To quote The Oxford Dictionary poetry can be defined as, “Literary work in which the expression of feelings and ideas is given intensity by the use of distinctive style and rhythm...”

The beauty of poetry is its concise nature, no poem is too short.

Sometimes an entire story can be told in a short poem such as a haiku that consists of only one stanza and uses a particular amount of syllables. Poetry is a wonderful tool for introducing the concept of analytical reading to timid readers.

The unique art form of poetry evokes the emotions of readers through the use of highly descriptive language, painting entire pictures through the use of metaphor, simile and personification.

artist's canvas and poetry
Poets help us to paint the canvas of our imaginations with their beautiful words - unsplash

When writing poetry, every word is chosen carefully to create a rhythmical flow. Poetic devices such as assonance, onomatopoeia, alliteration and rhyming bring words to life when poems are recited, producing a musical effect. But it’s important to remember that some of the best poems are free verse and don’t rhyme.

Because of its musical nature and the fact that messages are conveyed by more than just vocabulary, it’s difficult to retain the essence of a poem if it’s translated into another language especially when it comes to poems that rhyme. This only adds to the unique allure of poetic writing.

The Way We Can Be Stirred by Poems

For the skeptics out there, don’t be too quick to dismiss poetry books as a waste of your time. So many of us have the misconception that poetry is sappy and mournful and basically all love poems. Perhaps the focus on the romantic poets and classic poems for children at school level doesn’t inspire the masses to love poetry.

It’s a great pity because there’s so much fantastic contemporary poetry and funny poems that would really appeal to kids. Educators would do well to remember to balance the classics with a few new poems.

If you are tutoring a poetry student dreading English literature, you could introduce them to a list of short poems and encourage them to choose inspiring quotes to memorise from every poem you study together.

Through the ages epic poetry has been written about a vast amount of subjects. From a sonnet of the broken heart that can make you weep to the mournful elegy of a family friend. You could read a ballad of treacherous battles, perseverance, adversity and foolish mistakes or funny love poems.

However a great poet can also take the most mundane topic such as folding laundry and create a moving poetical masterpiece filled with powerful quotes about life.

It’s not uncommon for people to think that reading poetry aloud is only something that's done within a artistic community where poets and creatives come together to recite one another’s lyrical poems. But this is not at all true, as there are so many different poetic forms, many of which don’t rhyme at all. And there are plenty of motivational poems that can be enjoyed in solitude.

For learners completing their FET phase in high school, there will be a lot of emphasis on famous poems by both English poets and American poets such as William Butler Yeats, Wystan H. Auden, William Wordsworth and Christina Rossetti. And while these are unmistakably great poets, they can seem intimidating at first.

singer and poetic lyrics
It's important to show learners that poetry is not just classic literature but also the lyrics in their favourite song - unsplash

Despite these writers having produced some of the best poetry that reveals important lessons about unfamiliar places and times it can still be a challenge for youngsters to relate to this collection of poems and can induce a fear of failure. However with the aid of a heartfelt educator who can provide insightful interpretation to these inspirational poems, the study of poetry can be a rewarding task.

Finding inspiration from a poem isn’t necessarily because the subject is something we can personally relate to. We gain inspiration because we are afforded the opportunity to experience life through the eyes of a fellow human being, who, like all of us, has grappled with universal struggles such as love and strife as we read various poems about life and its sorrow and joys.

The Significance of War-Time Poetry

As South Africans we have very little personal connection to the war era, especially considering the fact that WW1 ended a little over a century ago and as a country we were never on the front lines of either of the great wars. There may be great-grandparents that either fought or have some ragged childhood memories of the war era.

And yet war-time poetry remains a central genre of the selected poems that are studied at school level and beyond. Despite the power of other writing forms there is still a compelling, imaginative element in the art of poetry that can transport the reader into a completely unfamiliar scene and evoke very real emotions.

Siegfried Sassoon

A well loved English poet, Siegfried Sassoon, who fought in the First World War, earned the nickname Mad Jack on account of his bravery. He wrote a number of poems about life in the trenches.

soldier and war time poetry
It's likely that countless great poems remain unpublished, lost in the trenches of war - unsplash

Sassoon’s popular poems such as ‘Attack’, published in 1918 shortly after the end of the First World War depict the true and gruesome horrors of the war which earned him equal measures of critics and fans. He used his writing as a form of protest to ignite pity for the plight of soldiers. Much of his writing took place after he had been wounded in action and sought to plead for peace on behalf of his comrades.

