How Do You Define Poetry?


If you have been writing for a long time your definition of poetry may have evolved as you have developed your craft. As someone who has been writing poetry for several years, I, too, find that my approach and understanding of poetry has changed. Poetry that presently resonates with me has less to do with story and more to do with feeling, so my current definition of poetry may be “the expression of genuine feeling through creative imagery.”

I feel it is essential for working artists/poets to be clear about what defines their art form for them personally. Clarity may serve well as a focus, strength, and a beacon when working long hours in that ocean of isolation and doubt. Many poets throughout history have defined “poetry” for themselves in order to sustain the dance with what is sometimes a capricious muse.

Here is a list of poetry definitions I’ve compiled. They are in no particular order. Peruse them, see which definition of poetry best resonates with you, make it your lighthouse…and enjoy!

“Painting is silent poetry, and poetry is painting with the gift of speech” — Simonides (556 – 468 BCE)

“Poetry comes nearer to vital truth than history” — Plato (427  – 347 BCE)

“Poetry is the rhythmical creation of beauty in words” — Edgar Allan Poe

“Poetry is emotion put into measure” — Thomas Hardy

“Poetry is the spontaneous outflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origins from emotion recollected in tranquility” — William Wordsworth, Lyrical Ballads, 1802

“(Poetry is) a kind of ingenious nonsense” — Isaac Newton

“Poetry is an echo, asking a shadow to dance” — Carl Sandburg

“Poetry is what gets lost in translation” — Robert Frost

“Poetry is a rhythmical form of words which express an imaginative-emotional-intellectual experience of the writer’s…in such a way that it creates a similar experience in the mind of his reader or listener” — Clive Sansom

“Poetry is the record of the best and happiest moments of the happiest and best minds” — Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792 – 1822)

“Poetry is not a turning loose of emotion, but an escape from emotion; it is not the expression of personality, but an escape from personality. But, of course, only those who have personality and emotions know what it means to want to escape from these things” — T. S. Eliot (1888 – 1965)

“(Poetry) is the lava of the imagination whose eruption prevents an earthquake” — Lord Byron (1788 – 1824)

“Poetry is the deification of reality. Edith Sitwell” — (1887 – 1964), Life magazine, 01-04-63

“Genuine poetry can communicate before it is understood” — T. S. Eliot (1888 – 1965)

“Poetry is a mirror which makes beautiful that which is distorted. Percy Shelley” — A Defence of Poetry, 1821

“Poetry is the art of uniting pleasure with truth”. Samuel Johnson

“Poetry is the art of creating imaginary gardens with real toads in them” — Marianne Moore

“Poetry is language at its most distilled and most powerful” — Rita Dove

“Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world” — Percy Bysshe Shelley

“Poetry: the best words in the best order” —  Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Many of these quotes are from many sources, including Brainy Quote, Quotes about Poetry, Quotations Page, The Quote Garden, etc…

John Di Leonardo

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