History of poetry
|Schools and movements|
Cavalier • Metaphysical
|Country and region|
English poetry • Scottish poetry
Poetry as an art form predates literacy. Some of the earliest poetry is believed to have been orally recited or sung. Following the development of writing, poetry has since developed into increasingly structured forms, though much poetry since the late 20th century has moved away from traditional verse forms towards the more vaguely defined free verse and prose poem formats.
Poetry was employed as a way of remembering oral history (epic poetry), genealogy, and law. Poetry is often closely related to musical traditions, and much of it can be attributed to religious movements. Many of the poems surviving from the ancient world are a form of recorded cultural information about the people of the past, and their poems are prayers or stories about religious subject matter, histories about their politics and wars, and the important organizing myths of their societies. Some writers believe poetry has its origins in song. Most of the characteristics that distinguish it from other forms of utterance—rhythm, rhyme, compression, intensity of feeling, the use of refrains—appear to have come about from efforts to fit words to musical forms. In the European tradition the earliest surviving poems, the Homeric and Hesiodic epics, identify themselves as poems to be recited or chanted to a musical accompaniment rather than as pure song. Another interpretation is that rhythm, refrains, and kennings are essentially paratactic devices that enable the reciter to reconstruct the poem from memory.
Beginnings: Oral Poetry[edit | edit source]
Poetry as an art form predates literacy. Arguably, poetry pre-dates other forms of literature. Early examples include the Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh (dated from around 2700 B.C.), parts of the Bible, the surviving works of Homer (the Iliad and the Odyssey), and the Indian epics Ramayana and Mahabharata. In cultures based primarily on oral traditions the formal characteristics of poetry often have a mnemonic function, and important texts: legal, genealogical or moral, for example, may appear first in verse form. Many ancient works, from the Vedas (1700 - 1200 BC) to the Odyssey (800 - 675 BC), appear to have been composed in poetic form to aid memorization and oral transmission, in prehistoric and ancient societies. Poetry appears among the earliest records of most literate cultures, with poetic fragments found on early monoliths, runestones and stelae.
Epic poetry[edit | edit source]
- Main article: Epic poetry
The oldest surviving poem is the Epic of Gilgamesh, from the 4th millennium BC in Sumer (in Iraq/Mesopotamia), which was written in cuneiform script on clay tablets and, later, papyrus. The Epic of Gilgamesh is based on the historical king Gilgamesh. The oldest love poem, found on a clay tablet now known as Istanbul #2461, was also a Sumerian poem. It was recited by a bride of the Sumerian king Shu-Sin, who ruled from 2037â€“2029 BC. The oldest epic poetry besides the Epic of Gilgamesh are the Greek epics Iliad and Odyssey and the Indian Sanskrit epics Ramayana and Mahabharata. The longest epic poems ever written were the Mahabharata and the Tibetan Epic of King Gesar. In preliterate societies, forms of poetry were performance poetry: composed for (and sometimes during) a performance before an audience. There was a certain degree of fluidity to the exact wording of poems. The introduction of writing fixed the content of a poem to the written version.
Lyric poetry[edit | edit source]
- Main article: Lyric poetry
The development of literacy gave rise to more personal, shorter poems intended to be sung. These are called Lyrics, which derives from the Greek lura or lyre, the instrument that was used to accompany the performance of Greek lyrics from about the seventh century BC onward. The Greek's practice of singing hymns in large choruses gave rise in the sixth century BC to dramatic verse, and to the practice of writing poetic plays for performance in their theatres. Poetry did not become art of writing, though, but remained an art of performance. Writing was a convenience for the author or for another singer, not an alternative art form. As with the older epic poetry, lyric poetry was an art form that was recited, and listened to by an audience.
Poetics[edit | edit source]
Ancient thinkers sought to determine what makes poetry distinctive as a form and what distinguishes good poetry from bad, resulting in the development of "poetics", or the study of the aesthetics of poetry. Some ancient societies, such as the Chinese through the Shi Jing, one of the Five Classics of Confucianism, developed canons of poetic works that had ritual as well as aesthetic importance. More recently, thinkers struggled to find a definition that could encompass formal differences as great as those between Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales and Matsuo BashÅ's Oku no Hosomichi, as well as differences in context that span from the religious poetry of the Tanakh to love poetry to rap. Context can be critical to poetics and to the development of poetic genres and forms. For example, poetry employed to record historical events in epics, such as Gilgamesh or Ferdowsi's Shahnameh, will necessarily be lengthy and narrative, while poetry used for liturgical purposes in hymns, psalms, suras and hadiths is likely to have an inspirational tone, whereas elegies and tragedy are intended to invoke deep internal emotional responses. Other contexts include music such as Gregorian chants, formal or diplomatic speech, political rhetoric and invective, light-hearted nursery and nonsense rhymes, and even medical texts. The Polish historian of aesthetics, WÅ‚adysÅ‚aw Tatarkiewicz, in a paper on "The Concept of Poetry," traces the evolution of what is in fact two concepts of poetry. Tatarkiewicz points out that the term is applied to two distinct things that, as the poet Paul ValÃ©ry observes, "at a certain point find union. Poetry [...] is an art based on language. But poetry also has a more general meaning [...] that is difficult to define because it is less determinate: poetry expresses a certain state of mind."
