Poets On Poetry


“Poetry is coffee for the soul.”
 – Bruce J. Wood

Poetry is not just rhyming words set in mathematical formulas. Most people have been taught this and that is why many people do not like poetry. Those that do like poetry have broken out of this formalistic construct to enjoy the deeper beauty and joy of what poetry offers – a celebration of what makes us human.

I write poetry. When I write something that I believe is good it measures up to certain standards I uphold, the foremost being: Does it evoke beauty? – Is it aesthetic? Uplifting? Poetry is communicating a concept and emotion of beauty that cannot be captured in everyday language. It does not need to be of beautiful landscapes, children at play, flowers, a summer’s day, or about love. It can be provocative, disturbing, harsh, or anything it all. The true test is how the verse effects the reader. Does it do its job? If I can evoke someone to say awe, be inspired, laugh, or cry, I have done my job.

Beauty is not a thing nor a place, it is an intellectual and emotional process and interaction between the audience and the object of art or nature. Beauty is the uplifting of the soul (spirit), according to Plato and such great poets as Dante, Milton, Shakespeare, Schiller, Goethe, Shelley, Keats, Poe, Dickinson, Frost, and others.

Modernism and post-modernism have popularized the notion that anything goes, that art is merely a matter of taste and personal opinion. Contrary to this belief, people who like art know this is not entirely true – that there is a distinction between good and bad art, no matter the genre or form, be it classical or modern.

Let us allow the great poets and philosophers determine ‘What Is Poetry’ in their own poetic, metaphorical, imaginary, magical, and whimsical language. Read this ‘article’ as if it were a long poem.

But first, let us hear their poetic voices in a selection of short verse.

I hide myself within my flower,
That fading from your vase,
You, unsuspecting, feel for me —
Almost a loneliness.
Emily Dickinson

Before the white chrysanthemum
the scissors hesitate
a moment

The fog comes on little cat feet. It
sits looking over harbor and city;
on silent haunches and then moves on.
Carl Sandburg

Under the cherry blossom’s shade
there is no such thing
as a stranger

A field of mustard,
no whale in sight,
the sea darkening

Greek Theater Masks

Two roads diverged in a wood,
and I—I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
Robert Frost

Winter solitude –
in a world of one color,
the sound of wind

Sea darkening –
the wild duck’s call
is faintly white

All night, this soft rain from the distant past.
No wonder I sometimes waken as a child.
Ted Kooser

I want to do to you
what the Spring does to cherry trees.
Pablo Neruda

I have never seen a wild thing
sorry for itself.
A small bird will drop frozen from a bough
without ever having felt sorry for itself.
D.H. Lawrence

She turned a snappy half-turn
there in the wind before coming down, arms wide,
skating backward right out of the moment, smiling back
at the woman she’d been an instant before.
Ted Kooser

The calm
cool face of the river
asked me for a kiss
Langston Hughes

At the essential landscape stare, stare
Till your eyes foist a vision dazzling on the wind:
Whatever lost ghosts flare,
Damned, howling in their shrouds across the moor
Rave on the leash of the starving mind
Which peoples the bare room, the blank, untenanted air.
Sylvia Plath

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
Robert Frost

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Dylan Thomas

Muses - Wikipedia

Robert Frost (1874-1963)

Robert Frost in 1941

“Poetry is what gets lost in translation.”

“Poetry is when an emotion has found its thought, and the thought has found words.”

“Unless you are educated in metaphor, you are not safe to be let loose in the world.

“Poetry is a way of taking life by the throat.”

“My definition of poetry (if I were forced to give one) would be this: words that have become deeds.”

“Nearly everybody is looking for something brave to do. I don’t know why people shouldn’t write poetry. That’s brave.”

“That little poem means just what it says and it says what it means, nothing less but nothing more.”

“Writing free verse is like playing tennis with the net down.”

“I have never started a poem yet whose end I knew. Writing a poem is discovering.”

“Like a piece of ice on a hot stove the poem must ride on its own melting.”

“There are three things, after all, that a poem must reach: the eye, the ear, and what we may call the heart or the mind. It is most important of all to reach the heart of the reader.”

Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)

Emily Dickinson Portrait

“If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry.”

“I dwell in possibility.”

“This is my letter to the world
That never wrote to me.”

“Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul.”

“Not knowing when the dawn will come
I open every door.”

“Beauty is not caused. It is.”

