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Quotations about
Poetry, Poems, & Poets


Related Quotes      Writing      Poet's Flower      Poetry of Cheese      Emily Dickinson


Poetry vs Prose


Poetry is prose, bent out of shape. ~J. Patrick Lewis, "Poetry Is…", 2010, jpatricklewis.com


The crown of literature is poetry. It is its end and aim. It is the sublimest activity of the human mind. It is the achievement of beauty. The writer of prose can only step aside when the poet passes... ~W. Somerset Maugham


Always be a poet, even in prose. ~Charles Baudelaire


...poetry often brings consolation to the heart which prose has failed to touch... ~Luigi, Sweet Songs for Mourning Mothers, 1884  [Luigi is pseudonym for a still-unknown female compiler. –tg]


A prose-writer gets tired of writing prose, and wants to be a poet. So he begins every line with a capital letter, and keeps on writing prose. ~Samuel McChord Crothers


If it doesn't work horizontally as prose...
it probably
won't work
any better
vertically
pretending
to be poetry.
~Robert Brault, rbrault.blogspot.com


Prose walks, poetry dances. ~Paul Valéry  [paraphrased —tg]


What a lumbering poor vehicle prose is for the conveying of a great thought!... Prose wanders around with a lantern & laboriously schedules & verifies the details & particulars of a valley & its frame of crags & peaks, then Poetry comes, & lays bare the whole landscape with a single splendid flash. ~Mark Twain


Poetry blazons sexy words
with lusty, charming rhymes—
Prose is a sensible lover
who's always done at the stop.
~Terri Guillemets, "On the Wings & Wagers of Winter," 2015


[W]here is the actual boundary between poetry and prose? and how can one help owning that prose is but poetry gradually but never entirely extinguished or calmed down? ~Alexandre Vinet (1797–1847)


Prose is too coarse, too heavy for romance —
We need poetry for love & all things of chance.
~Terri Guillemets


Our poetry in the eighteenth century was prose; our prose in the seventeenth, poetry. ~Augustus William Hare and Julius Charles Hare, Guesses at Truth, by Two Brothers, 1827


Prose is just poetry that can't stop talking. ~Terri Guillemets, "Valerian song," 1996


Mr Witwould:  Pray, madam, do you pin up your hair with all your letters? I find I must keep copies.
Mrs Millamant:  Only with those in verse... I never pin up my hair with prose.
~William Congreve, The Way of the World, 1700


A poet is too impatient for prose. He needs an expressway to his emotions. ~Terri Guillemets


Prose-poetry is usually the refuge of writers who are unsuccessful as poets, and Joyce — though one of the greatest mere athletes in language there has ever been — was no true poet... ~Percival Arland Ussher (1899-1980), "James Joyce: Doubting Thomist and Joking Jesuit," Three Great Irishmen, 1953


When you unprose language, does it become poetry? ~Terri Guillemets



Poetry: Praise & Passion


Truth shines the brighter clad in Verse... ~Jonathan Swift, "To Stella," 1720


Poetry... simple, sensuous and passionate. ~John Milton, "Of Education. To Mr. Samuel Hartlib," c.1650


My thirst and passion from boyhood... has been for poetry — for poetry in its widest and wildest sense — for poetry untrammelled by the laws of sense, rhyme, or rhythm, soaring through the universe, and echoing the music of the spheres! From my youth, nay, from my very cradle, I have yearned for poetry, for beauty, for novelty, for romancement. ~Lewis Carroll


A poet looks at the world somewhat as a man looks at a woman. ~Wallace Stevens


Spirit of Verse! in deepest reverence
I bow before thine ever-glorious shrine;
Thee I have loved with passion most intense;
And though I feel thy meeds can ne'er be mine,
Yet may I pour one low and gentle line...
~Charles Swain, "Poesy," in The Literary Magnet, June 1826


How happy it made her! And what beautiful things these poets always thought of and said! ~S.J. Adair Fitz-Gerald (1859–1925), The Zankiwank & The Bletherwitch, 1896


Put all your faith in poets. You will find few others to share Beauty with you; and it cannot be borne alone. ~Christopher Morley


I think poetry is the greatest of the arts. It combines music and painting and story-telling and prophecy and the dance. It is religious in tone, scientific in attitude. A true poem contains the seed of wonder... ~E.B. White


Poetry — even bad poetry — may be our final hope. ~Edward Abbey


All poets named Edna St. Vincent Millay are major. ~E.B. White, "How to Tell a Major Poet from a Minor Poet," 1930



Poetry: Eating


Ink runs from the corners of my mouth.
There is no happiness like mine.
I have been eating poetry.
~Mark Strand, "Eating Poetry," Reasons for Moving, 1968


I have supped on poetry. ~Octave Mirbeau, A Chambermaid's Diary, 1891–1900, translated from the French by Benjamin R. Tucker


The girl born this month will flash like a streak of yellow sunshine... She will have poetry for breakfast, and spend the rest of the day on zephyrs and chocolate caramels. ~Josh Billings, "Horoskope for July," Farmer's Allminax for the Year of Our Lord 1872  [spelling standardized —tg]


I'm quite hungry. Feed me poems, please. ~Dr. SunWolf, @WordWhispers, tweet, 2014, professorsunwolf.com


Every healthy man can do without food for two days — but without poetry, never! ~Charles Baudelaire (1821–1867), translated from French


If food is poetry, is not poetry also food? ~Joyce Carol Oates


Poets have been mysteriously silent on the subject of cheese. Virgil, if I remember right, refers to it several times, but with too much Roman restraint. He does not let himself go on cheese. Except Virgil and the anonymous rhymer of "If all the trees were bread and cheese," I can recall no verse about cheese. Yet it has every quality which we require in exalted poetry. It is a short, strong word, and it rhymes to "breeze" and "seas." Cheese has also variety, the very soul of song. ~G. K. Chesterton


Oh, of course I know that ‘ate’ ain’t good etiquette in that place... It should be ‘eat.’ But ‘eat’ don’t rhyme, an’ ‘ate’ does. So I’m goin’ to use it. An’ I can, anyhow. It’s poem license; an’ that ’ll let you do anything. ~Eleanor H. Porter, "Dad," Dawn, 1918
         ["Supper's ready, supper's ready,
         Hurry up, or you'll be late,
         Then you'll sure be cross and heady
         If there's nothin' left to ate." —tg]


By all means give us as much truth as possible, even though the dose is ever so bitter... Truth, man! truth is the only true poetry, if the business of poetry is to move the feelings... [B]read and meat... are facts... Bread and truth are all man wants; and a loaf is only an eatable lump of truth fitted for the body, as truth is the invisible, but no less substantial, bread of the spirit. ~John Sterling


I eat bad poetry like a goat, and
eat good poetry like a gourmand.
~Terri Guillemets


[I]t is well we [poets] should be contented with posthumous fame, but impossible to be so with posthumous bread and cheese. ~Robert Southey, 1808  [Conklin's paraphrase: "A poet may live on posthumous fame, but not on posthumous bread and cheese." —tg]



Poetry: Drunkenness


It is vain for the sober man to knock at poesy's door. ~Plato


No poems can please for long or live that are written by water-drinkers. ~Horace


Everyone who drinks is not a poet. Some of us drink because we are not poets. ~Arthur, 1981, written by Steve Gordon


      Be always drunken. Nothing else matters: that is the only question. If you would not feel the horrible burden of Time weighing on your shoulders and crushing you to the earth, be drunken continually.
      Drunken with what? With wine, with poetry, or with virtue, as you will. But be drunken.
      And if sometimes, on the stairs of a palace, or on the green side of a ditch, or in the dreary solitude of your own room, you should awaken and the drunkenness be half or wholly slipped away from you, ask of the wind, or of the wave, or of the star, or of the bird, or of the clock, of whatever flies, or sighs, or rocks, or sings, or speaks, ask what hour it is; and the wind, wave, star, bird, clock, will answer you: ‘It is the hour to be drunken! Be drunken, if you would not be martyred slaves of Time; be drunken continually! With wine, with poetry, or with virtue, as you will.’ ~Charles Baudelaire (1821–1867), “Be Drunken,” translated from French by Arthur Symons


The smell of ink is
intoxicating to me —
others may have wine,
but I have poetry.
~Terri Guillemets, "Inkdreaming," 1994


I was but a drunken poet...
In the evenings in the garden
How we kissed behind the lilacs!
While the scent of wine was mingled
With the perfume of the smilax.
King nor queen had e'er such pleasure
Out of love — the high Gods know it!
She was just a pretty waitress,
I a mad and drunken poet.
~Robinson Jeffers, "From Fenestrella's"


