What is Poetry?

Truth be told, you may find yourself at your wits’ end trying to define what poetry is, just like any other form of art. Now although good poetry objectifies feeling; attempting to define poetry means objectifying it, yet poetry is something that is utterly subjective.

Perhaps we should consider that poetry has its own peculiarity, as it refuses to be labeled, ergo objectified, into one single criterion. Poetry is a variable – a double entendre captivated within itself – adapting words to mould around an emotion and/or an intention that leads people to ponder and perceive poetry in various ways; a dead ringer for all works of art.

Consequently on the basis of art, poetry is a means of self-expression – a way to articulate, or communicate; emotions, stories, ideas, interests, dreams, nightmares, the good days, the bad days…and the list goes on. Poetry is an intense form of literature that can take you on an emotional expedition – whether that means crumbling into pieces, weeping for joy, making your blood run cold (or even possibly boil).

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Art tends to form itself upon a foundation of a preferred medium and then build itself in unimaginable ways. With that being said, poetry opts for words strongly intensified by unique rhythm, style, motifs, comparisons, and emotions – recreating itself in a million countless ways; stitching each word simultaneously into perfect harmony, as people observe and reminisce – allowing their minds to wander.

In actuality, poetry can never have one simple definition, as it is a constant dynamic that has evolved over time, and will keep evolving. This relentless act of change is seen evidently by the ways traditional poetry contrasts significantly with modern poetry. Nonetheless, despite variations, both ends of the spectrum have the capability to touch your heart, trigger your imagination and even serve as an antidote to indifference. The structures and styles of poetry may change, yet the harmonious merging between good content and good context will everlastingly remain in tune – paving the way for the survival of good poetry (denying the misconception that all modern poetry is bad and/or oversimplified).


As a further matter, the beauty that enthrals poetry is its astounding capacity of unpredictability. Poetry can string words along together in many different forms until beautifully embodied, there are so many different kinds of poetry; allegories, ballads, elegies, epitaphs, free verse, haikus, odes, sonnets, refrains (just to mention a few). Not only can poetry encompass different structures, but its divisions can also have further subdivisions. Sonnets, for instance, are able to configure themselves in a Petrarchan, a Shakespearean or even a Spenserian type of sonnet.

Besides having a wide range of genres, poetry, in return, leads it to have many different meanings to many different people. Whether it is Walt Whitman addressing Abraham Lincoln as the captain of a metaphorical ship representing America in his poem “O Captain! My Captain!”, circa 1867 – or Maya Angelou who uses a caged bird to reside on the tyranny faced by African Americans who long for liberty in her poem “Caged bird”; poetry collects experiences, thoughts and opinions like books in a well-kept bookshelf.

In addition, poetry also possesses the capacity of being feasible, reflecting itself within other works of art such as music and theatre, merging into something practical, yet utterly profound. Perhaps a common example of such would be “The Sound of Silence” by Simon and Garfunkel – a means of musical expression that uses poetic imagery of light and darkness to depict people’s ignorance and apathy that destroys even the simplest of communications; a sincere message that has stood the test of time. This song is undoubtedly just a drop in the ocean, excluding numerous other songs like Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”, David Bowie’s “all the madmen”, Roland Orzabal’s “Mad World”, Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World”, alongside many others.


Poetry is all around us – you can stumble upon it in; books, plays, lyrics, and even commercials. The compatible aspects of musicality, powerful emotions, descriptive diction, vivid imaginations, incredible metaphors and other literary elements merge into one and serve to pattern language.  And the result? Well, poems can result in adopting a new appreciation for life – educating us, motivating us and illuminating our lives brilliantly, without requiring a formulaic definition that would ruin its intangible beauty.

Written by: Michela Muscat


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