The Language of Poetry
© 1997 by Dorothy E. Robbins
Poetry communicates human emotion; it is the voice of the heart
King David, the sweet psalmist of Israel, never took a course in how to write poetry. What makes the poetry of David and his contemporary psalm writers so dear to our hearts? Do you suppose he was "thinking God's thoughts after him"?
How our hearts vibrate when we come across these words. They make us want to express our thoughts to our wonderful saviour, too. How do we do it? What is poetry? Who can become a poet? Ah, my dear reader, we are all poets in the heart. It is out of the heart that the mouth speaketh and writeth. When our hearts are too full for common language, they pour forth the language of the poets. Sometimes the joy of living and loving bubbles out of our hearts; sometimes our hearts are full of anguish and questions, despair and doubt; and then, a poem is made.
Twenty years ago, after coming out of a nightmare experience, a poem started in my heart:
Have you ever felt that way? The fog of life enveloped you. You thought, "There's no where to turn." the ghosts of fear seemed to reach out to clutch your heart in its chilling grip and run away with it. How did you feel? "And then you feel lost and down...." Yes, down, too far for a helping hand to reach - but then:
How many times those words have come back to me, reminding me:
Do these words speak to your heart? Do you feel the pain of someone else as though it were your own? And, perhaps, remind you of a time when you felt such pain - or, perhaps, now feel such? Is there an answering echo: "Yes, God does care! I know." Do those words give you courage to go on, to know:
The terrible experience I went through was the genesis of the poem "When Earthly Props Are Gone." It is the kind of poetry that makes one feel the emotions of the writer; evokes a sympathetic image: "That's just like my sorrow, fear, distress and I, too, can hear the voice of God telling me , "I care. The one who wrote that poem got through her distress and I can too."
Can you write poetry? Of course you can! Poetry is the voice of ones heart.
What poems live longest? Here's one written at least 150 years ago. I love it. When I "see" the scene Wm. Wordsworth wrote about, something inside of me rejoices and says, "What a wonderful, wonderful God who made such lovely things!"
Here is a poem written over 300 years ago by the blind poet, John Milton, referring to his "one talent." It is has been named "Sonnet on His Blindness":
Milton could not hide his one talent! And we know now why he couldn't. We know why that poem still speaks to our hearts. Actually, Milton wrote many lengthy poems and prose writings. His poetry and writings are studied (or used to be!) in universities and colleges all over the world. Why is this one printed in so many anthologies? Is it because men have had the same feelings, fears, and frustrations throughout the centuries. And aren't God's principles the same yesterday, today, and forever?
I chose this poem to illustrate several points. One is that it has been so inspirational to me and my husband. The last line had been so meaningful to us. My husband has been very ill for over three years. How often he has grieved, "Am I of any use at all?" And I remind him, "They also serve who only stand and wait. 'All things work together for good to them who love God, to them who are called according to his purpose.' Watchmen don't seem to be doing much, but they serve." How that last line has served us!
The heart of John Milton spoke and other hearts responded. This is true poetry. Whether one wishes to compose poetry or desires to know what real poetry is, this is the best measure of a poem. It is true, prose can speak to the heart, but the "voice" is not so direct. Poetry has an immediate effect. Have you noticed that?
How does a poem do this? The next time you read a poem notice several things: the rhythm, often hardly noticeable, moves, swells, declines with the rhythm of the heart. Sometimes one feels the beat of sadness, sometimes of hope or joy, or, perhaps, exuberance. Read the last lines of "The Daffodils." Does that make you smile? Did you feel the lilt of joy as you read? But not alone do the words which paint a picture for you, bring pleasure to your heart and a smile to your lips. Some poems will almost lift you off your feet. Listen to these lines:
Don't you just want to jump up out of your chair and go marching across the room? I do. I hear those bugles, the drub-a-drub-drub of the drums and, look, there goes our red white and blue steaming back behind the shoulders of a big, burly soldier. "Hats off! The flag is passing by."
Now try this one:
Can you hear the brook singing as if its heart would break? Sparkling its way to the sea? It makes you want to read the rest of it doesn't it? Ah, but gleeful feeling that makes your heart dance is sometimes missing and a different beat has hold of us.
For a change of pace read "The Song of the Shirt." The poet seems almost to make us feel the pricks of the needle as this dear lady holds her needle between her fingers as it goes "stitch, stitch, stitch."
The words seem to weave themselves in and out of the rhythm, while her fingers, weary and worn, send that tiny steel instrument into the cloth and out again: "stitch, stitch, stitch." What makes this poem seem, also, to weave itself around your heart, making you think, "Justice! Where is the justice? Oh, God, what can I do to make a difference?" Poetry like this can be used of God to make a difference in our country. Notice the rhythm, the choice of words, the alliteration, the repetition? It makes us want to write poetry that will help restore kindness and caring, justice and truth. Poetry can do that to one. That is another reason poetry is important. It makes us think, evaluate, it challenges us. As a poet or aspiring poet, perhaps this poem, based on a quotation from the play "Richelieu," will inspire you.
When you have read the following poem, think about how the poet made the final point. Is the ending a surprise? Does it challenge the reader? Can poetry be used as a tool that makes truth come alive as well as be interesting?
Updated by: Matt Bynum