These poets, who get drunk with sun, and weep
Because the night or a woman's face is fair...
~Amy Levy, "A Minor Poet," c. 1884


My poems are love-drunk letters to the universe. ~Terri Guillemets, "So easy, so hard," 1994


...I have sat,
In days, when sensibility was young,
And the heart beat responsive to the sight,
The touch, and music of the lovely one;
Yes, I have sat entranced, enraptured, till
The spirit would have utterance, and words
Flowed full of hope, and love, and melody,
The gushings of an overburdened heart
Drunk with enchantment, bursting freely forth,
Like fountains in the early days of spring.
~James G. Percival (1795–1856), "Love of Study," c. 1822  [Percival was a surgeon, geologist, chemistry professor, poet, dictionary editor, and book collector! –tg]



Poetry: Feelings & Emotions


Poetry is emotion put into measure. ~Thomas Hardy


It begins as a lump in the throat, a sense of wrong, a homesickness, a lovesickness. It is never a thought to begin with. It is at its best when it is a tantalizing vagueness. It finds its thought and succeeds, or doesn't find it and comes to nothing. ~Robert Frost


The poet is a man who lives at last by watching his moods. An old poet comes at last to watch his moods as narrowly as a cat does a mouse. ~Henry David Thoreau, journal, 1851


      A poet is somebody who feels, and who expresses his feeling through words. This may sound easy. It isn't.
      A lot of people think or believe or know they feel — but that's thinking or believing or knowing; not feeling. And poetry is feeling... [W]henever you think or you believe or you know, you're a lot of other people: but the moment you feel, you're nobody-but-yourself.
      To be nobody-but-yourself — in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else — means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.
      As for expressing nobody-but-yourself in words, that means working just a little harder than anybody who isn't a poet can possibly imagine... [N]othing is quite as easy as using words like somebody else. We all of us do exactly this nearly all of the time — and whenever we do it, we're not poets.
      If, at the end of your first ten or fifteen years of fighting and working and feeling, you find you've written one line of one poem, you'll be very lucky indeed. ~E.E. Cummings, "A Poet's Advice to Students," 1955


In order that words be poetical they should be warm with the fire of the soul, or moist with its breath. ~Joseph Joubert, translated by George H. Calvert


It's a poet's lot not to feel as others do, and to feel what they do, in all its strangeness, more deeply. ~Barbara VanDenburgh, "'A Quiet Passion' haunting, beautiful look at Emily Dickinson's heart," The Arizona Republic, May 2017


If I read a book and it makes my whole body so cold no fire can ever warm me, I know that is poetry. If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry. These are the only ways I know. Is there any other way? ~Emily Dickinson, 1870, quoted by Thomas Wentworth Higginson  [In Alena Smith's brilliant television show Dickinson, Emily says this to Ben Newton and he expresses interest in reading her poetry sometime; she asks if he really would like to and he oh so adorably replies: "Only if it takes the top of my head off." That episode was written by Rachel Axler. —tg]


Poetry feeds on the purest substance of the sentiments of the soul. It quenches its thirst with a nectar that has no dregs. ~Alexandre Vinet (1797–1847)


The office of poetry is not to make us think accurately, but feel truly. ~Frederick W. Robertson, lecture delivered before the Members of the Mechanics' Institution, February 1852


To be a poet is to have a soul so quick to discern that no shade of quality escapes it, and so quick to feel that discernment is but a hand playing with finely-ordered variety on the chords of emotion — a soul in which knowledge passes instantaneously into feeling, and feeling flashes back as a new organ of knowledge. One may have that condition by fits only. ~George Eliot


Poetry is the natural language of excited feeling. ~Frederick W. Robertson, lecture delivered before the Members of the Mechanics' Institution, February 1852


A poem ys a lovelye weakness yn a worlde of hateful strengths. ~Chaucer Doth Tweet, @LeVostreGC, tweet, 2019


Lose hope, friends, if you must. But all you’re going to find is poetry. ~Eric Jarosinski, @NeinQuarterly, tweet, 2019  ["And from there make your way back again" (jack b kohler, @wwwordsss) –tg]


And there is pleasure in the utterance
Of pleasant images in pleasant words,
Melting like melody into the ear...
It is joy ineffable to dwell upon lines
That register our feelings, and portray,
In colors always fresh and ever new,
Emotions that were sanctified, and loved,
As something far too tender, and too pure,
For forms so frail and fading...
~James G. Percival (1795–1856), "Love of Study," c.1822


Poetry is not a turning loose of emotion, but an escape from emotion; it is not the expression of personality, but an escape from personality. But, of course, only those who have personality and emotions know what it means to want to escape from these things. ~T.S. Eliot


A complete poem is one where an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found the words. Some poems took years to find their words. ~Robert Frost


All bad poetry springs from genuine feeling. ~Oscar Wilde



Poetry: Madness & Sanity


The courage of the poet is to keep ajar the door that leads to madness. The poet is the Pandora of the mind. ~Christopher Morley


Poet, madman, or lover — all three should be one and the same thing... ~Marie Corelli, A Romance of Two Worlds, "Chapter IX: An Electric Shock," 1886


We Poets in our youth begin in gladness:
But thereof come in the end despondency and madness.
~William Wordsworth


Perhaps no person can be a poet, or can even enjoy poetry, without a certain unsoundness of mind, if any thing which gives so much pleasure ought to be called unsoundness... Truth, indeed, is essential to poetry; but it is the truth of madness. The reasonings are just; but the premises are false. After the first suppositions have been made, every thing out to be consistent; but those first suppositions require a degree of credulity which almost amounts to a partial and temporary derangement of the intellect. Hence of all people children are the most imaginative. They abandon themselves without reserve to every illusion. ~Thomas Babington Macaulay


Imagination does not breed insanity. Exactly what does breed insanity is reason. Poets do not go mad; but chess-players do. Mathematicians go mad, and cashiers; but creative artists very seldom... Poetry was not the disease, but the medicine... Poetry is sane because it floats easily in an infinite sea; reason seeks to cross the infinite sea, and so make it finite. The result is mental exhaustion... The poet only asks to get his head into the heavens. it is the logician who seeks to get the heavens into his head. And it is his head that splits. ~G.K. Chesterton, "The Maniac," 1908


      I have thought
Too long and darkly, till my brain became,
In its own eddy boiling and o'erwrought,
A whirling gulf of phantasy and flame.
      I am half mad
Between metaphysics, mountains, lakes,
Love unextinguishable, thoughts unutterable,
And the nightmare of my own delinquencies.
~Lord Byron [Mash-up quote. Childe Harold, III, vii, and letter to Moore, 1817 January 28th, poeticized. –tg]



Reading Poetry


He who draws noble delights from the sentiment of poetry is a true poet, though he has never written a line in all his life. ~George Sand


The pleasure that poetry gives is that of imagining more than is written; the task is divided between the poet and his reader. ~Alexandre Vinet (1797–1847)


It is delightful to steep ourselves in poetry. ~Alexandre Vinet (1797–1847)


Compression of poetry is so great I often explode. Out of the house to walk off a poem. ~William Corbett, "On Reading: Notes & a Poem," The Agni Review, No. 22 (1985)


Say this poem in your chest.
Do not worry how it sounds going through your mouth.
~Rumi, interpreted by Coleman Barks


"What are you going to read—something of Tennyson?"... And with a honeysuckle that Margaret remembered, for a bookmark, he found the place he wanted, and opened at "Elaine," that loveliest of the idyls, and began to read.... It was a charmed hour. Lawrence Brook was a fine reader, and delighted in poetry. It touched his own heart, and had power over him, and so he received the power himself to touch all other hearts the same. Even the first three lines came to Margaret as a revelation of something fair in life she had not recognized, and her hands paused in their work, and her earnest eyes and breathless attention followed Lawrence Brook with every word he uttered.... Her quick imagination and sensitive heart seized upon the poem and its beauty as if it were a gift which now might be possessed forever. ~August Bell, "Quicksands of Love," 1887


There she was, sitting up in bed again, surrounded by volumes of poetry with poetic images printed on them: rows of daisies, bolts of lightning, streams of musical notes, parades of bugs, fences made out of bloody daggers, and a lot of books with appealing titles like Oblivion and Morosity and The Collected Poems of Ella Wheeler Wilcox. ~Gregory Maguire, What-the-Dickens: The Story of a Rogue Tooth Fairy, 2007


