His introduction and notes are deeply learned and useful. They synthesize much of what we know about the poem's composition, publication, sources, analogues, and influence, but also present fresh, original insights into its meanings and importance as a document of eighteenth-century intellectual history. The sophistication with which Jones treats the philosophical contexts of the poem is exceptional. The lively and wide-ranging introduction is attentive to both the original context and continuing relevance of Pope's poem.
Catherine's College, University of Oxford.
Best Words, Best Order: Essays on Poetry
Overview Author s Reviews 3. Tom Jones teaches English at the University of St. Along with making use of lively detail, the ability of the poet to notice correspondences, similarities, and analogies and to employ these in constructing fresh and original metaphors lies at the heart of great poetry, and is part of its imaginative sweep. The often sensuous, figurative language of simile and metaphor seems to appeal greatly to the human mind.
The snow came down last night like moths Burned on the moon; it fell till dawn Covered the town with simple cloths.
Here the magical beauty of the first snow is described against the backdrop of war, a contrast made more powerful by the simile comparing of falling snowflakes to dead moths. Similarly, the seventeenth-century Welsh poet Henry Vaughan formulates a luminous simile and extends it at some length in "The World. We can be reasonably sure that we have risen above mere verse at this point and shifted into the higher plane of full-bodied poetry, where qualities of imagination, vision, and invention are seen coming clearly into play.
And yet, we have still not touched on one final, vital ingredient of great poetry. In addition to qualities of memorability, musicality, imagination, and invention, we expect poetry to touch us at an emotional level. Take the passion out of poetry, and we are left with something dry and rather ridiculous. This is what impels human beings to break from silence into utterance. A poem may be admirable because it grants us an insight into some truth about ourselves or the universe we inhabit. It may engage in abstruse aesthetic projects or metaphysical speculations that are intellectually quite sophisticated.
Conversely, it may be simple and direct, and those are often the most powerful kinds of poems. Think, for instance, of how we might savor a sad blues song. One doesn't need advanced degrees to appreciate a line like, "I woke up this morning, blues all around my bed," or "Oh, I hate to see that evenin' sun go down.
Consider this anonymously written fragment of English poetry from the early sixteenth century:. Western wind, when wilt thou blow That the small rain down can rain? Christ, that my love were in my arms, And I in my bed again! We don't know the full situation of the speaker here, but there is no mistaking the heartfelt longing for home in the voice. It is that unmistakable human passion that has caused this scrap of poetry to live for more than five hundred years.
There is a fine line between the poem which makes an authentic claim upon the core of our emotional being and the poem which seems to wish to manipulate us, to play insincerely, or ineptly, upon our heartstrings. When dealing with emotionally charged matter, the poet faces the danger of lapsing into sentimentality or bathos, of buttonholing the reader and trading upon what has been called "unearned emotion. It is perhaps the commonest of faults among inexperienced writers, and even great poets are not immune to this kind of error. Consider this line by Shelley:.
The question arises, has Shelley gone too far into self-pity and sentimentality here? Many readers and critics tend to think he shows a momentary lapse of taste. Though quite real, self-pity is often considered an unlovely human emotion. Yet, because it is human and because nothing human is outside the scope of the poet's pen, a great poet like Shakespeare can examine it, even confess it, honestly.
Fortunately, in the following sonnet, he also points the way out of the emotional swamp of self-pity. Notice how, toward the end of the poem, there is a change in the direction of the thought, a swerving or veering, as if from a thesis to an antithesis, or from a problem stated to a resolution discovered. This shift is quite typical of the sonnet's structure, and is one of its traditional hallmarks. At the beginning the author is wallowing in self-pity, down on himself, and depressed. He discovers that the way out of his thoughts of self is to think on another, his lover, and the entire mood of the poem is lightened, ending on a note of celebration.
When in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes,. I all alone beweep my outcast state, And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries, And look upon myself, and curse my fate, Wishing me like to one more rich in hope, Featured like him, like him with friends possessed, Desiring this man's art and that man's scope, With what I most enjoy contented least; Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising, Haply I think on thee; and then my state Like to the lark at break of day arising From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven's gate; For thy sweet love remembered such wealth brings That then I scorn to change my state with kings.
