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The term "poetry" has been defined by the Oxford Dictionary as "literary work in which the expressions of feelings and ideas are given intensity by the use of distinctive style and rhythm; poems collectively or as a genre of literature". It further qualifies that "a quality of beauty and intensity of emotion regarded as characteristic of poems: poetry and fire are nicely balanced in music. In simple terms, poetry is a type of literature which is based on the interplay of words and rhythm. It is more than often characterized by rhyme and meter, which signifies a set of rules governing the number and arrangement of syllables in each line. "In poetry, words are strung together to form sounds, images, and ideas that might be too complex or absurd to describe directly." In fact, the muse of poetry is beyond definition, it can only be felt with the eyes of the heart.

Here, it would be interesting to note what the eminent poets and litterateurs have said about poetry in general. To begin with, the wizard of literature, William Shakespeare had articulated that poetry is the art which uses words as both speech and song to reveal. A very practical and down to earth definition of poetry, indeed. William Wordsworth has stated: 'poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquillity'. Robert Frost says that 'poetry is when an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found words'. That is a realistic version of poetry. Similarly, in the words of Percy Bysshe Shelley, 'poetry is the record of the best and happiest moments of the happiest and best minds'. This represents probably, the half-truth. Poetry often owes its origin from sorrow and deprivation. Randall Jarrel has aptly pointed out

"A good poet is someone who manages, in a lifetime of standing out in thunderstorms, to be struck by lightning five or six times; a dozen or two dozen times and he is great'".
Philip Larkin has also reiterated the similar sentiment when he says ' Deprivation is for me what daffodils were for Wordsworth'. But whether poetry is mainly the expression of emotions? T.S. Eliot disagrees with this proposition. He avers that 'Poetry is not a turning loose of emotion, but an escape from emotion….' However, the best definition of poetry has been quilled by Carl Sandburg when he says "Poetry is the journal of a sea animal living on land, wanting to fly in the air". That encompasses the range of human emotions identifiable in the garb of poetry.

Poetry is written in varied forms. From the traditional quartet, couplet, sonnet and other formats, poetry is being written predominantly in free verse form in modern times. Robert Frost has noted that 'writing free verse is like playing tennis with the net down'. One meaning of this view is that free verse does not belong to the traditional genre of poetry, yet it is not incomprehensible. Free verse has achieved popularity amongst the readers. But poetry, irrespective of the different formats, is one of the most sought-after literary forms all over the world.

The relevance of poetry in modern times

One question may be asked-why poetry when there are other literary forms like prose etc. are also available? E.E.Cummings has aptly said, "Well, write poetry, for God's sake, it's the only thing that matters". This is very true in the sense that poetry is generally the most potent medium of heartfelt expressions. Poetry can easily connect people because it speaks the language of heart. However, in reference to modern free verse poetry, it is said that poetry has distanced itself from the people at large. One explanation to this presumption has been provided by Adrian Mitchell when he said "Most people ignore most poetry because most poetry ignores most people". That seems a plausible reason for seemingly disenchantment of people with poetry. Further, in the age of consumerism in the post-World War scenario, poetry seems to have suffered a bit. Ogden Nash has described the phenomenon as such: "Poets aren't very useful/ Because they aren't consumed or very produceful." In this materialistic age, people in general are busy making money by hook or crook. There is apparent loss in the aesthetic sense of the common man. The basic traits of the people have largely assumed negative proportions. This specific attribute is reflected in modern poetry also. Poets have given ample expressions of frustration, anger, sorrow, deprivation etc. faced by the common man. The reader, already afflicted with these negative symptoms, finds it hard to consume poetry in which he fails to search for solutions to his nagging problems.

As generally observed, poetry is an eloquent expression of tender feelings of the heart. Sometimes, it is the reflections of the human mindset. But in the modern world, humans are operating more with their minds than with hearts. Emotions have, by and large, taken a backseat. Every now and then, warmongers are playing havoc with the general peace and tranquillity of the world. Armies of the powerful and rich nations are forcefully intruding the boundaries of weak nations and violating all norms of humanity. The powerful lobby of arms dealers are enjoying a field day. They have scant regard for human emotions. Furthermore, in the field of trade and commerce, there is a cut-throat competition. Everybody is busy earning profits at any cost. Once again, emotions have been relegated to the backyard. In this scenario, only the fittest can survive. Mental and physical strongness are the keywords, not the emotional wealth of the people. In such a horrible situation, the spread of a saner voice is a big challenge. Poetry can fit the bill easily because of the widespread presence of readers who relish poetry.

Matthew Arnold has aptly said, "Poetry is simply the most beautiful, impressive, and widely effective mode of saying things, and hence its importance".
Therefore, poetry is always relevant throughout the different phases of history. There does not appear any more potent medium of expression to guide human beings in the present turbulent times.


Poetry has played a significant role in the times of war with external powers or during the freedom movements of the country. It helps in lifting the dormant spirits of the people. The poetry in the form of folk songs has always catapulted the human feelings to exaltations and abounding joy. The role of poetry in the turbulent and hard times prevailing at present, is no less. This is the only muse that strikes a familiar chord with human emotions. Undoubtedly, poetry sustains human emotions and raises the sagging spirits. The world needs more poetic thoughts than the harsh and offending language of the warmongers. Throughout the growth of human civilizations, emotions have played a crucial role. Hence, the poetry's relevance cannot be undermined at any point of time. This is the high time we celebrated poetry to the fullest.

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  • Edited by Angus Stevenson, Third Edition, 2010, Oxford University Press, Oxford.
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