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Poems are literary works in which language is used in its most condensed or compressed form to convey emotion or ideas to the reader's or listener's mind or ear. This is frequently achieved through the deployment of imagery, word association, and the musical qualities of the language used. Poetry can be differentiated most of the time from prose, which is language meant to convey meaning in a more expansive and less condensed way, frequently using more complete logical or narrative structures than poetry does. A further complication is that prose poetry combines the characteristics of poetry with the superficial appearance of prose. And there is, of course, narrative poetry, not to mention dramatic poetry

The Greek verb poieo (I make or create), gave rise to three words: poietis (the one who creates), poiesis (the act of creation), and poiema (the thing created). From these we get three English words: poet (the creator), poesy (the creation) and poem (the created). A poet is therefore one who creates, and poetry is what the poet creates. The underlying concept of the poet as maker or creator is not uncommon. For example, in Anglo-Saxon a poet is a scop (shaper or maker) and in Scots makar.

Table of contents
1 Sound in Poetry
2 Poetry and Form
3 Poetry and Rhetoric
4 The History of Poetry
5 Terms
6 National poetries
7 Other

Sound in Poetry

Poetry in English and other modern European languages often uses rhyme. However, the use of rhyme is not universal. Much modern poetry avoids rhyming, as did, for instance, classical Greek and Latin poetry. However, poetry does tend to place emphasis on the rhythm of the words, frequently arranging them into lines of a particular meter or, in the case of free verse, into looser units of cadence.

In addition to rhyme and rhythm, other sound values of language tend to be important, with devices such as alliteration, assonance, and dissonance commonly used.

Poetry and Form

As it is created using language, poetry tends to use formal linguistic units like phrases, sentences and paragraphs. In addition, it uses units of organisation that are purely poetic. The main units that are used are the line, the couplet, the strophe, the stanza, and the verse paragraph.
Lines may be self contained units of sense, as in the famous To be, or not to be: that is the question. Alternatively a line may end in mid phrase or sentence: Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer. The linguistic unit is generally completed in the next line: The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. This technique is called enjambment, and is used to create a sense of expectation in the reader and/or to add a dynamic to the movement of the verse.

Couplets, stanzas, and strophes are generally self-contained units of sense, although a kind of enjambment may also be used across these units. In blank verse, verse paragraphs are employed to indicate natural breaks in the flow of the poem.
In many instances, the effectiveness of a poem derives from the tension between the use of linguistic and formal units. With the advent of printing, poets gained greater control over the visual presentation of their work. As a result, the use of these formal elements, and of the white space they help create, became an important part of the poet's toolbox. Modernist poetry tends to take this to an extreme, with the placement of individual lines or groups of lines on the page forming an integral part of the poem's composition. In its most extreme form, this leads to the writing of concrete poetry.

Poetry and Rhetoric

Rhetorical devices such as simile and metaphor are frequently used in poetry. Indeed, Aristotle wrote in his Poetics that "the greatest thing by far is to be a master of metaphor". However, particularly since the rise of Modernism, many poets have opted for reduced use of these devices, preferring rather to attempt the direct presentation of things and experiences.

The History of Poetry

Poetry as an art form predates literacy. In pre-literate societies, poetry was frequently employed as a means of recording oral history, storytelling (epic poetry), genealogy, law and other forms of expression or knowledge that modern societies might expect to be handled in prose. Poetry is also often closely identified with liturgy in these societies, as the formal nature of poetry makes it easier to remember priestly incantations or prophecies. The greater part of the world's sacred scriptures are made up of poetry rather than prose.

Some writers believe that poetry has its origins in song. Most of the characteristics that distinguish it from other forms of utterance - rhythm, rhyme, compression, intensity of feeling, the use of refrains - appear to have come about from efforts to fit words to musical forms. However, in the European tradition, the earliest surviving poems, the Homeric and Hesiodic epics, identify themselves poems to be recited or chanted to a musical accompaniment rather than as pure song. Another interpetation, developed from 20th century studies of living Montenegran epic reciters by Milman Parry and others, is that rhythm, refrains, kennings are essentially paratatic devices that enable the reciter to reconstruct the poem from memory.

In preliterate societies, all these forms of poetry were composed for, and sometimes during, performance. As such, there was a certain degree of fluidity to the exact wording of poems, given this could change from one performance or performer to another. The introduction of writing tended to fix the content of a poem to the version that happened to be written down and survive. Written composition also meant that poets began to compose not for an audience that was sitting in front of them but for an absent reader. Later, the invention of printing tended to accelerate these trends. Poets were now writing more for the eye than for the ear.

The development of literacy gave rise to more personal, shorter poems intended to be sung. These are called lyrics, which derives from the Greek lura or lyre, the instrument that was used to accompany the performance of Greek lyrics from about the seventh century B.C. onward. The Greeks practice of singing hymns in large choruses gave rise, in the sixth century B.C. to dramatic verse, and to the practice of writing poetic plays for performance in their theatres.

In more recent times, the introduction of electronic media and the rise of the poetry reading have led to a resurgence of performance poetry and have resulted in a situation where poetry for the eye and poetry for the ear coexist, sometimes in the same poem.


Verse Forms

Periods, Styles and Movements

Technical Means


Measures of verse

Types of metre Types of line

National poetries


See also: short story, theater, novel