If there are hidden laws of the operation and economy of our human emotions, no class of investigators or interpreters have studied and observed them more closely or with greater results than the poets. The founder of psychotherapy Dr. Sigmund Freud resorted time and again to the poets and playwrights to discover the terms with which to describe fundamental motives and workings of the human mind.
Shakespeare's plays and poems alone constitute a veritable textbook on the inner workings of human behavior. Poets not only accurately describe and analyze powerful emotions, they also convey or evoke them.
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Sometimes, as in the following poem by William Blake, they seem to do both. Some inner laws of the operations of malice and vengeance are described, and the speaker finally embodies these emotions, which gives the analysis an added, high-voltage charge. I was angry with my foe: I told it not, my wrath did grow. And I watered it in fears, Night and morning with my tears; I sunned it with smiles And with soft deceitful wiles. And it grew both day and night, Till it bore an apple bright; And my foe beheld it shine, And he knew that it was mine, And into my garden stole When the night had veiled the pole: In the morning glad I see My foe outstretched beneath the tree.
Emotion is also the motivating force of most poems of political protest and social criticism.
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The smarting wince we feel when we witness an injustice may turn quickly to anger, outrage, and indignation. The same cry against oppression and the abuse of power and wealth sounded by the Old Testament prophets such as Isaiah or Jeremiah can be heard throughout English and American poetry and down to the present day. At the time of the great flowering of English Romanticism, the British government had retrenched into a reactionary stance, halting or reversing much-needed societal reforms in fear and horror of the excesses of the French Revolution, raging across the English Channel.
It was a time of abject political reversal for the liberal poets, who envisioned mankind progressing toward a freer and more equable society. Witness part of Shelley's devastating summary of the situation from "England in ":. An old, mad, blind, despised, and dying king; Princes, the dregs of their dull race, who flow Through public scorn,mud from a muddy spring: Rulers, who neither see, nor feel, nor know, But, leech-like, to their fainting country cling Till they drop, blind in blood, without a blow; A people starved and stabbed in the untilled field; An army which liberticide and prey Makes as a two-edged sword to all who wield;.
This same despair of wretched social, moral and political conditions brought this damning indictment from Blake a few years earlier in "London. I wander through each chartered street, Near where the chartered Thames does flow, And mark in every face I meet Marks of weakness, marks of woe. Reforms envisioned by the British poets eventually came to England, and it is not far fetched at all to state that England's poets spurred this progress. Perhaps Shelley did not overreach when he said, "Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world. With the music of verse, richness of description, the wonder of creative imagination, marvels of metaphor, and the force of emotion, poetry can educate, ennoble, motivate, and enlighten us.
Poetry can also help us appreciate the plenitude, brevity, and beauty of human life.
I hope I have given in this essay some idea of how these elements, coming together, constitute what we might mean by the word "poetry. Many of you reading this are presently wearing the uniform of one of the branches of the Armed Services, or are perhaps closely related to a service member. I want to tell you briefly about four men who served in the military during World War II.
One of these studied the rhymes of Edgar Allen Poe while scrunched down in a foxhole in Italy, trying not to get his head blown off. Another was present at the liberation of the Nazi extermination camps, and grappled with this in his poetry.
Another fought at the Battle of the Bulge. In later life, each of these four went on to publish their own work, and each of them in their turn received the coveted Pulitzer Prize in poetry. Two of them were appointed United States Poet Laureate. Today their poems have entered into the great canon of American literature, where they will remain for succeeding generations to enjoy. The lives and works of these four men indicate that there is no inherent conflict between military service and a love of poetry.
Skip to main content. What Is Poetry? Here is an example of English poetry written in a regular meter: Like as the waves make toward the pebbled shore, So do our minutes hasten to their end; Each changing place with that which goes before, In sequent toil all forwards do contend. Consider this concluding couplet from one of Shakespeare's sonnets: So long as men can breath or eyes can see, So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.