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More about understanding poetry

Let's get back to the basics by exploring a few of the 20th century's most fundamental questions about poems and poetry.

what's a poem?

A good way to explore this question is to use an actual poem as a yardstick. Is Spiral Poem (on the Welcome To The World Of poetry page you just came from) a poem?

The dictionary defines poetry as the art of rhythmical composition, written or spoken, for exciting pleasure by beautiful, imaginative, or elevated thoughts. It defines a poem as a literary work in rhythmic or metrical form; verse.

The Muse Of Literature has no quarrel with these definitions, which are adequate as far as they go. But poetry and poems are in fact much more than these simplistic definitions might suggest . What does The Muse Of Literature mean by the word poem?


Is poetry literature?

To answer this questions, it now becomes necessary to raise the subject of the "L" word. That is, it's appropriate to ask whether poetry is Literature (with a capital "L") and, if the answer is yes, to decide whether all poetry is Literature.

Quite naturally, the answer to this question depends on one's definition of literature. What does The Muse Of Literature means by the word literature?

  • Explore The Muse Of Literature's definition of literature: click here.

From this definition, we see that a poem doesn't have to be literature, but it helps. Want to dig deeper?

  • Explore the literature-poetry connection as The Muse sees it: click here.

Is all poetry Literature? Must a poem be literature in order to count as a poem?

Of course, there are many poetic forms that are not literary. Nursery rhymes and limericks are just two of many examples.

Is all poetry literature with a capital "L?"

At one time, circles of scholars, savants, dilettantes, those of high fashion, power, or education, and other arbiters of taste, demanded that poetry be lofty to count as Literature. Poems that were not lofty merely rhymed or didn't rhyme at all; they were doggerel, lyrics from coarse or lowly peasant songs, for example.

Not anymore. People's ideas about what makes for poetry and literature have changed. Today, Literature not only for the learned; no longer does a poem have to be lofty, beautiful, or profound. Today, much that passes for literature isn't any of these things and much written work that counts for something isn't literary in the formal sense of the word.

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