The objector protests that he wants to enjoy the poem, not to murder it by dissection. Such a protest commands one's respect... We all want to enjoy the poem. ~Robert Penn Warren


Happiness is sharing a bowl of cherries and a book of poetry with a shade tree. ~Terri Guillemets, "From the Library to the Park," 1993



Writing Poetry


...lyrical poems, deriving from everywhere and nowhere as is the case with all poetry... ~Amy Lowell, 1919


...for I do write in rhyme and meter, such being my nature. ~Arthur Guiterman, A Poet's Proverbs, 1924


I can't write poetry on the computer; it's too formal too quickly. ~Jeffrey Skinner, interview, L. Elisabeth Beattie, Conversations with Kentucky Writers II, 2000


You can't write poetry on the computer. ~Quentin Tarantino, as quoted in The Reader's Digest, 2001


And take back ill-polished stanzas to the anvil. ~Horace, quoted in James Wood, Dictionary of Quotations from Ancient and Modern, English and Foreign Sources, 1893


I prefer the absurdity of writing poems
to the absurdity of not writing poems.
~Wisława Szymborska (1923–2012), "Possibilities," 1997, translated from the Polish by Clare Cavanagh and Stanisław Barańczak


Some poets would rather write than be President. ~"Poor Richard Junior's Philosophy," The Saturday Evening Post, 1903, George Horace Lorimer, editor


...since a lunch was cancelled because of the snow, I was suddenly given a few hours of unexpected time and managed to get down a poem that had been pursuing me for days. ~May Sarton, 1971


An acorn sprouts two ways: one shoot downward into earth, one upward into leaves and sunlight. So, please, with poems. Every poem-bulb gropes doubly: rooting toward the rich soil of truth, lifting into the free air of beauty. ~Christopher Morley


[I]f poetry comes not as naturally as the leaves to a tree, it had better not come at all. ~John Keats, 1818


Cash. That was a word to make the creative juices flow. The fact that most of the poetry I'd ever read came off tombstones didn't stop me. I listened to the radio, didn't I?... Any idiot could figure it out. Two rhyming lines, stuffed with romance, a third that neither rhymes nor makes sense right away, two more romantic ones, then the third that also rhymes with the earlier unrhymed one and sort of makes sense. ~Katherine Paterson, Jacob Have I Loved, 1980


To be a poet, you must have something to say. Poetry is not just a crisp, frosty spatter of words. Let your form come out of your emotion, not out of your conscious reason and intellectual consideration. Forget the polyphonic zig-zags and colored noise and pretty tinsel. Don't be that literary sword-swallower who tries to produce roses, laurel, chrysanthemums, firecrackers, Chinese dragons, gargoyles, and cider apples, all on one bush. ~E. Merrill Root, 1924  [I've rewritten this criticism of Amy Lowell into general advice. —tg]


Writing poetry
is letting go—
once the words leave your pen
they're out of your soul
and the therapy has begun.
~Terri Guillemets


Any method is good that produces a good poem. ~Helen Smith Bevington (1906–2001), When Found, Make a Verse Of, 1961


Those moments before a poem comes, when the heightened awareness comes over you, and you realize a poem is buried there somewhere, you prepare yourself. I run around, you know, kind of skipping around the house, marvelous elation. It's as though I could fly, almost, and I get very tense before I've told the truth — hard. Then I sit down at the desk and get going with it. ~Anne Sexton, Writers at Work (The Paris Review), interview with Barbara Kevles, 1968


A poet cannot stop writing poems — an ink-stained soul compels his obsession. ~Terri Guillemets


If you know what you are going to write when you're writing a poem, it's going to be average. ~Derek Walcott, unverified


Inhale infinity,
Exhale ink.
~Terri Guillemets, "Poetry breathes," 2004


Emily:  So I can just have time to myself.
Vinnie:  Time to yourself? To do what?
Emily:  To take dictation from God.
Vinnie to Maggie:  My sister's a poet.
~Alena Smith and Rachel Axler, “I have never seen ‘Volcanoes,’” Dickinson, 2019  [S1, E2 —tg]


The want of logic annoys. Too much logic bores. Life eludes logic, and everything that logic alone constructs remains artificial and forced. Therefore is a word the poet must not know, which exists only in the mind. ~André Gide


Abyss borne through a fog of crystals
By the hornet's cloud of the poet's silence...
~Stéphane Mallarmé, "Funeral Toast"


Once you've got a good notion with pith
Then you rhyme it with something like "myth,"
Rhyming on a bit more
In lines three and four
Matching up with the first in the fifth.
~Anthony Euwer, "Definition of the Limerick," The Limeratomy, 1917


Poets smoke nature and beauty and angst and exhale swirling plumes of poetry. ~Terri Guillemets


If you got to talking to most cowboys, they'd admit they write 'em. I think some of the meanest, toughest sons of bitches around write poetry. ~Ross Knox, 1985


"...In poems you can't say plain out what you mean."
"Why not?"
"Then it's not poetry anymore."
"You mean a poem's supposed to lie?"
"It's not lying... It's a different way of talking. Makes it prettier."
~Katherine Paterson, Jacob Have I Loved, 1980


A true poet does not bother to be poetical. Nor does a nursery gardener scent his roses. What he does is to subject them to treatment which ensures their having the finest colour and the sweetest scent. ~Jean Cocteau


Poetry nests in our souls
until it flies away
on a feathery quill.
~Terri Guillemets, "Nesting," 2009


A poet carrying a thought from his mind into expression is like a child bearing a bucket brimming with water from the well to the house,—part of the contents is spilled. ~Austin O'Malley (1858–1932), Thoughts of a Recluse, 1898


Writing poetry is letting your mind dance in the rain — no galoshes, no umbrella, just naked words and a rhythmic soul. ~Terri Guillemets, "Exposed," 2009


Breathe-in experience, breathe-out poetry   :
~Muriel Rukeyser



Poetry: Translation


POETRY.—The language in which the Book of Nature is written—they who can translate it are called poets. ~"A Chapter of Definitions," Daily Crescent, 1848 June 23rd


For not only is the poet is a translator of the inner life of man, with its wonder world of thoughts and feelings—its unspeakable love and sorrow, its hopes and aspirations, temptations and lonely wrestlings, darings and doubts, grim passions and gentle affections, its smiles and tears—which, in their changeful lights or gloomy grandeur, play out the great drama of the human heart, but he also translates into his poetry and reflects for us the very spirit of his time. ~Gerald Massey, "Poetry—The Spasmodists," The North British Review, 1858


Poetry is what gets lost in translation. ~Robert Frost


A poem sings with a bad accent in any language not its own. ~Austin O'Malley (1858–1932), Thoughts of a Recluse, 1898


A translation of a poem is like a plastercast of a statue or a photograph of a painting; and the better the translation the poorer the original poem. ~Austin O'Malley (1858–1932), Thoughts of a Recluse, 1898


A poet can translate birdsong much more faithfully than the biologist ever could. ~Terri Guillemets



Poetry: Understanding


Elizabeth Barrett: Oh, but those poems! — with their glad and great-hearted acceptance of life.... Sometimes there are passages… I've marked one or two in your "Sordello" which rather puzzled me.
      'All petals, no prickles
      No prickles like trickles.'
Robert Browning: Well, Miss Barrett, when that passage was written only God and Robert Browning understood it. Now, only God understands it.
~The Barretts of Wimpole Street [This wording is from the 1934 movie, but it is quite similar in wording to the 1930 Rudolf Besier play the movie is based on; the screenplay writers are Ernest Vajda, Claudine West, and Donald Ogden Stewart. Browning has a poem "Another Way of Love" that reads thus: "...All petals, no prickles, / Delicious as trickles / Of wine poured at mass-time..." And another which reads "God is the perfect poet..." –tg]


The great nineteenth-century writers — Hawthorne and Melville, Thoreau and Emerson, Twain and James — were skeptics, transcendentalists, and humanists, and not even God knows what Emily Dickinson was. ~The Georgia Review, c.1947


I've written some poetry I don't understand myself. ~Carl Sandburg, unverified


Poets utter great and wise things which they do not themselves understand. ~Plato


Poetry gives most pleasure when only generally and not perfectly understood. ~Samuel Taylor Coleridge


It is a test (a positive test, I do not assert that it is always valid negatively) that genuine poetry can communicate before it is understood. ~T.S. Eliot, "Dante"


