Poetry is a vast subject, present wherever religion is present and possible the primal and primary form of languages themselves. However, in this modern day and age, many question how relatable poetry is, and whether or not it is adapted to modern standards and ways of life.
Poetry has been on earth for several thousand years, passed down through generations for centuries. Poetry appears many times in the Bible and many religious believers would argue that Adam was the first to use poetry when saying “This is the bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh”. Poetry appears frequently throughout the Bible and other Holy texts, indicating that poetry has been on earth for thousands of years, and been used by many even before it gained popularity. A period of cultural and creative advancements and expansion, poetry became far more popular during the time of Ancient Greeks. Poetry was often compatible with philosophy and Greek mythology. The Ancient Greek period saw the appearance of Lyric poetry and epic poetry. Epic poetry came to be used in several cultures, as it was a method to relate tales of heroic deeds. Two renowned epic poems are those of Odyssey and Ilead by Homer. Both were based on Greek mythology, and greatly respected. Epic poems were particularly popular amongst the Celtic peoples, as they liked to boast about their achievements in battle, and to tell stories of brave and mighty warriors in the form of a poem.
As time progressed, it became evident that poetry was being used in varying types of culture, and had been embraced by many. Poetry was used during rituals and ceremonies of ancient tribes, each poem different for each celebration or ritual, and the urgency of the material being transmitted with the urgencies of rhythm. However, centuries later, we find that, in many cases, people do not read poetry, and are becoming increasingly indifferent to it, which in turn raises the question; ‘Is poetry as vital as it was thousands of years ago?’
Before one can address such a question, however, it is important to have a basic idea that we can expand on of what poetry really is. The Oxford Dictionary definition of poetry is “literary work in which the expression of feelings and ideas is given intensity by the use of distinctive style and rhythm; poems collectively or as a genre of literature.” Put simply, poetry is a form of expression. Each person has a different definition for poetry, shaped by their view of the world around them. It could be said that poetry is a type of art used to express ones feelings and emotions. How does this relate to us personally today?
Poets are often described as political beings as well as creative ones; their ears are finely tuned to the topics and struggles of their time, allowing them to transfer these problems into poetry. ‘Problems’ can be National, Global or perhaps personal. A poet expresses their opinion through verse, whether it be oral or written, in many cases ignoring the idea that their opinion may be seen as provocative, controversial or will not adhere to the norm, the status quo. In fact, many poets are aware of the fact that their poem(s) will be a cause for outrage or shock due to the strong satirical comments made, or bold statements about someone/something widely respected, and for some, this is exactly the sort of reaction they want – one which will make people think; one which will make the readers change their views, to question their morals.
‘Education for Leisure’, written by Carol Ann Duffy, was met with violent criticism, particularly by the education board, as people feared it would “provoke youngsters to turn towards knife crime”, which led to it being banned from being studied at GCSE. Such a reaction came about as Duffy was making a commentary on the consequences political failings was having on youths during the Thatcher period. Duffy argued that Romeo and Juliet should also be banned then, as well as several other Shakespeare plays, due to the incorporation of violence, including what could be called knife crimes. Some believe that Duffy faced more criticism due to her being a modern poet, whereas Shakespeare is widely seen as a classic writer.
Poetry is a way of discovering the inner person: the complexities of human psychology and behaviour. We can use the example of My Last Duchess by Robert Browning, which explores the complexities and different layers of human psychology. On the one hand, the Duke can be viewed as a psychotic, manipulative man, who enjoys imposing his wealth and status over others. On the other hand, he is impressively charming, both in his use of language and his affable address. In addition, he appears to be a remarkably moral man, with an acute sense and appreciation of beauty. Due to this, the Duke’s excessive demand for control juxtaposes his charming character. The Duke’s amorality and inability to see his moral ugliness can be partly justified by his aristocratic title and the worship of his “nine-hundred year old name”. The Duke reveals himself as a model of culture, but a monster of morality. The poem further emphasises art, as the Duke remains enamoured with his deceased wife, though simply through a representation of her, which displays her beauty. In other words, the Duke in the poem has resorted to loving, or being infatuated with, the ideal Image of the woman he had killed rather than the reality. As a poet, Browning attempts to capture contradiction and movement, the psychological complexity of humans which cannot be pinned down on one object or one factor. This example suggests poetry is a method of exploration and discovery. In this case, the poet explores human psychology, and how it seems to contradict itself, making it complicated to decipher.
