DOES POETRY MATTER?
Poetry tells a story, captures an idea, paints a picture, defines a memory. It is versatile, succinct, and captivating. Poetry has been part of our lives for ages, so much so that we hardly recognize its impact on us. From the first spoken words and before written language, the art of storytelling was developed through poetic verses. These verses were created, memorized, and shared—passed down from generation to generation.
Poetry is as old as the Psalms—an old testament book, a collection of 150 poetic pieces, the hymnal par excellence of Judaism and Christendom. Poetry is as old as Homer, a Greek poet who lived before 700 B.C. His poems, the Iliad and the Odyssey, are masterpieces for all later epics.
From our earliest years, poetry has been essential to our existence and our development. The notes of that first lullaby as our mothers sang us to sleep were our initial embrace of poetry. Our very first simple prayer, Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep, is a poem. (From the New England Primer 1777 ed.)
From the Mother Goose nursery rhymes to Dr. Suess, the words we chanted were poetry--that sing-song charm of children's games. Nursery rhymes introduced us to fascinating characters—Old King Cole, Rapunzel, Simple Simon, Jack Sprat. All Poetry! As children we loved to be read to by our parents—often committing the verses to memory. Then trying to impress our parents, we wanted to read to them. It was how we learned our ABCs—how we learned to read and appreciate the value of the printed word.
In grade school we were exposed to poetry—required to memorize and recite poems. “The House By The Side of the Road,” written by Samuel Walter Foss is one I still remember. Such drills taught us discipline, and poetry introduced us to so many topics, thoughts, and ideas-- all reflecting a masterful choice and blending of words, ideas, and mental pictures. We became enthralled with the special words and the pictures they painted. From the psalms in the Bible to today's modern ballads, to the hymns we sing in church, the “Golden Oldies” which haunt our reveries—all poems. Poetry taps so many areas of study and contemplation, meditation and enjoyment.
History and Patriotism—
Evangeline by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, the story of the French being banished from Nova Scotia, the travails of their journey, and their resettling in Louisiana.
Paul Revere's Ride and Song of Hiawatha also by Longfellow
The Concord Hymn --”the shot heard round the world” by Ralph Waldo Emerson
The Battle of Waterloo by Lord Byron
The Charge of the Light Brigade by Alfred Lord Tennyson
The Flag Goes By by Henry Holcomb Bennett
“The Battle of New Orleans” written by Jimmy Driftwood, a high school principal with a passion for history. This poem was his attempt to get students interested in learning history. The words were set to music and the song scored #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1959.
Love and friendship— How Do I Love Thee by Elizabeth Barrett Browning.
Me and My Anna Bell Lee by Edgar Allen Poe
Death--Invictus by Wm. Ernest Henley
Psalm of Life by Longfellow
Thanatopsis by William Cullen Bryant
Life-- My Heart Leaps Up When I Behold by William Wordsworth
When we think of poetry, so many immediately think is must rhyme or it isn't a poem. But, not all poetry rhymes—some poems are written in free verse with no regular meter or rhyme scheme in a fixed form but still provide artistic expression. Just as one artist creates a replica of what is actually seen or another artist who paints lines and figures accented with bold splashes of color reflecting what is seen by the mind's eye, so too the poet can create rhyming phrases in perfect meter or the words may come forth expressing ideas without pattern in various word pictures. All are poetry.
What is a Poet Laureate?
Countries often name a Poet Laureate, a title originated in England on a poet whose duty it became to write commerative odes and verse. In the US this title was held by Robert Frost and recently by Maya Angelou. When Robert Frost was 86, he read his poem “The Gift Outright” at the inauguration of John F. Kennedy. Maya Angelou read her poem, “The the Pulse of Morning” at the inauguration of Bill Clinton in 1993.
Who Is a Poet?
Anyone can be a poet. Perhaps you have not attempted to write any poems, but I am sure you share a love for poetry. Try! You will never be a poet if you don't try. The more you write, the better you will become. Read poetry. Read it aloud to see how the words come together to paint pictures, how the words seem to flow. Join a poetry group.
Does Poetry Matter? You Bet It Does!
--Joan M. Lacombe
Joan Lacombe- Co-Founder Aiken Poets