If a poet writes in gibberish, his soul yet understands. ~Terri Guillemets


Is there such a thing as pure unmingled poetry, poetry independent of meaning? Even when poetry has a meaning, as it usually has, it may be inadvisable to draw it out... Perfect understanding will sometimes almost extinguish pleasure. ~A.E. Housman


A poem should not mean
But be.
~Archibald MacLeish


Sometimes I'm not quite sure what it means, but the words are so beautiful I know it must be profound. ~Terri Guillemets, "In the library, alone & ecstatic," 1990


Did you think that yourself was the only lifelong companion you could ever have? Did you believe that you, solitary you, were the only one who would ever quite understand you? And did you sometimes weary even of that unbearable intimate? All the while the poets knew: they were waiting for you round the corner. Your terrors and disgusts were theirs, too... They, too, have wooed life with good heart... have shaken off (for a moment) the heavy armour of triviality; have dared to put away mere laughter — that they might, a little later, laugh with added gust. ~Christopher Morley


Poetic writing can be understood and misunderstood in many ways. In most cases the author is not the right authority to decide on where the reader ceases to understand and the misunderstanding begins. Many an author has found readers to whom his work seemed more lucid than it was to himself. Moreover, misunderstandings may be fruitful under certain circumstances. ~Hermann Hesse, "Author's Note," 1961, to Steppenwolf, 1927, translated by Joseph Mileck and Horst Frenz, 1963


Still he is a man of fine powers and feelings; for next to being a great poet is the power of understanding one, — of finding one's self in him, as we Germans say." ~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Hyperion



Poetry: Self & Soul


We make out of the quarrel with others, rhetoric, but of the quarrel with ourselves, poetry. ~W.B. Yeats


The poet illuminates us by the flames in which his being passes away. ~Alexandre Vinet (1797–1847)


Poetry is an inky soulprint. ~Terri Guillemets


[A] poet's autobiography is his poetry. Anything else is just a footnote. ~Yevgeny Yevtushenko


The true poem is the poet's mind; the true ship is the ship-builder. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson


The poet speaks to all men of that other life of theirs which they have smothered and forgotten. ~Edith Sitwell


When you really feel poetry, a new part of you happens, or an old part is renewed, with surprise and delight at being what it is. ~James Dickey, "How to enjoy poetry," from the 1979–1988 Power of the Printed Word advertising campaign by Billings S. Fuess, Jr. at Ogilvy & Mather for International Paper Company


Poetry treks through our souls and tells us in rhyme of the adventure. ~Terri Guillemets


[P]oetry... the spontaneous fusion of hitherto unrelated words. Such things must take place in your own head, by your own chemistry. ~Marie Emilie Gilchrist (1893–1989), Writing Poetry: Suggestions for Young Writers, 1932


Poetry — soul cartography.
~Terri Guillemets, "Treasure seeking you," 2003


You will find poetry nowhere unless you bring some with you. ~Joseph Joubert, translated by George H. Calvert


He who has no poetry in himself will find poetry in nothing. ~Joseph Joubert, translated by Katharine Lyttleton


Pressure cranks and presses Life,
squeezing out essence of self,
aromatic with bittersweet memories,
pungent adversities, and
the honey-musk of desire —
vapors hover over our inkpots,
and if we are willing and able
to pick up the feather,
it becomes our poetry.
~Terri Guillemets


The first thing to understand about poetry is that it comes to you from outside you, in books or in words, but that for it to live, something from within you must come to it and meet it and complete it. Your response with your own mind and body and memory and emotions gives the poem its ability to work its magic; if you give to it, it will give to you, and give plenty. ~James Dickey, "How to enjoy poetry," from the 1979–1988 Power of the Printed Word advertising campaign by Billings S. Fuess, Jr. at Ogilvy & Mather for International Paper Company


Poetry tosses my pen across
the vast tumbling seas of self,
intermittent sunshine glistening
off the spilt ink,—
storms breaking ideas & words
that sink then emerge
and sink again.
~Terri Guillemets, "Overboard poet," 1992



Poetry: Publishing


Publishing a volume of verse is like dropping a rose-petal down the Grand Canyon and waiting for the echo. ~Don Marquis


Poetry is not dead; it is merely buried at the bottom of magazine pages. ~"Poor Richard Junior's Philosophy," The Saturday Evening Post, 1904, George Horace Lorimer, editor


There's no money in poetry, but then there's no poetry in money either. ~Robert Graves, c.1950s


A poet can survive everything but a misprint. ~Oscar Wilde, 1886


It is a sad fact about our culture that a poet can earn much more money writing or talking about his art than he can by practicing it. ~W.H. Auden


A sold poem loses half its meaning. ~Terri Guillemets


It has been truly said that though the printer's ink should dry up, ten thousand melodious tongues would preserve the songs of Burns to remote generations. ~William Cunningham, "The Immortal Memory of Robert Burns," 1859


Many an aspiring young poet is convinced that it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for an editor to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. ~"Poor Richard Junior's Philosophy," The Saturday Evening Post, 1903, George Horace Lorimer, editor


Before men ever wrote in clay they cast their words in verse and line, rhythmbound in poets' minds, defying time and age. ~David J. Beard (1947–2016), tweet, 2009 June 12th


The nostalgic point is that this recalls the vanished days when there was a market for poetry and, while the stuff didn't pay well by any standards, still it was possible for an ink-stained wretch to make a couple of hundred dollars a year. And in those days, when summer jobs were scarce, that often made it possible for me to take the summer off and engage in nothing more strenuous than writing more poetry. ~Gerald Raftery (1905–1986), "The poetry in my past," If I May Say So, The Bennington Banner, 1974 November 4th



Poetry: Abandoned


In the eyes of those who anxiously seek perfection, a work is never truly completed — a word that for them has no sense — but abandoned... ~Paul Valéry, "Au Sujet du Cimetière Marin," 1933  [About his poem "The Cemetery by the Sea." Translated from French. Credit and further information: Ralph Keyes, The Quote Verifier, 2006. –tg]


On revisions as a matter of principle, I agree with Valery:  'A poem is never finished; it is only abandoned.'  ~W. H. Auden, Collected Shorter Poems, 1927–1957, Foreword, 1966


A poem is never finished, only abandoned. ~Paul Valéry, as paraphrased even further by W. H. Auden, in A Certain World: A Commonplace Book, 1970


Poetry is never abandoned, it is only remixed. ~James Schwartz, unverified


"Most poems are never finished," (I was defensive). He sighed: "No, most poems are never started." ~Dr. SunWolf, tweet, 2011, professorsunwolf.com



What Is a Poet?


A poet is a reporter, interviewing his own heart. ~Christopher Morley


A poet is, before anything else, a person who is passionately in love with language. The love of language is either itself a poetic gift or a symptom of it. ~W.H. Auden


A poet is a flaming phoenix — burnt up with each and every poem. ~Terri Guillemets


A poet is a man who manages, in a lifetime of standing out in thunderstorms, to be struck by lightning five or six times. ~Randall Jarrell


A poet trains himself to stand out in a storm and be struck by lightning. If he is lucky enough to be struck six times, he becomes immortal. Randall Jarrell said it, and he's right. ~James Dickey


A poet is a storm with a pen —
splattering swashes of ink across the sky
in bursts of fervor with words on fire
whirling tempest-emblazoned rhyme
~Terri Guillemets


To be a poet is a condition rather than a profession. He requires whatever it needs to be completely his own master. ~Robert Graves, Horizon: A Review of Literature and Art, 1946


A poet is inmate, and warden, to his own mind. ~Terri Guillemets


Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world. ~Percy Bysshe Shelley, "A Defence of Poetry," 1821


The poet is a sensitive snail
wandering along the path of life
leaving a glittering trail of words.
~Terri Guillemets, "Inching along, leaving behind," 2003


All genuine poets are fervid politicians... Are there no politics in Hamlet? Is not Macbeth, is not the drama of Wallenstein, a sublime political treatise? Napoleon was a great poet, when, pointing to the pyramids, he said to his army, 'Forty centuries look down upon us!'... All true and lasting poetry is rooted in the business of life. ~Ebenezer Elliott (1781–1849), Preface, Corn Law Rhymes, 1831


A poet is a lone wolf
      howling soul
      at impossible questions—
Poetry is the answer.
~Terri Guillemets



Poetry: Nature & Seasons


Poetry is the key to the hieroglyphics of Nature. ~Augustus William Hare and Julius Charles Hare, Guesses at Truth, by Two Brothers, 1827