“The soul should always stand ajar, ready to welcome the ecstatic experience.”

Carl Sandburg (1878-1967)

Fog by Carl Sandburg - Poems | Academy of American Poets

“Poetry is an echo, asking a shadow to dance.”

“Poetry is the capture of a picture, a song, or a flair, in a deliberate prism of words.”

“Poetry is the journal of a sea animal living on land, wanting to fly in the air.”

“Poetry is a phantom script telling how rainbows are made and why they go away.”

“Poetry is a search for syllables to shoot at the barriers of the unknown and the unknowable.”

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832)

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe - Alma Books

“Modern poets add a lot of water to their work.”

“All things are metaphors.”

“No concrete object lies outside the poetic sphere, as long as the poet knows how to use the object properly.”

“What makes poetry? A full heart, brimful of one noble passion.”

“All lyrical work must, as a whole, be perfectly intelligible, but in some particulars a little unintelligible.”

“Give shape, artist don’t talk! Your poem be but a breath.”

“True art can only spring from the intimate linking of the serious and the playful.”

William Blake (1757-1827)

William Blake - Historic UK

“To see a world in a grain of sand and heaven in a wild flower. Hold infinity in the palm of your hand and eternity in an hour.”

“He who binds to himself a joy, Does the winged life destroy; But he who kisses the joy as it flies: Lives in eternity’s sun rise.”

“I am in you and you in me, mutual in divine love.”

“Art can never exist without naked beauty displayed.”

“What is now proved was once only imagined.”

“Imagination is the real and eternal world of which this vegetable universe is but a faint shadow.”

“Do what you will, this world’s a fiction and is made up of contradiction.”

“The difference between a bad artist and a good one is: the bad artist seems to copy a great deal; the good one really does.”

“Poetry fettered fetters the human race.”

Langston Hughes (1901-1967)

Adulthood - langston Hughes

“Hold fast to dreams, For if dreams die,
Life is a broken-winged bird, That cannot fly.”

“Let the rain kiss you. Let the rain beat upon your head with silver liquid drops. Let the rain sing you a lullaby.”

“An artist must be free to choose what he does, certainly, but he must also never be afraid to do what he might choose.”

“Perhaps the mission of an artist is to interpret beauty to people – the beauty within themselves.”

“Like a welcome summer rain, humor may suddenly cleanse and cool the earth, the air and you.”

Sylvia Plath (1932-1963)


“The blood jet is poetry and there is no stopping it.”

“We should meet in another life, we should meet in air, me and you.”

“I took a deep breath and listened to the old brag of my heart. I am, I am, I am.”

“And by the way, everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.”

“Perhaps when we find ourselves wanting everything, it is because we are dangerously close to wanting nothing.”

“Remember, remember, this is now, and now, and now. Live it, feel it, cling to it. I want to become acutely aware of all I’ve taken for granted.”

“Nothing stinks like a pile of unpublished writing.’

“Poetry, I feel, is a tyrannical discipline. You’ve got to go so far so fast in such a small space; you’ve got to burn away all the peripherals.”

Friedrich Schiller (1759-1805)

Friedrich Schiller (January 10, 1759 — May 9, 1805), German historian, philosopher, physician, playwright, poet | World Biographical Encyclopedia

“The poetic spirit is immortal and cannot be lost to humanity.”

“The poet must elevate reality to the ideal, or represent the ideal.”

“Art is the right hand of nature, the latter has only given us being, the former has made us men.”

“Serephs share with thee knowledge, but art, O man, is thine alone.”

“The painter is, as to the execution of his worth, a mechanic; but as to his conception and spirit and design he is hardly below even the poet.”

“Toil of science swells the wealth of art.”

“Nature is the only flame on which the poetic spirit feeds; from it alone it draws all its power.”

Lewis Carroll (1832-1898)

10 Fascinating Facts About Lewis Carroll | Mental Floss

“How do you know I’m mad?” said Alice. “You must be,” said the Cat, “or you wouldn’t have come here.”

“If you don’t know where you are going, any road can take you there.

“Things are curiouser and curiouser.”

“Why is a raven like a writing-desk?”

“Imagination is the only weapon in the war against reality.”

“Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

“My reality is just different from yours.”

“It’s a poor sort of memory that only works backwards.”

“You must close your eyes, otherwise you won’t see anything.”

Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822)

Ozymandias by Percy Bysshe Shelley - Poems | Academy of American Poets

“A poet is a nightingale, who sits in darkness and sings to cheer its own solitude with sweet sounds.”

“Poetry lifts the veil from the hidden beauty of the world, and makes familiar objects be as if they were not familiar.”

“A poet participates in the eternal, the infinite, and the one.”

“Poets are the authors of language and of music, and the inventors of the arts of life.”

“Poetry is the expression of the imagination, and is connate with the origin of man; a principle within the human being, and produces not melody alone, but harmony.”

“Poetry is the echo of the eternal music.”

“Poetry is a mirror which makes beautiful that which is distorted.”

“Poetry awakens and enlarges the mind itself by rendering it the receptacle of a thousand unapprehended combinations of thought.”

“Poets are…the mirrors of the gigantic shadows which futurity casts upon the present, the words which express what they understand not, the trumpets which sing to battle and feel what they inspire: the influence which is moved not, but moves. Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the World.”

John Keats (1795-1821)

Posthumous portrait of John Keats by William Hilton. National Portrait Gallery, London

‘Poetry should be great and unobtrusive, a thing which enters into one’s soul, and does not startle it or amaze it with itself, but with its subject.”

“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.”

“With a great poet the sense of Beauty overcomes every other consideration, or rather obliterates all consideration.”

“Heard melodies are sweet, but the unheard are sweeter.”

“I am certain of nothing but the holiness of the heart’s affections, and the truth of imagination.”

“What the imagination seizes as beauty must be truth.”

“A thing of beauty is a joy for ever: Its loveliness increases; it will never Pass into nothingness; but still will keep A bower quiet for us, and a sleep Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing.”

Mary Oliver (1935-2019)

Map of Mary Oliver: A Reading Pathway | Book Riot

“Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness. It took me years to understand that this too, was a gift.”

“You must not ever stop being whimsical.”

“I believe in kindness. Also in mischief. Also in singing, especially when singing is not necessarily prescribed.”

“Keep some room in your heart for the unimaginable.”

“To pay attention, this is our endless and proper work.”

“Poetry is a life-cherishing force. For poems are not words, after all, but fires for the cold, ropes let down to the lost, something as necessary as bread in the pockets of the hungry.”

“The most regretful people on earth are those who felt the call to creative work, who felt their own creative power restive and uprising, and gave to it neither power nor time.”

“Poetry is one of the ancient arts, and it begins as did all the fine arts, within the original wilderness of the earth.”

Dylan Thomas (1914-1953)

The 'lost' Dylan Thomas notebook shedding light on his poetic evolution | The Independent

“A man defines himself by his make-believe as well as by his sincere impulses.”

“Poetry is what in a poem makes you laugh, cry, prickle, be silent, makes your toe nails 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.”

“Light breaks on secret lots, on tips of thought where thoughts smell in the rain.”

“The joy and function of poetry is , and was, the celebration of man, which is also the celebration of God.”

“You can tear a poem apart to see what makes it technically tick… You’re back with the mystery of having been moved by words.”

“The best craftsmanship always leaves holes and gaps in the works of the poem so that something that is not in the poem can creep, crawl, flash, or thunder in.”

T.S. Eliot (1888-1965)

TS Eliot Prize Readings

“Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal.”

“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.”

“The poet’s mind is in fact a receptacle for seizing and storing up numberless feelings, phrases, images, which remain there until all the particles which can unite to form a new compound are present together.”

“Genuine poetry can communicate before it is understood.”

Plato (428-347 BC)

Biography of Plato

“Poetry is nearer to vital truth than history.”

“Poets are to us in a manner the fathers and authors of the Wisdom.”

“Poets utter great and wise things which they do not themselves understand.”

“The productions of all arts are kinds of poetry and their craftsmen are all poets.”

“A poet is a light and winged thing, and holy and never able to compose until he has become inspired, and is beside himself, and reason is no longer in him.”

“What a man creates by means of reason will pale before the art of inspired beings with the divine madness of the Muses.”

“Art has no end but its own perfection.”

“At the touch by a lover, everyone becomes a poet.”

Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849)

Edgar Allan Poe - Wikipedia

“The poetry of words as the rhythmical creation of beauty.”

“A poem deserves its title only in as much as it excites, by elevating the soul. The value of the poem is in the ratio of this elevating excitement.”

“There are three distinctions of mind: Intellect concerned with reason and truth; Taste concerned with the beautiful, the soul; Moral sense with duty and virtue.”

