I now blog over at The Eyre Guide! This blog is an archive of my past posts.

Monday, August 25, 2014

The Refined Reader (23) Origins of Poetry

Posted by Charlene // Tags: ,

The Refined Reader aims to take a look at the journey to where we are as readers today.  It's part history, part commentary - providing a brief, conversational summary of various aspects of our bookish past and comparing it to how it has affected us in modern times.  I love history, but I am no historian, and while I plan to do my research, if there are any errors, please let me know!  This is as much a learning venture for me as I hope it is for my blog visitors!

Poetry as a literary form uses rhythm and aesthetic to enhance meaning  - it's a creation that depends on language in ways that are different to the requirements of literature.  It requires precision in sound and meter as well as in meaning.  And it is thought to predate literacy because in ancient times poetry was a useful way to remember oral history and genealogy.  Our oldest works of fiction are often in epic poem format including The Epic of Gilgamesh.

However there is an older Ancient Egyptian poem that we are aware of, titled Tale of the Shipwrecked Sailor which is possibly 500 years older than The Epic of Gilgamesh.  In the Tale, a merchant returns from an unsuccessful sea voyage, and is afraid of how the King will receive him.  One of his servants tells him a story of his experiences on a doomed journey to give him comfort.  On that journey the servant was the sole survivor of a shipwreck, but was saved by a god, and given food and treasure to take back to his land and his King.  It's a pretty short text and you can read it here.

In Classical times, the form of poetry was made a study, and was divided into three forms -  epic, comic and tragic.  Later the categories were redefined as epic, lyric and dramatic - dramatic included comedy and tragedy.  It is also conjectured that poetry had its origins in songs because it's form that emphasizes brevity, rhythm and condensing words might have come about as a way to fit it to music.

Poetry is about sound, emotion and the beauty of language even if it's origins were more as a useful method of remembering histories.  I'm not a particular poetry reader, but there are some poems that really captivate me with it's expression and beauty.  I love the sound of language, and poetry can heighten the experience of words.

What are your favorite poems?

Wikipedia / Wikipedia
Tale of the Shipwrecked Sailor

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