The secrets of Nature's beauty, as well as of her philosophy, must be interpreted, and poets are God's interpreters to make these secrets plain. ~J. M'Dermaid, "Burns as a Poet," 1859


And the poet out-argues Nature. ~Christopher Morley


Poetry is the impish attempt to paint the color of the wind. ~Maxwell Bodenheim


A poem is a carefully gathered bucket of stars. ~Terri Guillemets


[N]ature-loving poets.... the children of the sunlight, the minstrels of the groves and the companions of the moors. ~W.H. Gresswell, "A Poet's Corner," 1889


The gaze of nature, when thus awakened, dreams and pulls the poet after its dream. Words, too, can have an aura of their own. ~Walter Benjamin


To see the Summer Sky
Is Poetry, though never in a Book it lie –
True Poems flee –
~Emily Dickinson, c. 1879


In many cases these verses will seem to the reader like poetry torn up by the roots, with rain and dew and earth still clinging to them, giving a freshness and a fragrance not otherwise to be conveyed. ~Thomas Wentworth Higginson, Preface to Poems by Emily Dickinson Edited by Two of Her Friends, Mabel Loomis Todd and T.W. Higginson, ©1890


The poetry of earth is never dead...
The poetry of earth is ceasing, never...
~John Keats, "On the Grasshopper and Cricket," 1816


Poetry is the silence and speech between a wet struggling root of a flower and a sunlit blossom of that flower. ~Carl Sandburg


There are verses which, by their character, seem to belong to the mineral kingdom: they have ductility and lustre; others to the vegetable kingdom: they have sap; others, finally, to the animated kingdom: and they have life. The most beautiful are those that have soul; they belong to the three kingdoms, but to the Muse still more. ~Joseph Joubert, translated by George H. Calvert


When winter gets deep
into languishing hearts,
poetry promises spring.
~Terri Guillemets


English poetry class taught by Dr. Robert Morse Lovett was like studying landscape design from a hill top. He taught the spacing, the graceful groups and the far views for the right sort of vistas. He was as sensitive to the microscopic details of moss in Christina Rossetti as he was to the big wild outdoors of Walt Whitman. ~Althea Warren (1886–1958)


Look! over yonder
what a beautiful
field of wildpoems
~Terri Guillemets, "Reverie art," 1992


A poem should be motionless in time
As the moon climbs.
~Archibald MacLeish


Winter surfaces in the poet by late summer, and spring is already in his inkpot with the first snow. ~Terri Guillemets


Poetry is the harnessing of the paradox of earth cradling life and then entombing it. ~Carl Sandburg


A poet builds his nest in the springtime tree of wild reverie, and ends up staying the year. ~Terri Guillemets


I am no dealer in metaphysics, and will not attempt to define poetry by its rules. Poetry lies hid within the inner core of man's thoughts and feelings and affections. It pervades the glorious universe in which the Almighty has placed him. It shines forth from the starry heavens, and from the deep blue vault of the summer sky. It lurks amid the green leaves of the groves, and gushes forth in the "wood notes wild" of their sweet songsters. It sparkles and plays in the flickering eddies of the stream... ~J. M'Dermaid, "Burns as a Poet," 1859


...the swirling autumn leaves of a poet's dying words... ~Terri Guillemets


It might almost be said that the birds are all birds of the poets and of no one else, because it is only the poetical temperament that fully responds to them. All the great ornithologists have been poets in deed if not in word. The very idea of a bird is a symbol and a suggestion to the poet — so vehement and intense in his life, large brained, large lunged, hot, ecstatic, his frame charged with buoyancy and his heart with song — the beautiful vagabonds, endowed with every grace, masters of all climes, and knowing no bounds. Indeed, is not the bird the original type and teacher of the poet? Keats and Shelley, perhaps, most notably, have the bird-organization and the piercing wild-bird cry — the sharp semi-tones of the sparrows and larks. The oldest poets, the antique bards, make little mention of songbirds but loved better the soaring, swooping birds of prey, the eagle, the ominous birds, the vultures, the clamorous sea-birds and screaming hawks. These suited better the rugged, warlike character of the times. Homer must've heard the twittering of swallows and the warble of nightingales; but they were not adequate symbols to express what he felt or to adorn his theme. It is not because the old bards were less as poets, but that they were more as men. ~John Burroughs, "Birds and Poets," 1873  [altered –tg]


poetry leafs out like trees
words rustle in the breeze
punctuate — birds & bees
~Terri Guillemets



Poetry: Music


Poetry is the music of the soul; and, above all, of great and feeling souls. ~Voltaire


Rhyme is the music of the poetic dance. ~James Lendall Basford (1845–1915), Sparks from the Philosopher's Stone, 1882


Music rots when it gets too far from the dance. Poetry atrophies when it gets too far from music. ~Ezra Pound, A B C of Reading, 1960


My poetry, I should think, has become the way of my giving out what music is within me. ~Countee Cullen


The world is full of Poetry—the air
Is living with its spirit; and the waves
Dance to the music of its melodies,
And sparkle in its brightness. Earth is veiled,
And mantled with its beauty; and the walls,
That close the universe, with crystal, in,
Are eloquent with voices, that proclaim
The unseen glories of immensity...
~James G. Percival, "Poetry," c.1822


A poet is a nightingale, who sits in darkness and sings to cheer its own solitude with sweet sounds; his auditors are as men entranced by the melody of an unseen musician, who feel that they are moved and softened, yet know not whence or why. ~Percy Bysshe Shelley


A poem compresses much in a tight space and adds music, thus heightening its meaning. ~E.B. White


Poetry dyes our souls with a melody half ours and half the poet's. ~Terri Guillemets, "Reading Poetry," 1994


...to create a perpetual feeling of enchantment by the constant but unobtrusive employment of the most beautiful and melodious words... a painter and musician in speech... ~Richard Garnett, April 1897, Introduction to The Poetry of Samuel Taylor Coleridge


Inner thought: it is easier to make rhymes on a train; the lines come out the right length because the wheel clicks never miss their count. Idea: if we were a poet we would spend all our time on trains. ~E.B. White


[I]f I had my life to live over again, I would have made a rule to read some poetry and listen to some music at least once a week; for perhaps the parts of my brain now atrophied would thus have been kept active through use. The loss of these tastes is a loss of happiness, and may possibly be injurious to the intellect, and more probably to the moral character, by enfeebling the emotional part of our nature. ~Charles Darwin



Poetry: Philosophy


It seems as though poetry and philosophy were twin stars of different but harmonious colours, each shining in the other's light, and shedding a twofold radiance upon their attendant planets. ~Henry James Slack (1818–1896), The Ministry of the Beautiful, 1850


What is poetry but impassioned truth — philosophy in its essence — the spirit of that bright consummate flower, whose root is in our bosoms? ~Ebenezer Elliott (1781–1849), Preface to Corn Law Rhymes, 1831


No man was ever yet a great poet, without being at the same time a profound philosopher. For poetry is the blossom and the fragrancy of all human knowledge, human thoughts, human passions, emotions, language. ~S.T. Coleridge (1772–1834), Biographia Literaria, 1817


Poetry is to philosophy what the Sabbath is to the rest of the week. ~Augustus William Hare and Julius Charles Hare, Guesses at Truth, by Two Brothers, 1827


Poets have a hundred times more good sense than philosophers. In seeking the beautiful, they find more truths than philosophers do in seeking the true. ~Joseph Joubert, translated by George H. Calvert


What is poetry but impassioned truth — philosophy in its essence — the spirit of that bright consummate flower, whose root is in our bosoms? ~Ebenezer Elliott


The distinction between historian and poet is not in the one writing prose and the other verse — you might put the work of Herodotus into verse, and it would still be a species of history; it consists really in this, that the one describes the thing that has been, and the other a kind of thing that might be. Hence poetry is something more philosophic and of graver import than history, since its statements are of the nature rather of universals, whereas those of history are singulars. ~Aristotle, translated by Ingram Bywater, 1920


[I]n every part of this eastern world, from Pekin to Damascus, the popular teachers of moral wisdom have immemorially been poets... ~William Jones, "On the Philosophy of the Asiaticks," eleventh anniversary discourse, delivered 1794 February 20th


Without philosophy there can be no true poetry: without it pretty verses may, indeed, be made; but in order to be really a poet it is essential to be also, up to a certain point, a philosopher. ~Alexandre Vinet (1797–1847)


Every great poem is in itself limited by necessity, — but in its suggestions unlimited and infinite. ~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807–1882), "Drift Wood, A Collection of Essays: Table-Talk," Prose Works of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, 1857



