What Is Poetry? 10 Popular Definitions of Poetry

Poetry is a form of literary expression that uses language and literary devices to evoke emotions, convey ideas, and create aesthetic experiences in the audience. Popular features of poetry are diction and imagery, figurative expression, condensed use of language, deliberate use of words and expressions, rhyme, rhythm and sound devices.

In this post, I will give an answer to the question: What is poetry? We shall begin with a general explanation of what constitutes the literary genre known as poetry and end it all with definitions of poetry from famous poets and writers.

So if you are looking to understand what poetry is all about then you are in the right place.

What is Poetry? A Brief Introduction

Poetry covers a wide variety of languages, styles, structures, and themes. This is what empowers the poet to express their thoughts, feelings, and observations in a condensed and imaginative manner.

In most studies of Literature as a subject, poetry is one of the three major genres of Literature. The other two are prose and drama.

Poetry, thus, is a key topic in almost every Literature syllabus for schools and colleges across the globe.

Deliberate Use of Words and Expressions

Poets carefully select and arrange words, playing with their meanings and sounds, to evoke sensory impressions and evoke deep emotional responses from readers.

Poetry is a form of artistic communication. And it is different from straightforward prose.

For instance, poetry engages with language in unique ways, employing techniques such as rhyme, meter, repetition, and metaphor to create a distinct rhythm, musicality, and resonance.

Poetry Explores Multiple Themes

Poets write about a multitude of themes. Common themes in poetry, regardless of the country of origin, range from love, history and nature to religion, death and politics.

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Poetry Connects with the Human Experience

It allows for personal introspection, societal critique, and the exploration of universal human experiences. Through its concise and concentrated form, poetry often captures and distils complex emotions, thoughts, and observations, offering readers a heightened and imaginative experience.

Unique Interpretations of Poetic Expression

Poetry allows readers to engage, reflect and interpret it the way they see it. But this is mostly backed by evidence from the text.

One of the defining characteristics of poetry is its subjectivity and openness to interpretation. Different readers may derive various meanings and emotions from the same poem.

To encourage a deeper understanding of a poet’s work, poetry invites readers to reflect upon and analyse the layers of symbolism, imagery and diction.

Definitions of Poetry

So what is poetry to the minds of some of the greatest poets and writers that ever lived?

While there is a general agreement on the key elements of what constitutes poetry, different poets and critics have tried to define poetry in slightly different ways.

Below, you will find what poetry actually is in the view of some well-known poets and writers from Audre Lorde to William Wordsworth.

1.”Poetry is the way we help give name to the nameless so it can be thought.” – Audre Lorde

2. “Poetry is the art of creating imaginary gardens with real toads.” – Marianne Moore

3. “Poetry is language at its most distilled and most powerful.” – Rita Dove

4. “Poetry is the revelation of a feeling that the poet believes to be interior and personal which the reader recognizes as his own.” – Salvatore Quasimodo

5. ”Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility.” – William Wordsworth

6. “Poetry is when an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found words.” – Robert Frost

7. “Poetry is ordinary language raised to the nth power. Poetry is boned with ideas, nerved and blooded with emotions, all held together by the delicate, tough skin of words.” – Paul Engle

8. “Poetry is the art of uniting pleasure with truth by calling imagination to the help of reason.” – Samuel Johnson

9. “Poetry is the journal of the sea animal living on land, wanting to fly in the air.” – Carl Sandburg

10. “Poetry is not a turning loose of emotion, but an escape from emotion; it is not the expression of personality, but an escape from personality.” – T.S. Eliot

Key Takeaways from the Definitions of Poetry

The above definitions of poetry should help you to decide what is poetry to you as an individual. Here are some vital points that must inform your understanding of poetry as a literary genre.

  • Poetry expresses emotions.
  • It uses carefully chosen words.
  • Poetry has the capacity to elevate ordinary language to unimaginable heights of imagery and figurative expression.
  • Poetic expression is a reflection of the human experience in all its forms.
  • Poets employ condensed and imaginative language to express their feelings and ideas.
  • Poetry is a common denominator of our humanity. The themes that poetry explores are universal.
  • As an artistic expression of human emotions, poetry is able to resonate with readers on a personal level.
  • Sound and pattern play a central role in every poetic composition.
  • Poetry gives a powerful and fearless voice to the unspoken and marginalized sections of society.

Did you find this information helpful? Then share it on your favourite social media platform for the benefit of others you care about. Thank you!

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Ralph Nyadzi is the Director of Studies at Cegast Academy. He is a qualified English tutor with decades of experience behind him. Since 2001, he has successfully coached thousands of High School General Arts WASSCE candidates in English, Literature and related subjects. He combines his expertise with a passion for lifelong learning to guide learners from varying backgrounds to achieve their educational goals. Ralph shares lessons from his blogging journey on BloggingtotheMax. He lives with River, his pet cat, in the Central Region of Ghana.

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