Why these two examples?
The example of Duffy’s poem highlights that, no matter which period we are living in, and where we live, we all have an opinion, whether it is favourable or not towards those in power, or those who have authority over us. How we choose to express this opinion varies for each person. It is very simple to reveal our view through a poem, no matter which approach we take. Some explicitly write or say their beliefs and views. Others, like Duffy, like to reveal their viewpoint through the narration of a protagonist. Opinions are formed in humans from a very young age, starting with which textures, foods and sounds we do and do not like, which develops into clothes, colours, animals, people etc. By the time the average human reaches teenage years, he has already developed strong opinions on various things in life, whether it be people, government, people of influence or other. In simple terms, opinions come naturally to us, therefore, (it can be argued), so does poetry. Poetry also brings a reaction out of others, and they form an opinion about the poem. Poetry brings the reader’s world apart, forcing them to identify and examine minor details, discovering flaws and crack to deeply ingrained systems.
The second poem is older, first published in 1846, so why is it still important? Is it still relevant? Humans have an innate yearn for a deeper understanding of themselves, turning to various psychological approaches and debates in order to come to a better comprehension of their mind and behaviour. In the process, they often find themselves over simplifying complex theories trying to pinpoint the reason of behaviour as having one cause. This consequently means psychological debates are on-going and humans are still searching to understand their psychological selves better. Poetry, though not a science, or a psychological theory, can help us to understand how truly complex our psychology is, bringing us to understand that, in order to reach to a more satisfying level of awareness of our mind, we need to unpick the different levels of our psychology one by one, then examine the finer details thereafter.
Poetry is not, however, only valuable in the political world and scientific, medical world. By delving deeper into the ways poetry links to us as humans, we find that it is an intrinsic part of who we are and how we are made, which counters the idea that poetry is irrelevant. We can use the example of the heartbeat. We all need a beating heart to live, and without one we are simply dead. Now let us take the first stanza from Sandra Haight’s ‘God Knows where I am’;
My God knows where I am…my body, soul.
He sees me now inside my deep, dark hole
imprisoned in these rooms and in my mind;
escape from each…I know I cannot find.
Each line follows the basic structure of Iambic pentameter, meaning there are 10 syllables to a line. Compare this to a heartbeat, and you will find that there is a striking resemblance to the two, as the heart beats in iambic pentameter. This therefore means that natural human rhythms are found in poetry, which further means that poetry is an art form that replicates the human body. As the heartbeat rhythm is natural, and a part of us, it can be suggested that poetry is, in turn, a natural part of the human body, and therefore always vital to humanity. Secondly, humans are methodical creatures, who always have some sort of schedule or timetable to which they adhere to. Humans like consistency in what they do. Rhythm is a natural part of human life, forming language and deeply involved with the expression of emotion. Rhythm is a natural aspect of life, and humans yearn for consistency, and consistent rhythm, which has consequently resulted in poetry being created from human impulses. It would be wrong to say that the sole purpose of poetry is to express emotion, but rhythm is a natural part of poetry, as well as human structure, meaning poetry comes naturally from humans. Furthermore, as poetry comes naturally to humans, it connects to our spiritual, emotional and psychological dimensions, and poetry would not be possible if it did not do stated, as it would have no purpose or meaning. Poetry is therefore eternal, lasting forever in our physical and physiological makeup, meaning we have a dependence on poetry – a need for it.
In all, it seems that poetry is still very much valid and vital today as it was some several thousand years ago. Though poetry may not be passed down generations as much now as it was previously, it still moulds and shapes society in various ways. Poetry can help humans reach answers they may not be able to reach in science and it is a form of self-expression, allowing humans to have a voice in a place they may not feel able to speak freely about what they feel or how they feel. In addition, poetry comes naturally to humans, meaning that we are dependent upon it, and have an innate ability to produce it. It is therefore vital to the very existence of humanity.