Poetry: Human


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 filled with passion. Medicine, law, business, engineering: these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love: these are what we stay alive for. ~Dead Poet's Society, 1989, written by Tom Schulman  [John Keating —tg]


The poet who knows one human can portray a hundred. ~Marie Dubsky, Freifrau von Ebner-Eschenbach (1830–1916), translated by Mrs Annis Lee Wister, 1882


There is no vagrant notion in your nature that poetry does not encourage. ~E.W. Howe


Re Ezra Pound — poetry happens to be an art ;and artists happen to be human beings. ~E.E. Cummings, 1945


Poets touch forcibly and truly that invisible lyre which echoes in unison in all human souls. ~Alexandre Vinet (1797–1847), paraphrase


Perhaps beneath the scoundrel that I am, there lies a misled poet? Perhaps a mystifier who enjoys mystifying himself? ~Octave Mirbeau, "The Mission," The Torture Garden, 1899, translated from the French by Alvah C. Bessie, 1931


      We may conceive, and we even know by experience, another kind of poetry... a poetry whose accents, properly speaking, are not those of one man, but of the human race; which tells not what an individual has felt, but what has been felt by the human being ever since the fall that destroyed the simplicity of his nature, and perhaps, by that very fact, created all that is poetry...
      When Innocence retreated tearfully from our earth, she met Poetry on the threshold; they passed close by, looked at each other, and each went her way,—the one to heaven, the other to the dwellings of men. ~Alexandre Vinet (1797–1847)


This spirit is the breath of Nature, blown
Over the sleeping forms of clay, who else
Doze on through life in blank stupidity...
~James G. Percival, "Poetry," c.1822


Poets are candid. They tell us not under an abstract, but an individual form, in which reality breathes, what humanity thinks in the most secret recesses of its mind. ~Alexandre Vinet (1797–1847)



Poetry: Art & Painting


A poet is a painter of the soul... ~Isaac D'Israeli


Most painters have painted themselves. So have most poets: not so palpably indeed, but more assiduously. Some have done nothing else. ~Augustus William Hare and Julius Charles Hare, Guesses at Truth, by Two Brothers, 1827


What better can the poets do
With sunsets? ponder every line
And write a labored verse or two,
Beflowered with 'gorgeous,' 'grand,' 'divine'?
~Hannah R. Hudson, "Word-Painting," Poems, 1874 [alternatively published as "Poet and Painter" –tg]


By poetry we mean the art of employing words in such a manner as to produce an illusion on the imagination, the art of doing by means of words what the painter does by means of colours. ~Thomas Babington Macaulay


Poetry is a type-font design for an alphabet of fun, hate, love, death. ~Carl Sandburg


If Painting be Poetry's sister, she can only be a sister Anne, who will see nothing but a flock of sheep, while the other bodies forth a troop of dragoons with drawn sabres and white-plumed helmets. ~Augustus William Hare and Julius Charles Hare, Guesses at Truth, by Two Brothers, 1827


A poet swallows life and exhales painted words. ~Terri Guillemets



Poetry: Flowers


A good poem, like a bouquet of choice flowers, is the blending of exquisite coloring and sweet perfume, to the delight of both head and heart. ~James Lendall Basford (1845–1915), "Pulpit, Pen, and Platform," Sparks from the Philosopher's Stone, 1882


There is as much difference between good poetry and fine verses, as between the smell of a flower-garden and of a perfumer's shop. ~Augustus William Hare and Julius Charles Hare, Guesses at Truth, by Two Brothers, 1827


Poetry is an ethereal garden crying rhyming tears of roses. ~Terri Guillemets, "Fairie aerial," 1997


Being perfect artists and ingenuous poets, the Chinese have piously preserved the love and holy cult of flowers; one of the very rare and most ancient traditions which has survived their decadence. And since flowers had to be distinguished from each other, they have attributed graceful analogies to them, dreamy images, pure and passionate names which perpetuate and harmonize in our minds the sensations of gentle charm and violent intoxication with which they inspire us. So it is that certain peonies, their favorite flower, are saluted by the Chinese, according to their form or color, by these delicious names, each an entire poem and an entire novel: The Young Girl Who Offers Her Breasts, or: The Water That Sleeps Beneath the Moon, or: The Sunlight in the Forest, or: The First Desire of the Reclining Virgin, or: My Gown Is No Longer All White Because in Tearing It the Son of Heaven Left a Little Rosy Stain; or, even better, this one: I Possessed My Lover in the Garden. ~Octave Mirbeau, Torture Garden


We should manage our Thoughts in composing a Poem, as Shepherds do their Flowers in making a Garland; first select the choicest, and then dispose them in the most proper Places, where they give a Lustre to each other... ~Alexander Pope, "Thoughts on Various Subjects," 1727


Her poetry cries crimson roses
and laughs in spritely daisies.
~Terri Guillemets



Poetry: Blood & Veins, Heart, Tears, Pain & Suffering


Have faith in poets, for they have not been ashamed to tell you that men suffer. They have not been afraid to look life in the face: and often the encounter is more comforting than you had expected. ~Christopher Morley


A vein of Poetry exists in the hearts of all men; no man is made altogether of Poetry. We are all poets when we read a poem as well. ~Thomas Carlyle, "The Hero as Poet," lecture, 1840


Many years ago, at a time when I was obsessed by Rilke's poetry, I happened to cut myself shaving, and (looking in the mirror) I thought: "If Rilke cut himself shaving, he would bleed poetry." ~Stephen Spender, "Bleeding Poetry," The New York Review of Books, 1983


Poetry should be vital — either stirring our blood by its divine movement, or snatching our breath by its divine perfection. ~Augustine Birrell, "On the Alleged Obscurity of Mr. Browning's Poetry," Obiter Dicta


Poetry is the sister of Sorrow. Every man that suffers and weeps is a poet; every tear is a verse, and every heart a poem. ~Marc André, quoted in A Thousand Flashes of French Wit, Wisdom, and Wickedness, collected and translated by J. De Finod, 1880


The poet is a man of words. Words are his breath and his life. In them, and in them alone, is ease for his suffering and sublimation for his personal and vicarious pains. ~Dorothy Thompson, "Death of a Poet," 1939


A poet rips his flesh on the thorn of language and bleeds raw ink onto paper petals. ~Terri Guillemets


There is a chord of poetry, I do believe, in all men; petrified and frozen up, it may be in too many, by the cold realities of this work-a-day world; yet, at times, that "touch of nature which makes the whole world kin," shoots like the electric spark through their veins, and thaws and softens the hard and care-worn heart. ~J. M'Dermaid, "Burns as a Poet," 1859


...poetry is ordinary language raised to the nth power. Poetry is boned with ideas, nerved and blooded with emotions, all held together by the delicate, tough skin of words. ~Paul Engle, "Poetry Is Ordinary Language Raised to the Nth Power," The New York Times, 1957


Part of the spell of poetry is in the rhythm of language... Almost anything put into rhythm and rhyme is more memorable than the same thing said in prose. Why this is, no one knows completely, though the answer is surely rooted far down in the biology by means of which we exist; in the circulation of the blood that goes forth from the heart and comes back, and in the repetition of breathing. ~James Dickey, "How to enjoy poetry," from the 1979–1988 Power of the Printed Word advertising campaign by Billings S. Fuess, Jr. at Ogilvy & Mather for International Paper Company


The poetry of the heart is always worth something... ~Charles Knight (1791-1873), "My First Grief"


Emily Dickinson's poetry is life — blood — spirit. Her passion fills all the poems, till they are like alabaster filled with flame. ~E. Merrill Root, 1924


In her early thirties verses began to fall, dewdrops and blood-drops, upon her hidden paths — flakes of rose and flakes of fire... Her darting lines sting imagination like the barbs of her own bees. ~Katharine Lee Bates, "A House of Rose," 1925  [of Emily Dickinson —tg]


Every poet would like, I fancy, to be able to think that he had some direct social utility.... to give an immediate compensation for the pains of turning blood into ink.... Poetry begins... with a savage beating a drum in a jungle... hyperbolically one might say that the poet is older than other human beings.... Poetry... may make us from time to time a little more aware of the deeper, unnamed feelings which form the substratum of our being, to which we rarely penetrate... ~T.S. Eliot, "The Use of Poetry," 1932


