Unlike many of my grade school classmates, I’ve always loved poetry. The meter, diction, rhyme scheme of all kinds of poetry suits the rhythm of my soul. Deep emotions can be expressed in so few words – bold, vibrant imagery seen in black and white letters on the page. Classic, sonnet, slam, lyrical: poetry can be music to the soul.
Poetry Can Express Poignant Emotions
I think the most stereotypical uses of poetry is to express romantic affection. Elementary-aged kids across the U.S. learn “Roses are red, violets are blue, sugar is sweet, and so are you” every February. Poetry can definitely be a vehicle to express romantic love. William Shakespeare amassed a large collection of love poems structured in a very strict poetry form called a sonnet.
Eliza R. Snow, second Relief Society general president in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, was an amazing poet. Some of her poems have been put to music and are sung in Latter-day Saint worship services. In one of my favorite poem-hymns of hers, she talks about her connection to her Heavenly Father. The poem, entitled “O My Father,” includes questions, thoughts, and feelings of love, devotion, and reverence.
Slam poetry is one of my favorite forms of modern poetry. It can have a lot of crude language, so I don’t listen to it often. However, there are some gems that express incredible amounts of emotion while keeping the language clean. Below is an example of the energy slam poetry can bring to what otherwise would be black and white words on a page. I have to agree with the man: after all that hard work and overcoming so many obstacles, it’s not a time for dignity.
Sometimes there isn’t anger, just sadness. Chilean poet Pablo Neruda wrote what is, to me, the greatest, saddest love poem of all time. In English it is titled “Tonight I can write the saddest lines;” in Spanish it’s “Puedo escribir los versos más triste.” Click here to read the English translation of this disconsolate poem or watch the Spanish version below.
Poetry Can Make You Laugh
I used to attend a book club. One of my favorite meetings was held in February. The co-founder and I decided it would be fun to have everyone bring their favorite poem to share. The poem could be romantic, funny, bizarre, profound – whatever the book club member was in the mood for. The meeting was better than I think either of us had anticipated. Some gals read their poems, some gals performed their poems.
My friend’s performance of T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufock” has forever changed my perspective of that poem. With Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get it On” playing in the background, my friend read:
And indeed there will be timeTo wonder, “Do I dare?” and, “Do I dare?”Time to turn back and descend the stair,With a bald spot in the middle of my hair —(They will say: “How his hair is growing thin!”)My morning coat, my collar mounting firmly to the chin,My necktie rich and modest, but asserted by a simple pin —(They will say: “But how his arms and legs are thin!”)Do I dareDisturb the universe?In a minute there is timeFor decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.
Poetry Can Inspire
I am not a fan of slant rhyme like Miss Emily Dickinson, but I have the first stanza of her poem “‘Hope’ is the thing with feathers” memorized. It’s helped me get through times of darkness and despair. How many lectures, theories, essays, speeches, and sermons have been written on hope? So many words all to say what Dickinson says in just 23 words. Can you see hope as a bird-like substance inside your very soul, tirelessly singing, cheering, motivating you to continue forward?
How about this one, “Phenomenal Woman” by Maya Angelou:
Don’t you want to walk a little taller and be a little more proud of the skin you’re in, the woman you are, the talents and skills you’ve been given and acquired?
Next time you encounter poetry, give it more than a passing glance or a knee-jerk “I hate you” reaction. Read it not just to understand it, but to feel it. Let the form, structure, and rhyme of the poem add to the written message. And if you can’t find poetry you like, consider writing your own.