saying. As far as possible, avoid putting your own ideas and feelings into the poem. Examine closely what the poet has actually written. To help you begin getting what the poem is saying, try to find the answer of relevant questions listed below. It is not necessary to find the answer of all questions. Just select a few items as the basis of the ideas which will lead to a detailed and interesting analysis of the poem.
Who is the speaker? What kind of person is she/he?
- Is there an identifiable audience for the speaker? What can you know about the audience?
- What is the message?
- What is the occasion?
- What is the setting in time (hour, season, century, etc.)?
- What is the setting in place (indoors or out, city or country, land or sea, region, country, etc.)?
- What is the central purpose of the poem?
- What is the poem about? State the central idea or theme of the poem in a single sentence.
6. Think about the effects of reading the poem on you. Jot down your responses to the following questions:
- Do you find the poem interesting? Why or why not?
- Do some things on it interest you more than others? If so, why?
- Does anything in it puzzle you? If so, what?