what is poetry- 111 definitions from around the web

The most searched poetry phrase on the Google Search Engine is, “What is poetry?” It got me wondering… Why aren’t we satisfied with the definitions provided by all the trusted sources like Merriam-Webster, The Oxford English Dictionary and Dictionary.com? Moreover, why is defining poetry so important to people?

I read a paper by Petronius Arbiter entitled What Is Poetry from a 1918 article in The Art World publication in which the author stated, “…The reason we have no accepted definition of Poetry and of Art is principally the objection of poets and artists to all definitions per se, because definitions would restrict, not their liberty in art, but their license.”

I found his statement ironic because it would appear that artists prefer to do the defining themselves. Below you will find a comprehensive collection of 115 poetry quotes (or poetry definitions) from around the web that attempt to define poetry.

What is poetry? 111 definitions from around the web

Poetry is partly sympathy, don’t you think? If it’s any good, it gets people to think about others’ points of view. – Edwin Morgan

Poetry is one of the ancient arts, and it began as did all the fine arts, within the original wilderness of the earth. – Mary Oliver

Poetry is this gorgeous, complex history rendered in verse and song, a blueprint that can lead you back into the world after you’ve walked into air. – Robin Coste Lewis

Poetry is an art, and chief of the fine art; the easiest to dabble in, the hardest in which to reach true excellence. – Edmund Clarence Stedman

Poetry is one of the destinies of speech… One would say that the poetic image, in its newness, opens a future to language. – Gaston Bachelard

 Poetry is often the art of overhearing yourself say things you didn’t know you knew. It is a learned skill to force yourself to articulate your life, your present world or your possibilities for the future. – David Whyte

Poetry is all that is worth remembering in life. – William Hazlitt

Journalism is concerned with events, poetry with feelings. Journalism is concerned with the look of the world, poetry with the feel of the world. – Archibald MacLeish

Making love is, simply put, poetry in motion. – Wale

Poetry is a street fighter. It has sharp elbows. It can look after itself. Poetry can’t be used for manipulation; it’s why you never see good poetry in advertising. – David Whyte

Poetry is a mirror which makes beautiful that which is distorted. – Percy Bysshe Shelley

Poetry is a call to action, and it also is action. – Juan Felipe Herrera

Poetry is a form of mathematics, a highly rigorous relationship with words. – Tahar Ben Jelloun

Poetry is the elder sister of history, the mother of language, the ancestress of civilization. – Orson F. Whitney

Poetry is how I feed the soul, and it’s how I fire the furnace of writing. – Luis Alberto Urrea

Poetry is the robe, the royal apparel, in which truth asserts its divine origin. – Beecher

A poet is, before anything else, a person who is passionately in love with language. – W.H. Auden

Writing poetry is a state of free float. – Margaret Atwood

But all art is sensual and poetry particularly so. It is directly, that is, of the senses, and since the senses do not exist without an object for their employment all art is necessarily objective. It doesn’t declaim or explain, it presents. – William Carlos Williams

Poetry is the journal of a sea animal living on land, wanting to fly in the air. – Carl Sandburg

I think that were beginning to remember that the first poets didn’t come out of a classroom, that poetry began when somebody walked off of a savanna or out of a cave and looked up at the sky with wonder and said, “Ahhh.” That was the first poem. – Lucille Clifton

Poetry is like a bird, it ignores all frontiers. – Yevgeny Yevtushenko

All poets, all writers are political. They either maintain the status quo, or they say, ’Something’s wrong, let’s change it for the better.’ – Sonia Sanchez 

Poetry lies its way to the truth. – John Ciardi

Poetry is nearer to vital truth than history. – Leonardo da Vinci 

Genuine poetry can communicate before it is understood. – T.S. Eliot

Poetry is frosted fire. – J. Patrick Lewis 

Poetry is everywhere; it just needs editing. – James Tate 

Poetry is an echo, asking a shadow to dance. – Carl Sandburg

There is poetry as soon as we realize we possess nothing. – John Cage 

Poetry is a language in which man explores his own amazement. – Christopher Fry 

Poetry is not an expression of the party line. It’s that time of night, lying in bed, thinking what you really think, making the private world public, that’s what the poet does. – Allen Ginsberg 