Classical tradition[edit | edit source]
Classical thinkers employed classification as a way to define and assess the quality of poetry. Notably, Aristotle's Poetics describes the three genres of poetry: the epic, comic, and tragic, and develops rules to distinguish the highest-quality poetry of each genre, based on the underlying purposes of that genre. Later aestheticians identified three major genres: epic poetry, lyric poetry and dramatic poetry, treating comedy and tragedy as subgenres of dramatic poetry. Aristotle's work was influential throughout the Middle East during the Islamic Golden Age, as well as in Europe during the Renaissance. Later poets and aestheticians often distinguished poetry from, and defined it in opposition to, prose, which was generally understood as writing with a proclivity to logical explication and global trade. In addition to a boom in translation, during the Romantic period numerous ancient works were rediscovered.
Timeline of ancient poetry[edit | edit source]
- 7th century BC in poetry
- 6th century BC in poetry
- 5th century BC in poetry
- 4th century BC in poetry
- 3rd century BC in poetry
- 2nd century BC in poetry
- 1st century BC in poetry
- 1st century in poetry
- 2nd century in poetry
- 3rd century in poetry
- 4th century in poetry
Medieval poetry[edit | edit source]
- Main article: Medieval poetry
Timeline of Medieval poetry[edit | edit source]
- 5th century in poetry
- 6th century in poetry
- 7th century in poetry
- 8th century in poetry
- 9th century in poetry
- 10th century in poetry
- 11th century in poetry
- 12th century in poetry
- 13th century in poetry
- 14th century in poetry
Modern era: Written poetry[edit | edit source]
The use of verse to transmit cultural information continues today. Many Americans know that "in 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue". An alphabet song teaches the names and order of the letters of the alphabet; another jingle states the lengths and names of the months in the Gregorian calendar. However, modern developments, beginning with the invention of the printing press, fundamentally changed the art of poetry. For the first time, books became widely available, and the majority of the population were able to read them. A poet who previously could hope to reach thousands in a career, could now have his book read by millions.
In the modern era poetry became mainly a written art rather than a performance one. Poets were now writing more for the eye than for the ear.
Timeline of Modern poetry[edit | edit source]
- 15th century in poetry
- 16th century in poetry
- 17th century in poetry
- 18th century in poetry
- 19th century in poetry
- 20th century in poetry
See also[edit | edit source]
References[edit | edit source]
- Many scholars, particularly those researching the Homeric tradition and the oral epics of the Balkans, suggest that early writing shows clear traces of older oral poetic traditions, including the use of repeated phrases as building blocks in larger poetic units. A rhythmic and repetitious form would make a long story easier to remember and retell, before writing was available as an aide-memoire.
- For one recent summary discussion, see Frederick Ahl, The Odyssey Re-Formed (1996). Others suggest that poetry did not necessarily predate writing. See, for example, Jack Goody, The Interface Between the Written and the Oral (1987).
- N.K. Sanders, "Introduction" to Gilgamesh (1960).
- Guinness World Records 2007. Guinness World Records Limited, 2006.
- Abolqasem Ferdowsi, Dick Davis trans., Shahnameh: The Persian Book of Kings (2006) ISBN 0-670-03485-1
- For example, in the Arabic world, much diplomacy was carried out through poetic form in the 16th century. See Trickster's Travel's, Natalie Zemon Davis (2006).
- Examples of political invective include libel poetry and the classical epigrams of Martial and Catullus.
- For example, many of Ibn Sina's medical texts were written in verse.
- Aristotle's Poetics, Heath (ed) 1997.
- Ibn Rushd (Averroes) wrote a commentary on Aristotle's Poetics, replacing the original examples with passages from Arabic poets. See for example, W. F. Boggess, 'Hermannus Alemannus' Latin Anthology of Arabic Poetry,' Journal of the American Oriental Society, 1968, Volume 88, 657-70, and Charles Burnett, 'Learned Knowledge of Arabic Poetry, Rhymed Prose, and Didactic Verse from Petrus Alfonsi to Petrarch', in Poetry and Philosophy in the Middle Ages: A Festschrift for Peter Dronke, 2001. ISBN 90-04-11964-7.
- See, for example, Paul F Grendler, The Universities of the Italian Renaissance, Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004. ISBN 0-8018-8055-6 (for example, page 239) for the prominence of Aristotle and the Poetics on the Renaissance curriculum.
[edit | edit source]
- "A Time-Line of Poetry in English" Web page of the Representative Poetry Online Web site, University of Toronto
- Poetry Through the Ages website
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