TeeJaw Blog

What is a Poem?

Posted in Culture by TeeJaw on Friday, January 14, 2011, 10: 25 PM

A poem is a condensed composition written in metrical feet forming rhythmical lines. That’s the answer you’d give to an extra-terrestial alien who asked the question. A poem is actually an expression in words that may be profound or simply delightful. Or both. Frost said that a poem begins in delight and ends in wisdom. Here are three short ones that might do that.

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.

Some poems are noted for saying a lot with the least words:

The fog comes
on little cat feet.

It sits looking
over harbor and city
on silent haunches
and then moves on.

— Carl Sandburg

21 words that say…something.

This one says more, in 21 words:

Your absence has gone through me
Like thread through a needle.
Everything I do is stitched with its color.

— W.S. Merwin

One more that is an aphorism or an epigram. Not a poem. Thirteen words that are profound.

How do I know what I think
Until I see what I say?

— E.M. Forster


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