Poets are soldiers that liberate words from the steadfast possession of definition. – Eli Khamarov 

Poetry is eternal graffiti written in the heart of everyone. – Lawrence Ferlinghetti  

Poetry is ordinary language raised to the Nth power. Poetry is boned with ideas, nerved and blooded with emotions, all held together by the delicate, tough skin of words. – Paul Engle

Poetry is an act of peace. – Pablo Neruda

Poetry is the achievement of the synthesis of hyacinths and biscuits. – Carl Sandburg

Poetry is what is lost in translation. It is also what is lost in interpretation. – Robert Frost

For next to being a great poet is the power of understanding one. – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

A poet’s autobiography is his poetry. Anything else is just a footnote. – Yevgeny Yentushenko

Poetry is the deification of reality. – Edith Sitwell

Poetry is the revelation of a feeling that the poet believes to be interior and personal but which the reader recognizes as his own. – Salvatore Quasimodo

Poetry is a deal of joy and pain and wonder, with a dash of the dictionary. – Kahlil Gibran

Prose = words in their best order; – poetry = the best words in the best order. – Samuel Taylor Coleridge

To find beauty in ugliness is the province of the poet. – Thomas Hardy

He who draws noble delights from sentiments of poetry is a true poet, though he has never written a line in all his life. – George Sand

Poetry is the only art people haven’t yet learnt to consume like soup. – W. H. Auden

Poetry should be great and unobtrusive, a thing which enters into one’s soul. – John Keats

Poetry must be new as foam, and as old as the rock. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Writing a book of poetry is like dropping a rose petal down the Grand Canyon and waiting for the echo. – Don Marquis

Poetry is the rhythmical creation of beauty in words. – Edgar Allan Poe

If you tell a novelist, ‘Life’s not like that’, he has to do something about it. The poet simply replies, ‘No, but I am.’ – Philip Larkin

Poetry is not the books in the library. Poetry is the encounter of the reader with the book, the discovery of the book. – Jorge Luis Borges

Poetry is play. I’d even rather have you think of it as a sport. For instance, like football. – Robert Frost

An age which is incapable of poetry is incapable of any kind of literature except the cleverness of a decadence. – Raymond Chandler

Poetry is life distilled. – Gwendolyn Brooks

Painting is silent poetry, poetry is eloquent painting. – Simonides

Prose is a museum where all the old weapons of poetry are kept. – T. E. Hulme

A good poet is someone who manages, in a lifetime of standing out in thunderstorms to be struck by lightning 5 or 6 times. – Randall Jarrell

Poetry is talking on tiptoe. – George Meredith

Poetry is a religion with no hope. – Jean Cocteau

Poetry is a way of taking life by the throat. – Robert Frost

Poetry is thoughts that breathe, and words that burn. – Thomas Gray

Poetry is to prose as dancing is to walking. – John Wain

Poetry is the liquid voice that can wear through stone. – Adrienne Rich

Poets are the sense, philosophers the intelligence of humanity. – Samuel Beckett

Everything you invent is true: you can be sure of that. Poetry is a subject as precise as geometry. – Julian Barnes

A poet’s work … to name the unnameable, to point at frauds, to take sides, start arguments, shape the world, and stop it from going to sleep. – Salman Rushdie

Poetry is a deal of joy and pain and wonder, with a dash of the dictionary. – Khalil Gibran

Poets are shameless with their experiences: they exploit them. – Friedrich Nietzsche

A poem begins as a lump in the throat, a sense of wrong, a homesickness, a lovesickness. – Robert Frost

Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquillity. – William Wordsworth

