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Poetry seen in the light of 'the echo and the shadow dancer'

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"Abstract blue"Image/Painting courtesy of macchia @123RF.com. Title/Font design created B.L. Cassidy

"What is poetry?" Some provide the answer of it being the interpretation of beauty in a line and a verse. Others say lyrical stories with explicit imagery, in which you can vividly see the scenes, feel the emotions, and hear the sounds.

Schools of thought explain poetry, as a type of Literature that uses aesthetic and rhythmic qualities of language to evoke meanings. However, poetry finds itself being and meaning different things to different people, particularly poets. Expressed best in language, it utilizes all the tools of Literature.

To surround yourself with
arms that will not hold you
to dream yourself home
where the road is dust
and dissolves into purple.

In the above selection, titled "Tanka", from the novel titled, Like the Singing Coming Off the Drums, by novelist and poet, Sonia Sanchez, you can envision the scene and the story. Her tone being serious, appealing to the emotions in the reader. Also challenging you to seek more from each line of verse, to fully grasp it's meaning. Starting with the title, "Tanka", which is one of the oldest Japanese forms of poetry. It originated in the seventh century, and quickly became the preferred verse form, not only in the Japanese Imperial Court where nobles competed in tanka competitions, but for women and men engaged in courtship. Tanka’s purpose for emotional expression, made it the perfect model for intimate delivery. Lovers would frequently, after an evening spent together, spirit off a tanka to give to the other, the next morning, as a gift of gratitude. "Tanka's" final line of verse, utilizes the color 'purple' as a metaphor. Purple is the color of good judgment, and of people seeking spiritually, peace of mind. Which is what Sanchez is alluding to, in it's usage.

Poet and editor, M.L. Rosenthal, in his book, The Modern Poets: A Critical Introduction, writes, "One of the ways, however, that people have defined poetry over the centuries, is that poetry is writing that also makes it's meaning less directly, through the sound of the language, through how the words are broken into lines, through metaphor, rather than explanation, and through the poet's ability to say what they do more concisely, eloquently, and rhetorically, than what we expect from prose."

Poetry can deal with themes or concepts related to various subjects, such as love, death, war, or peace, etc. You can see at times, elements such as historical events. A concept, addressed in the poem, "Wonder -- is not precisely Knowing", by poet, Emily Dickinson, is the condition of one's mind and emotion. The line, "Wonder--is not precisely Knowing", in which the state of 'wonder', is the feeling of being 'awed' in astonishment or uncertainty, aroused by something extraordinary or affecting, and then the line, "Suspense-- is his maturer Sister", meaning an excitement to an outcome.

Wonder -- is not precisely Knowing
And not precisely Knowing not
A beautiful but bleak condition
He has not lived who has not felt

Suspense -- is his maturer Sister
Whether Adult Delight is Pain
Or of itself a new misgiving
This is the Gnat that mangles men

Literary devices or figures of speech, are used to affect how you read poetry. Examples of figures of speech most commonly used are:

  • Metaphor- A comparison between two different subjects.
  • Simile- A comparison between two different subjects using the words "like" or "as".
  • Personification- A non-human thing is endowed with human characteristics.
  • Irony- A difference between the surface meaning of the words and the implications that may be drawn from them.

In this excerpt, from poet, John Ashbery's poem, "Spring Day", we can see the use of irony and metaphor. These lines, in the poem, are a beautiful portrayal and writing of the life of an "orange tree", compared to a "page turned".

The orange tree, so that its summer produce
Can go back to where we got it wrong, then drip gently
Into history, if it wants to. A page turned; we were
Just now floundering in the wind of its colossal death.

Maybe a different approach to the question of, "What is poetry?", can be best answered by choosing to explore a curiosity. Making the decision to endeavor on a journey to become acquainted with poetry's very nature. Experiencing through the senses, a story told in rhythm and language. Noted novelist and poet, Carl Sandburg, stated, "Poetry is an echo asking a shadow dancer to be a partner."