Wilfred Owen

Another war poet who didn’t shy away from the brutality of war in his poetry is the legendary Wilfred Owen. Also serving in the First World War, he wrote what is considered the most famous poem of the war era, ‘Dulce et decorum est’ where he describes a morbid and gut wrenching scene of a fellow soldier in the throws of death after a gas attack. Tragically, Owen was killed in action only seven days before the war ended.

Poetry That Uplifts

Rudyard Kipling

‘If’, a poem written by Rudyard Kipling carries a poignant message that addresses the way we need to overcome the hurdles life brings us. Kipling was an active writer who shared many words of wisdom during a brief period in the 1800’s and 1900’s when his life was fairly rewarding.

Sadly, Kipling had a fair amount of trials in his younger years and his later years were also marked by great sorrows. Perhaps it’s the knowledge that this poet has a genuine understanding of human suffering that makes his words all the more moving and courageous.

‘If’ is an inspirational poem that Kipling seemed to have written as a philosophical declaration to himself. It is filled with a kind of code and guideline for adult life and was so well received by his English audience that one of the encouraging quotes from the poem adorns the entrance to Wimbledon. The words go as follows:

“If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster, and treat those two imposters just the same...”

Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou was a phenomenal woman who inspired a generation of readers with her moving poetry that highlights human bravery in the face of discrimination and racism. Born in 1928, Maya became a close personal friend to Martin Luther King Jr. during the civil rights movement. Her dedication in creating awareness for civil rights served to brighten the lives of countless Americans.

In one of her most well known poems ‘And Still I Rise’ Maya writes from the heart, communicating the determination and passion she felt for the plight of her fellow African Americans. Also known as “the black woman’s Poet Laureate”, many of her poetic words are still used as popular inspirational quotes and she remains a heroine whose voice rose up to say what so many had felt and she inspired a generation to dream. Maya Angelou has left a legacy of quotes to live by.

Optimistic Poetry by Unknown Poets

Poems by ‘Anon’ deserve to be discussed. These types of poems can be so poignant because sometimes they carry a message that seems to resound from the pages and you cannot help but wonder why the writer’s identity has been left a mystery.

There is something oddly noble about anonymous poets.

What they write is pure, untainted by reader’s expectations and unswayed by other’s opinions. Anonymous writers put pen to paper simply because they really care about something enough to want to share it with others.

However doing a study on anonymous poems isn’t necessarily an easy task. The thing is that there’s no frame of reference, leaving this kind of poetry up to the reader to interpret.

fountain pen and paper
There is a special magic in the words of anonymous writers - unsplash

A Smile

There is a sweet poem entitled ‘A Smile’, also written anonymously. Initially it would appear to be a simple piece of poetry aimed at casting a ray of happiness into life that can sometimes be quite sombre.

It seems like this optimist of a poet just wanted to remind us how important it is to remain joyful and that our positive attitude can affect the people we come into contact with. Just like a flu virus, a smile is contagious and can spread so quickly from one person to the next. Of course we don’t know what circumstances brought about the inspiration of this poem but we can all implement this lesson in our own lives.

For instance, the poem could be interpreted as an attempt to highlight the complications of 21st century living due to the pace of life, financial pressures and the influence of technological advancements. Basically the poet could be nudging us to remember the important things: to find love, friendship, kindness and to believe in yourself.

Is there any point in living life if we are just chasing all the competitive standards of living? Maybe we should be encouraged to find purposeful careers, true love and passions and hobbies that bring us fulfillment. Perhaps all our efforts should actually be directed towards finding happiness.

So if laughter and smiles are contagious, the writer is telling us to choose smiling and laughing even if we feel like a pessimist and positivity doesn’t comes naturally - we may be surprised how our worries melt away.

Whether it’s modern poetry, poems for kids, a limerick or romantic poems – there is something for every reader. The hope is that everyone can be inspired to read poetry and be reassured that it isn’t only for a select few.

Just one poem has the power to inspire thoughts that can change your life.

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Kyla