Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema
Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema
The oldest texts known to mankind were written in the form of poetry; it has been around since humanity began to record its existence on earth. Poetry is timeless, universal, and familiar. We don't have to speak a language to hear a rhyme, recognize a cadence, feel a rhythm, mark out a meter (a poetic unit of measure based on the number of syllables in a word). We may not know the technical names for the poetic forms or be able to distinguish a sonnet from a ghazal, an iamb from a spondee, or a heroic couplet from blank verse, but the point is that knowledge of these things is not necessary to feel the beauty of the poetry!
Even with no understanding of the Arabic language, I could hear the rhythm, meter, and rhyme scheme of the poetry in the Qur'an quite easily the first time I heard it. I didn't have to know the meaning of the words to follow the hypnotic rhythms of the ayat (verses), to discern the patterns in the structure, to catch the internal and end rhymes within each line, to hear assonance and alliteration. Because I lacked familiarity with the language, the poetic form itself spoke to me. The poetry of the work crossed the barriers of time, language, culture, and geography, reaching out to me in a way that only a truly universal art form can.
The variety of styles, forms, devices, and shapes makes poetry an amazingly diverse literary form. Poetry can be as simple as a limerick
A flea and a fly in a flue
Were caught, so what could they do?
Said the fly, "Let us flee."
"Let us fly," said the flea.
So they flew through a flaw in the flue.
or as complex and filled with specific devices as an epic
Sing, goddess, the rage of Achilles the son of Peleus,
the destructive rage that sent countless ills on the Achaeans...
Poetry can tell a story like Evangeline by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow; it can teach a lesson like the ones on the importance of good behavior in Little Orphant Annie by James Whitcomb Riley; it can inspire like John Donne's Holy Sonnet X or the 8th Psalm from the Bible. Set a poem to music, and you have a song.
Long after the celebrations of poetry during the month of April have passed, its timeless beauty will continue. If you'd like to experience some of the best poetry in the English language, here are a few of my favorites:
- Paradise Lost by John Milton
- "A Valediction Forbidding Mourning" by John Donne
- William Shakespeare's Sonnets
- The Blessed Damozel by Dante Gabriel Rossetti
- "My Last Duchess" by Robert Browning
- "Pied Beauty" by Gerard Manly Hopkins
- "Song" by Christina Rossetti
- The Raven by Edgar Allen Poe
- "I, Too, Sing America" by Langston Hughes
- "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings" by Maya Angelou