“Poetry and music evoke beauty, move the sentiments of Taste… The longing for a higher loveliness unable to be attained by the soul.”

“Beauty is the atmosphere and the real essence of the poem, not intellect or passion.

Confucius (551-479 BC)

“Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it.”

“If a man is not good, what has he to do with the rules of propriety? If he is not good, what has he to do with music?”

“Be aroused by poetry; structure yourself with propriety, refine yourself with music.”

“Music produces a kind of pleasure which human nature cannot do without.”

“If one should desire to know whether a kingdom is well governed, if its morals are good or bad, the quality of its music will furnish the answer.”

“Fix your mind on truth, hold firm to virtue, rely on loving kindness, and find your recreation in the Arts.”

“The object of the superior man is truth.”

“Ah, music, sacred tongue of God! I hear thee calling and I come.”

“Never give a sword to a man who can’t dance.”

Ted Kooser (1939 -)

About Ted Kooser | Academy of American Poets

“The poem is the device through which the ordinary world is seen in a new way – engaging, compelling, even beautiful.”

“All night, this soft rain from the distant past. No wonder I sometimes waken as a child.”

“There’s nothing wrong with delighting in what you do. In fact, most of the fun you’ll have as a poet will come about during the process of writing.”

“If I don’t take the risk, I’ll wind up with a bloodless poem. I have to be out there on the edge.”

“I sat by an open window and read till the light was gone and the book was no more than a part of the darkness. I could easily have switched on a lamp, but I wanted to ride the day down into night, to sit alone, and smooth the unreadable page with the pale gray ghost of my hand.”

Recommended Reading

  • Confucius (551-479 BC), Classic of Poetry
  • Plato (428-347 BC), Republic, Ion, Gorgias, Phaedrus
  • Aristotle (384-322 BC), Poetics, 335 BC
  • Horace (65-8 BC), The Art of Poetry, 19 BC
  • Longinius, 1st Century AD, On the Sublime
  • Philip Sidney (1554-1586), A Defense of Poetry, 1580
  • Samuel Johnson (1709-1784), Lives of the Poets
  • Immanuel Kant (1774-1804), Critique of Aesthetic Judgement, 1798
  • Edmund Burke (1729-1797), A Philosophical Enquiry Into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful, 1757
  • Friedrich Schiller (1759-1805), On Naïve and Sentimental Poetry, 1795; On the Aesthetic Education of Man, 1794
  • Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832), On Didactic Poetry; On Epic and Dramatic Poetry
  • G.W.F. Hegel (1770-1831), Lectures on Aesthetics, 1835
  • Walter Scott (1771-1832), Essay of Limitations of the Ancient Ballad, 1830
  • Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822), A Defense of Poetry, 1840
  • Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849), The Poetic Principle; The Philosophy of Composition; The Rationale of Verse
  • Matthew Arnold (1922-1888), The Study of Poetry, 1880
  • Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900), The Birth of Tragedy, 1872
  • Oscar Wilde (1854-1900), Intentions, 1891
  • Gertrude Stein (1874-1946), How to Write, 1931
  • Rainer Rilke (1875-1926), Letters to a Young Poet, 1929
  • Wallace Stevens (1879-1955), The Necessary Angel: Essays on Reality and the Imagination, 1951
  • T.S. Eliot (1888-1965), Poetry and Drama, The Tradition and the Individual Talent, The Metaphysical Poets
  • William Stafford (1914-1993), Crossing Unmarked Snow
  • Lawrence Feringhetti, What Is Poetry, 2000, Poetry As Insurgent Art, 2007
  • Mary Oliver, A Poetry Handbook, 1994
  • Ted Kooser, The Poetry Home Repair Manual, 2005
Bruce J. Wood
Bruce J. Wood
Bruce J. Wood, founder of AOIDE Bruce J. Wood has worked on Wall Street in business finance and strategy, and has written hundreds of finance business plans, strategic plans, economic feasibility studies, and economic impact studies. Bruce has lectured on creativity and strategic thinking, as well as worked on the development of numerous publishing, film, television, and performing arts projects, along with downtown revitalizations, using the arts as an economic catalyst. As an aficionado of music, art, and dance, Bruce is also a writer and an outdoor enthusiast. He has written poetry, blogs, articles, and many creative project concepts. He lives in the Metro Detroit area and enjoys writing poetry, backpacking, and ballroom dancing.

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