“Poets utter great and wise things which they themselves do not understand”. Plato
Poetry has always been a part of human life. It is an art that lies in the soul and spirit of man since the beginning of time. A poet writes always of his personal life and experience. He writes because he has an indispensable desire in his heart to express his ideas to objectify his poetic philosophy about life.
The English poet Shelly said that: ‘‘A poem is the very image of life expressed in its eternal truth……’’.The profound truth in this line written by Shelly can be seen in the poetry of all the classical poets of old from Homer to Shakespeare. The writing of great poetry has been the primary vehicle of expressing one’s thoughts, observations, historical events, and various philosophies from a different perspective about life.
A great poem unlike a novel or a short story can be digested and absorbed in our souls and can become a part of us forever. The poetry of Homer,Virgil,Dante,Tagore,Shakespeare has become a part of the literary world until today. The divinity of their poetry has become sermons and prayers over the ages.
Poets speak a language all their own. Poets think in images-words naming a sensory thing or action. Great poetry requires a reader to experience a series of sensory experiences. Having experienced the image-we need to interpret it-its vital message the poet is conveying to his readers. Poetry gives pleasure first, then truth hidden in complex imagery and philosophy. Its language is charged, intensified and sophisticated.
Imagery in poetry writing is what every poet should strive for to achieve in his literary craft. Imagery is not just the sensory object the poem will convey to the readers. It is not only the beautiful and musical patterning of words; it is truth and meaning within the words of the poet that gives us great poetry.
The illustrious American poet and critic T.S.Eliot wrote:‘‘The dead poets are revealing themselves in the poets that are alive…..’’.His poetic knowledge in the line I have quoted here is what I have experienced as a poet. I am inspired and motivated to write when I read the work of a great poet. Inspiration will only come when I can value the poetry of every great poet whose work I have read. Poetry I believe is a very deep spiritual revelation compounded with creative imagination from the unseen world into the known material world.
Some philosophers and theologians believe that poetry writing is very deep ‘intuitive writing’ that cannot be taught from mere book learning. I fully agree with them because one can be taught the literary genres and techniques about writing from an English text book; but one cannot be taught how to write. Great poetry has to be revealed to the poet by spiritual revelation for him to become an inspired poet. It is my firm conviction that poetry as well as music and art are a God given gift given to the artist unknown to him on many occasions that cannot be taught at Universities. Some of our greatest Guyanese authors and poets such as: Martin Carter, Wilson Harris, Edgar Mittelholzer, Philip Moore and English lexicographer Samuel Johnson never acquired university degrees but their writings excelled those with PhD’s degrees .Why? Because they study and read widely; one cannot write well unless they are widely read. Great reading and a love for words brings inspiration to the writer. Samuel Johnson was too poor to acquire a University degree yet he wrote the greatest dictionary and tons of books and papers. What many academics failed to understand is very simple: degrees don’t write; writers do the writing not degrees.
Intuition which we sometimes call ‘inspiration’ will push us to write lines we ourselves are unable to write by our natural intellectual apprehension. Until today many literary scholars believe that Shakespeare never wrote what he had written because he was not educated at a University. Shakespeare was naturally gifted and inspired by God to write what he had written. The American poet and critic T.S.Eliot believed that Shakespeare never did any real thinking to write but wrote upon inspired thoughts given to him by the imperial muse of poetry.
Poetry is an art, the greatest of the fine arts, and the hardest in which to reach true perfection. The true poet must be a genuine poet who has faith and confidence that his work will do something to the world and the society he lives in. Poetry deals with the emotional intensity in man. It’s a more sophisticated art in writing that comes from the poet’s heart by a higher sort of creative imagination. Prose on the other hand deals with the external intellect, it’s a more lucid and scientific form of expression. It is a more analytical and comprehensive style in formal writing. It enables man to see things more clearly; whereas poetry lies in obscure images beneath the surface of things that can only be comprehended by eyes within our mind’s eye. Poetry is philosophy locked in symbolism and magnificent imagery.
Some Poems by some Literary Greats:
‘Say not in grief that she is no more
but say in thankfulness that she was
A death is not the extinguishing of a light,
but the putting out of the lamp
because the dawn has come.’
By: Rabindranauth Tagore (India)
if you see me
looking at your hands
listening when you speak
marching in your ranks
you must know
I do not sleep to dream,
but dream to change the world.’
By: Martin Carter (Guyana’s National Poet)
By William Shakespeare
No longer mourn for me when I am dead
Then you shall hear the surly sullen bell
Give warning to the world that I am fled
From this vile world with vilest worms to dwell;
Nay, if you read this line, remember not
The hand that writ it; for I love you so,
That I in your sweet thoughts would be forgot,
If thinking on me then should make you woe.
O, if (I say) you look upon this verse,
When I (perhaps) compounded am with clay,
Do not so much as my poor name rehearse,
But let your love even with my life decay,
Lest the wise world should look into your moan,
And mock you with me after I am gone.
Here I quote the poems of three world renowned poets including our own late national poet
Martin Carter none of whom were university graduates yet they wrote the greatest poetry in the world.
In the first poem Tagore wrote in very simple language but depicts in vivid concise imagery that death is not the end of life, he sees death as the beginning of a new divine journey into the spiritual world.
Martin Carter explores the relationship between himself the poet trapped in a political world scenario yet has a dream of exquisite beauty and perfection to change the world.
William Shakespeare is telling us to stop mourn for him immediately after his funeral and ring the death bell to everyone that I am dead, and don’t try to remember me and repeat my name if it causes you pain.
Poets are important in every society because their prophetic words of wisdom will live on after they are gone.