“Hope is the thing with feathers That perches in the soul And sings the tune without the words And never stops at all.”
From Hope is the Thing with Feathers by Emily Dickinson (1891)
“But there are moments, walking, when I catch a glimpse of myself in the window glass, say, the window of the corner video store, and I’m gripped by a cherishing so deep for my own blowing hair, chapped face, and unbuttoned coat that I’m speechless: I am living. I remember you.”
From What the Living Do by Marie Howe (1998)
Kleinbaum said, “We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is full of passion.”
Passion. If there’s one word that I link with poetry, or that poetry imposes for me, it’s passion. And sensitivity, of course. Apart from passion, emotions and aesthetic appeal in general, poems also have a strengthening quality in them. Whether you’re looking at traditional poems or modern, poetry always strengthens, yes. It uplifts the depressed and helps the privileged understand the other side. Poems stir the dim-witted to be sharper, they arouse the sleeper to become a rebel with a cause.
That is poetry. It gives strength, it makes you move, makes you think, makes you appreciate the beauty of the world around you. At least that’s what it did to me, which helped me write my book, A Carpet of Violets and Clover, in which I dedicate a whole section to haiku and poems. Poetry has been close to my heart, so I’ve decided to muse on it today, particularly the differences in classical and contemporary poetry.
It’s unfortunate that there has formed a divide in the camps of poetry. Classicists deny modern Poetry for its laziness. “Anyone can break up a paragraph of conceptual imagery into some semblance of poetic form,” they say. But they fail to realize that it takes talent to write lines that are more than just reformatted prose. There are similar objections from the other half of the camp, too, criticizing classical poetry for its rigidity and superficiality. Hence, I have written this article to enlighten readers of modernist poetry and traditional poetry alike.
Understanding History of Poetry
To understand postmodern poetry, we must first understand the history of poetry. Here is a summary throughout history that sheds light on traditional poetry characteristics:
Seventeenth-century poetry is known as metaphysical poetry, largely characterized by frequent use of juxtaposition, paradoxes, and subtlety of thought. William Shakespeare is the most popular poet of this era, and arguably of all time.
Eighteenth-century poetry is typically referred to as classical poetry. The early eighteenth century saw the birth of Romanticism, passionate emotions, love lost, and the balance between the delicate nature of life. That’s what the poets captured, emphasizing on form and meter. Simultaneously, the naturalist movement emerged, where nature became the core subject. Poets would create rich metaphors by using the tangible aspects of nature such as flowers, trees, and rivers to bemuse the fragility of life.
However, twentieth-century poets often began retelling events of their past by adding a modern spin and tying them to socio-political events of their times. Poetry that directly touches base on material individualism, is what feeds postmodern poetry of the twenty-first century. This often takes shape in fragmented sentences, with heavy use of enjambment, and rarely any distinct rhyme scheme.
Coming from a long-winded history where rigidity of rules, complexity of expression, and adherence to structure were imperative, modern poetry saw a revolution. Expression became relatively simpler and direct, and form became liberated.
Difference Between Modern And Traditional Poetry
Let’s take a brief and direct look at both these poetry styles.
It is open in form, incorporating free verse (without fixed metrical structure and rhyme). Aesthetic embellishments are not a priority as directness of ideas weigh more than how those ideas are conveyed. There is no restriction on themes and style; poetry can be as experimental as imagination allows.
Traditional poetry is devoted to form and an almost superficial polish and intensity is given to the expression of feelings and ideas using metaphors, distinctive style and rhythm. Emotions triumph reason in traditional poetry, though are still supported by intelligence. Themes that prevail are romance and nature.
We now have an introductory understanding about the differences between traditional and modern poetry. Each style has its merits, and it is best to appreciate both for what they offer. I can say I did, for the poetry I have written in my two books, All the Moments are Real and A Carpet of Violets and Clover blend the classic and contemporary styles.
Here is a paragraph I like On page 55 of “All The Moments Are Real” from a Poem called ‘Love’s Gift’:
“You take the time to lie in bed with me
And watch the squirrels play in the trees.
You hear and appreciate the woodpecker outside our window.
Everything you do and say shows how much you love me.”
To sum up the article, we can say that while the importance of traditional poetry lay in its focus on beautiful articulation and a latticework of rules, the importance of modern poetry is seen with modern poets valuing strength of ideas over expression, and unrestricted use of subjects.