Theory , Meaning and Definition of Poetry

Theory , Meaning and Definition of Poetry

T. S. Eliot , known as the most important critic of the 20th century English literature doesn’t give a concrete theory of poetry. For him , poetry is not a subject that can be defined scientifically . Poetry is something beyond intellect. Its concept is abstract.

William Wordsworth at one place of his ‘ Preface to Shakespeare ‘ , says, ‘ Poetry is the image of man and nature. ‘ Then he says, ” Poetry is the breath and finer spirit of all knowledge ; it is the impassioned expression which is in the countenance of all science.” The most analysed definition of poetry by Wordsworth is ” Poetry is the sponteneous overflow of powerful feelings ; it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility .”

However, Wordsworth’s definition of poetry is applicable to his own poetry and that of the poets like Browning and Arnold . But it is not relevant in case of poets like Shelly who wrote at the intence moments of profound emotions and poetic fire.

The Oxford dictionary defines poetry as ‘poet’s art of work’ and as ‘ tenderly pleasing quality.” In Collins Cobuild’s Advanced Learner’s English Dictionary, poetry means ‘ a form of literature.” Also it is elaborated as ” you can describe something very beautiful as poetry.” Again it further says, “A poem is a piece of writing in which the words are chosen for their beauty and sound and are carefully arranged often in short lines which rhyme. “

Aristotle in his ‘Poetics’ says that verse is not essential for poetry. A prose piece may contain poetry. Such piece of prose must have poetic beauty.


Frederich K. Hargrieves Jr. , a modern critic expresses his opinion regarding modern poetry . As he argues, it is wrong to convince that poetry can convey meaning which is not possible for public language but an individual experience in mind. Such views prevent to understand and assess modern poetry. To discuss about great poetry , we must take into account

Longinus’s five sources of sublime :

  • Great thought
  • Intense emotions and passions and their proper expressions in words
  • Proper use of figures of speech
  • Elevated diction
  • Sublime composition

When poetry is analysed as a literary form or art of language , these five sources would be essential in composing great poetry . Again as is described in T. S. Eliot’s Tradition and Individual Talent, the knowledge of ‘tradition’ i.e. which features of classical literature is applicable in the present context is also relevant in great poetry.

About language of poetry Wordsworth opines that colloquial or language of the common people should be chosen for poetical composition.

Poetry is an expression of inside beauty. Khalil Zibran rightly says, ” A tree is a poem on earth.” According to Walt Whitman , rain is the ‘poem ‘ on earth.

A poet is devinely inspired . So , at the very beginning of Paradise Lost , Milton invokes ‘Nine Muses’ . Coleridge wrote Opium Eaters inspired by his dream. A poet creates beauty no matter how ugly the reality is . Noble poetry motivates the readers to feel the same beauty. A poet cann’t be fully detached from reality . Supporting the theory of Art for Morality’s Sake , it can be asserted beauty can never be devoid of morality. The poet must keep the reader in mind while writing poetry. As is believed in Post modernism, a piece of writing is always subjective. When the poet writes from a subjective corner, his poetry must comprises some features common to the reader. Generalization of the subject is important . Shakespeare’s King Lear evokes the readers’ emotions not as a king but as a suffering father. The commonness of agony exoressed through dignified dialogues imparts universality to King Lear.

To sum up , Poetry touches our mind and soul . Great poetry is free from all trivialities and responds positively to the subtle and mysterious convokation of the universe and takes us to new realization of life. It is a polished surface built of deepest feelings and emotional heights . It is a breath of freedom in realm of eternity.

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