Poetry is what in a poem makes you laugh, cry, prickle, be silent, makes your toenails twinkle, makes you want to do this or that or nothing, makes you know that you are alone in the unknown world, that your bliss and suffering is forever shared and forever all your own. – Dylan Thomas

Poetry might be defined as the clear expression of mixed feelings. – W.H. Auden

Poets aren’t very useful. / Because they aren’t consumeful or very produceful. – Ogden Nash

What makes you a poet is a gift for language, an ability to see into the heart of things, and an ability to deal with important unconscious material. When all these things come together, you’re a poet. But there isn’t one little gimmick that makes you a poet. There isn’t any formula for it. – Erica Jong

Poetry should surprise by a fine excess and not by singularity—it should strike the reader as a wording of his own highest thoughts, and appear almost a remembrance. – John Keats

Poetry lifts the veil from the hidden beauty of the world, and makes familiar objects be as if they were not familiar. – Percy Bysshe Shelley

What has always attracted me in life is poetry. Any genre can have poetry. For me, poetry contains truth.- Jean Marais

But poetry is my life. Poetry is what matters to me. – Peter Davison

If the object of poetry is, to make men, then poetry is the heir of prophecy. – Muhammad Iqbal

Poetry is not easy. Or should I say, real poetry is not easy. – Robert Pinsky

Poetry is life distilled. – Gwendolyn Brooks

Poetry is just the evidence of life. If your life is burning well, poetry is just the ash. – Leonard Cohen

Women do not have as great a need for poetry because their own essence is poetry. – Karl Wilhelm Friedrich Schlegel

Poetry is also the physical self of the poet, and it is impossible to separate the poet from his poetry. – Salvatore Quasimodo

Poetry is adolescence fermented, and thus preserved. – Jose Ortega Gasset

Poetry is all nouns and verbs. – Marianne Moore

Poetry is a sort of homecoming. – Paul Celan

Poetry is composing for the breath. – Peter Davison

Poetry is a mere drug. – George Farquhar

Love is the poetry of the senses. – Honore de Balzac

Poetry is finer and more philosophical than history; for poetry expresses the universal, and history only the particular. – Aristotle

Poetry is man’s rebellion against being what he is. – James Branch Cabell

Poetry is, first and last, language – the rest is filler. – Mark Strand

Poetry is at least an elegance and at most a revelation. – Robert Fitzgerald

Poetry is an orphan of silence. The words never quite equal the experience behind them. – Charles Simic

Poetry is the art of creating imaginary gardens with real toads. – Marianne Moore

Poetry is innocent, not wise. It does not learn from experience, because each poetic experience is unique. – Karl Shapiro

Poetry is of so subtle a spirit, that in the pouring out of one language into another it will evaporate. – John Denham

There is the view that poetry should improve your life. I think people confuse it with the Salvation Army. – John Ashbery

Poetry, at its best, is the language your soul would speak if you could teach your soul to speak. – Jim Harrison

Poetry is emotion put into measure. The emotion must come by nature, but the measure can be acquired by art. – Thomas Hardy

Poetry, even when apparently most fantastic, is always a revolt against artifice, a revolt, in a sense, against actuality. – James Joyce

Poetry, whatever the manifest content of the poem, is always a violation of the rationalism and morality of bourgeois society. – Octavio Paz

Poetry is above all a concentration of the power of language, which is the power of our ultimate relationship to everything in the universe. – Adrienne Rich

Poetry is the opening and closing of a door, leaving those who look through to guess about what is seen during the moment. – Carl Sandburg

Some of these quotes are hundreds of years old, yet, to this day, there isn’t a single one I could argue is untrue. Maybe that is the nature of poetry, to evolve alongside humanity and reveal its many faces as it sees fit. As you progress with your journey with this beautiful art form, consider that maybe the question isn’t ‘what is poetry?’, Perhaps the right question is- What does poetry mean to you?

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