Truth is enough for prose:
      Calmly it goes
      To tell just what it knows.
For verse, skill will suffice—
      Delicate, nice
      Casting of verbal dice.
Poetry, men attain
      By subtler pain
      More flagrant in the brain—
An honesty unfeigned,
      A heart unchained,
      A madness well restrained.
~Christopher Morley, "At the Mermaid Cafeteria"


Every poem is a coat of arms. It must be deciphered. How much blood, how many tears in exchange for these axes, these muzzles, these unicorns, these torches, these towers, these martlets, these seedlings of stars and these fields of blue! ~Jean Cocteau, The Blood of a Poet, translated from the French by Carol Martin-Sperry


The lamp you lighted in the olden time
Will show you my heart's-blood beating through the rhyme:
A poet's journal, writ in fire and tears...
Then slow deliverance, with the gaps of years...
~Bayard Taylor, "First Evening," The Poet's Journal, 1862


Many lyric poets have sensed a parallel between the rhythmic pulse of their blood and language in a poem, but it is of the essence of Kunitz' art that the threshold that transforms blood to ink is not tongue or mouth, but wound... ~Gregory Orr, Stanley Kunitz: An Introduction to the Poetry, 1985


Within my heart there glows
      A gay white light—
      Lovely as some bright rose.
Through struggle storm and sorrow
      This light is mine
      Illumining all tomorrow.
Life would be naught to me
      Without my light,
      The flame of poetry.
~George Elliston, "Poetry," Changing Moods, 1922


Mencken once called poetry "pretty little bellyaches." The statement could only have come from a man who had never known real stomach trouble, the kind that produces The Divine Comedy. ~Clifton Fadiman, "American Light Verse, Once Over Lightly," Enter, Conversing, 1962


Rejected by Hell, the exiled poet will try in vain to reinstate himself there, to be reinvigorated by his sufferings. ~E. M. Cioran, The Temptation to Exist, 1956, translated from the French by Richard Howard  [a little altered —tg]


Sometimes the poet writes with fire; with blood
Sometimes; sometimes with blackest ink:
It matters not. God finds his mighty way
Into his verse...
~J.G. Holland, Kathrina: A Poem, "Part II: Love," 1867


I bleed words,
Ink drops, and
Poetry merges—
Blackish-crimson
Autobiography
~Terri Guillemets


Is blood then so much more eloquent than ink? Does a pistol-shot ring farther than a poem? ~A Californian, anonymous open letter to poet Vera Fitch, 1910 October 29th, in Town Talk: The Pacific Weekly, San Francisco, 1910 November 12th, "Correspondence" [Written after Miss Fitch attempted suicide. "You came to New York to beard the lions of this brutal metropolis with a few frail songs in your hand and a great hope in your heart.... Yes, why should your little pistol bring you fame when your pen could not?" Because you "are just such a romantic victim as this unromantic Moloch of a city loves—to chew. You have brought it blood, and there is nothing it loves more than blood, unless it be beauty." –tg]


Ink kisses
dripping crimson words
and with blood-red lips
leaves prints on her finest poetry.
~Terri Guillemets


Now to form the complete poet, neither heart only, nor head only, is sufficient: the complete poet must have a heart in his brain, or a brain in his heart. Such was Shakspeare, complete because he had both, and supreme because he had both to the highest degree. ~George Darley


There can be poetry in the writings of few men; but it ought to be in the hearts and lives of all. ~John Sterling


If it touches the heart of a Poet,
The gods and the ages will know it...
~Edwin Markham, "The Song Mystery," The Shoes of Happiness and Other Poems, 1913


True poets are those who have received from God, together with the gift of expression, the power of penetrating further than others into the things of the heart and the life. ~Alexandre Vinet (1797–1847)


The poet pursues the trouble in your heart as pitilessly as he has ferreted out his own. ~Christopher Morley


Being a poet, he was afflicted — with nerves and with imagination. The poet's nerves are a sort of radio sending and receiving station; they quiver to waves which leave the stolid undisturbed. It is the joy and the agony of the poet to feel more than what happens to himself; to feel and respond to what happens to people he has never met, never seen, far away, nothing too far away. It is the curse of his imagination to see — to see, though staring at a blank wall. ~Dorothy Thompson, "Death of a Poet," 1939  [Ernst Toller —tg]


"I have often wondered if poets feel what they write — whether Swinburne, for instance, ever felt the weight of a dead cold thing within him here," slightly touching the region of his heart, "and realized that he had to drag that corpse of unburied love with him everywhere — even to the grave, and beyond — O God! — beyond the grave!" ~Marie Corelli, A Romance of Two Worlds, "Chapter IX: An Electric Shock," 1886


It's easier to write poetry on a bad day, when your heart has been halved and emotions bleed out through the pen. ~Terri Guillemets


The poet performs the greatest of social functions: he elucidates the secrets of other hearts by eavesdropping at his own. At the bottom of almost every heart is terror. But it comforts men to know that others are also afraid. It is because we hardly know what we ourselves think that we are endlessly eager to know the thoughts of others. The poets discover us to ourselves; and they speak not apprehensively, not embarrassed, not beshrewed and distracted by a muddle of affairs, but in that perfection and power and happiness that comes of impassioned solitude. By making us share their sufferings they have eased themselves and eased us, too. ~Christopher Morley


The true power of the poet is plucking at the heartstrings, and making music with them. ~Dennis Gabor, "Poet," c.1969


Poetry mends a broken arrow then shoots us in the heart with it. ~Terri Guillemets, "Love, life, poetry," 2016


The flowery Path of Poetry but ill accords with the thorny Mazes of the Law; in the one I have wandered with rapture from Infancy, and I have endeavoured to grace the other with a simple but lasting Ornament — Integrity of Heart. ~Charles Snart, "Dedication, to Robert Lowe, Esq. Oxton," 1807 January 1st, Newark, Selection of Poems


Pleasant images in pleasant words...
of hope, and love, and melody,
the gushings of an overburdened heart...
~James Gates Percival (1795–1856), "Love of Study," c.1822 [a little altered –tg]


...it is not health, it is convalescence that is poetical. Just as certain plants only yield all their fragrance to the fingers that crush them, so it is only in a state of suffering that certain affections utter all their poetry. ~Alexandre Vinet (1797–1847)


There is a pleasure in poetic pains,
Which only poets know...
~William Cowper, "The Time-Piece"


...poetry to make tears flow that would otherwise be poisonous if swallowed... ~Nina George, The Little Paris Bookshop, 2013, translated by Simon Pare, 2015


"That's the way of poets," said Warrington. "They fall in love, jilt, or are jilted; they suffer, and they cry out that they suffer more than any other mortals: and when they have experienced feelings enough, they note them down in a book, and take the book to market. All poets are humbugs, all literary men are humbugs; directly a man begins to sell his feelings for money he's a humbug. If a poet gets a pain in his side from too good a dinner, he bellows Ai, Ai, louder than Prometheus." ~William Makepeace Thackeray, The History of Pendennis, 1850


What is a poet? A poet is an unhappy being whose heart is torn by secret sufferings, but whose lips are so strangely formed that when the sighs and the cries escape them, they sound like beautiful music... And men crowd about the poet and say to him: "Sing for us soon again"; that is as much as to say: "May new sufferings torment your soul, but may your lips be formed as before; for the cries would only frighten us, but the music is delicious." ~Søren Kierkegaard, translated by David F. Swenson and Lillian Marvin Swenson, 1944


If a poet is very great, the blows of conflict and violence temper him into a blade sharp enough to cut through all confusion. If he is very great, he becomes judgment when all judgment is suspended. ~Dorothy Thompson, "Death of a Poet," 1939  [a little altered —tg]


You don't have to suffer to be a poet. Adolescence is enough suffering for anyone. ~John Ciardi, 1962


Her head was cracked—
not tragically, just poetically.
It's how the poems got in,
      —and out.
~Terri Guillemets, "Cracked," 1994


Here he had read to me his tear-stained page
Of sorrow... here would try
To lay his burden in the hands of Song,
And make the Poet bear the Lover's wrong,
But still his heart impatiently would cry:
"In vain, in vain! You cannot teach to flow
In measured lines so measureless a woe.
First learn to slay this wild beast of despair,
Then from his harmless jaws your honey tear!"
~Bayard Taylor, "First Evening"


Emily:  Most people quote love poems.
Ben:  Nah, I prefer a dirge. It's like a different kind of love poem.
~Rachel Axler and Alena Smith, "A brief, but patient illness," Dickinson, 2019  [S1, E6 —tg]


