Poetry: Beauty or a Beast?

I have recently been thinking, oddly enough, about poetry. I remember a prof. from my undergrad asserting that approximately 35% of the Old Testament is poetry. So to not understand poetry is to not understand 1/3 of the OT. This comment was striking to me, perhaps due to my own lack of engagement with this particular medium of literature. I am reminded of my own sense of fear as I was assigned massive amounts of poetry in my senior AP English class for high school. Yet, as I read through many classical works of poetry, it was like I was beholding an undiscovered corner of the earth full of majesty and wonder. Since then, my appreciation of poetry has increased substantially. Gene Edward Veith has made a remarkable observation:

“Actually, poetry is probably closer to reality than other forms of literature. Nonfiction can be abstract, and fiction is wholly imaginary, but poetry tends to be written out of the intensity of lived experience. Poetic descriptions are nearly always direct and firsthand, whether the poet is writing about the grandeur of the Alps, romantic love, or ecstasy in the presence of God. The language of a poem is intense and complex because the reality that it seeks to evoke is intense and complex.”

This is extremely profound to me. I wonder if the reason many individuals do not connect with poetry is because what they read does not mirror their experience in life.
What I mean by this is that most people float through life never knowing what it means to truly live. They find solace in the material realm while ever neglecting the things that deliver true comfort and contentment…the spiritual or immaterial. Yet many Naturalists have been lovers of poetry. The answer must be that they can connect with the intensity of what they have experienced, but the ultimate experience comes when one connects with an immutable truth spelled out by poetry. That meaning, that sort of significance, can only be found in something that exists outside of their “closed system.”

2 Responses to Poetry: Beauty or a Beast?

  1. Brandi Fruge says:

    Poetry to me is not only a way to express an experience with intensity that even still you know words will not be able to mimic, yet also a way “to experience” situations, sights, and life through the eyes and ears of others who have had the opportunity to go the path. I feel one reason why so many people lack the interest in poetic language is simply because it takes thought which entails work, and most people today have become so incredibly laxed in the process of utilizing the one thing that we have going for us as humans. The ability to reason. Attempting to contemplate the meaning behind someone else’s words becomes to trying for them and so they turn off to the idea that it makes no sense except to the writer and to the strange minded who “only believe that they know the meaning”. This is just my opinion based on my own personal observations and conversations with many.

  2. Clint says:

    Brandi,

    Nice to hear from you and thanks for the comment. There definitely seems to be something about poetry that enables one to engage with the existential reality of life. And while other mediums of literature might also be helpful in doing this, there is something about poetry that makes it more enjoyable and perhaps more meaningful. It does seem that in our age of rational privation many are hardly attracted to the idea of struggling through a poem to grasp a deep truth. Yet, perhaps a struggle to understand a poem is analogous to the struggle in understanding the broad questions of life (i.e. why do we exist?, is there a god?, does truth exist?, etc.). So, to the extent that people are pursuing these questions less and less, the pursuit of understanding poetry may also decline. This, of course, is a tragedy.

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