Poetry cries melodic tears of verse. ~Terri Guillemets


Poetry comes with anger, hunger and dismay; it does not often visit groups of citizens sitting down to be literary together, and would rightly appal them if it did. ~Christopher Morley, 1930


Soldiers in the war of poetry
Bleed silky rose petals and glittering thorns
And leave behind beautiful inked destruction—
Embattled souls wounded, and healed.
~Terri Guillemets


There's so much prose in life that now and then,
A tender song of pity stirs the heart,
A simple lay of love from fevered pen,
Makes in some soul the unshed tear-drops start.
Sing, poets! sing for aye your sweetest strain,
For life without its poetry were vain!
~S.J. Adair Fitz-Gerald (1859–1925), The Zankiwank & The Bletherwitch, 1896


Poetry should never hurt. It may stab you with poetic pangs of melancholy but shouldn't ever hurt as life does. ~Terri Guillemets



Poetry: Witty & Mocking


The only problem
with Haiku is that you just
get started and then
~Roger McGough, unverified


I had rather be a kitten and cry mew
Than one of these same metre ballad-mongers;
I had rather hear a brazen canstick turn'd,
Or a dry wheel grate on the axle-tree;
And that would set my teeth nothing on edge,
Nothing so much as mincing poetry...
~William Shakespeare, Henry IV, Part I, c.1597  [III, 1, Hotspur of the North]


I hate French poetry. What measured glitter! ~Israel Zangwill, Dreamers of the Ghetto, "From a Mattress Grave," 1897, spoken by the character Heinrich Heine


      'There is correct English: that is not slang.'
      'I beg your pardon: correct English is the slang of prigs who write history and essays. And the strongest slang of all is the slang of poets.'
      ...'Aha, Miss Rosy, you don't know Homer from slang. I shall invent a new game; I shall write bits of slang and poetry on slips, and give them to you to separate.'
      'Dear me, how amusing it is to hear young people talk!' said Mrs Vincy, with cheerful admiration. ~George Eliot, Middlemarch: A Study of Provincial Life, Volume I, Book I—Miss Brooke, 1871


Then a health to the poets I'll toss,
To Byron and Shelley and Keats,
To Dobson the blithe and Swinburne the lithe,
And the Irish phenomenon Yeats.
~Your Health!, compiled by Idelle Phelps, 1906


Poets aren't very useful,
Because they aren't very consumeful or very produceful...
~Ogden Nash (1902–1971), "Everybody Makes Poets"


And let me be rather but honest with no-wit,
Than a noisy nonsensical half-witted poet.
~"The Poet's Prayer," c.1734


Salts of lemon never fails to remove ink spots. A great many would-be poets should buy the salts by the barrel and pickle their effusions in it. ~Mary Wilson Little, Reveries of a Paragrapher, 1897


Rhyme.— Often a substitute for poetry... ~"Specimens of a Patent Pocket Dictionary, For the use of those who wish to understand the meaning of things as well as words," The New Monthly Magazine and Literary Journal, 1824‑5


The first time I ever read the dictionary, I thought it was a poem about everything. ~Steven Wright, A Steven Wright Special, 1985, stevenwright.com



Poetry: Subtlety


A poet dares be just so clear and no clearer; he approaches lucid ground warily, like a mariner who is determined not to scrape his bottom on anything solid. A poet's pleasure is to withhold a little of his meaning, to intensify by mystification. He unzips the veil from beauty but does not remove it. A poet utterly clear is a trifle glaring. ~E.B. White, 1939


A poet rarely swashes ink
but mostly mists at subtleties.
~Terri Guillemets


You can tear a poem apart to see what makes it technically tick, and say to yourself, when the works are laid out before you, the vowels, the consonants, the rhymes or rhythms, 'Yes, this is it. This is why the poem moves me so...' But you're back again where you began. You've back with the mystery of having been moved by words. The best craftsmanship always leaves holes and gaps in the works of the poem so that something that is not in the poem can creep, crawl, flash, or thunder in. ~Dylan Thomas


A thing Dylan Thomas once said
About poetry haunts me most —
Still echoed derisively
By his sweating, chainsmoking ghost...
~Helen Smith Bevington, "Talk with a Poet," A Change of Sky


The nature of great poetry — perfect art attempted by imperfect people — prevents the direct concern with truth and can only suggest by singing what it secretly shields by showing. ~Alexander Theroux, Darconville's Cat, 1981


Poetry is a slipknot tightened around a time-beat of one thought, two thoughts, and a last interweaving thought there is not yet a number for. ~Carl Sandburg


Poetry is the tracing of the trajectories of a finite sound to the infinite points of its echoes. ~Carl Sandburg


Poetry is an echo asking a shadow dancer to be a partner. ~Carl Sandburg


Poetry is the art of substantiating shadows, and of lending existence to nothing. ~Edmund Burke



Poetry: Commonplace & Primitive


In poetry and in eloquence the beautiful and grand must spring from the commonplace.... All that remains for us is to be new while repeating the old, and to be ourselves in becoming the echo of the whole world. ~Alexandre Vinet (1797–1847)


Poets have forgotten that the first lesson of literature, no less than of life, is the learning how to burn your own smoke; that the way to be original is to be healthy; that the fresh color, so delightful in all good writing, is won by escaping from the fixed air of self into the brisk atmosphere of universal sentiments; and that to make the common marvellous, as if it were a revelation, is the test of genius. ~James Russell Lowell, "Chaucer," 1870


The sublimity of poetry, you see, lies in the fact that it does not take an educated person to understand it and to love it. On the contrary. The educated do not understand it, and generally they despise it, because they have too much pride. To love poetry it is enough to have a soul,—a little soul, naked, like a flower. Poets speak to the souls of the simple, of the sad, of the sick. And that is why they are eternal. Do you know that, when one has sensibility, one is always something of a poet? ~Octave Mirbeau, A Chambermaid's Diary / Le Journal d'une Femme de Chambre, 1900, translated from the French by Benjamin R. Tucker


Poetry is not a civilizer, rather the reverse, for great poetry appeals to the most primitive instincts. ~Robinson Jeffers


Can [poets] do anything but gradually ascend towards the source, towards the primitive ideas that bind together man—the family and society—with a different cement to that of science and of law? Long will it be ere poetry can solder together the fragments of its falling sceptre; but these fragments are beautiful, and in the present day he who succeeds in picking up one of them will be a king among us. ~Alexandre Vinet (1797–1847)



Poetry: Night & Sleep


A poet is an insomniac
and always writes best
by the light of a midnight candle.
~Terri Guillemets, "Flickering," 2009


Poetry is not an expression of the party line. It's that time of night, lying in bed, thinking what you really think, making the private world public, that's what the poet does. ~Allen Ginsberg


Poetry is like an unexpected noise in the night: the creak of a door, the footstep on the porch, the soft scuffle of a moth against the screen, which rouses every sense to an instant alert. So comes poetry to the drowsy mind, which startles a moment, wonders, and returns to sleep. ~Christopher Morley


An Everlasting Poem is the Night,
Gleaming incessant on the page of space:
Printing itself in letters all of gold:
Singing itself in measures, all of fire...
~George Gilfillan, "The Poets of Night," Night: A Poem, 1867


Poetry staggers amongst stars, drunk on the night. ~Terri Guillemets


Mirrors seemed to have taken up a hell of a lot of time in his life. He thought of one now—the mirror in the bathroom, years ago, back home. When he was a kid—fourteen, fifteen—writing a poem every night before he went to sleep, starting and finishing it at one sitting even though it might be two or three o'clock, that bathroom mirror had come to mean more to him than his own bed. Nights when he had finished a poem, what could have been more natural, more necessary and urgent, than to go and look at himself to see if he had changed? Here at this desk, this night, one of life's important moments had occurred. Humbly, almost unaware, certainly innocent, he had sat there and been the instrument by which a poem was transmitted to paper. ~Charles R. Jackson, The Lost Weekend, 1944


The night of Shakspere is a southern night,
With tipsy stars for candles burning out,
With elves and fairies footing it to song...
With lovers sitting on the moonlight banks...
With glowworms burning gaily 'mid their woods,
With thrilling song of nightingale and lute...
And thus is Shakspere's world a soft strong link,
Like some serene and isthmus seeming star,
Binding us to the galaxies of God...
~George Gilfillan, "The Poets of Night," Night: A Poem, 1867


Beautiful poems... are nothing else than the waking dreams of a sage. ~Joseph Joubert, translated by George H. Calvert


Poets rejoice in the light of dawn,
struggle with a heavy pen at noontide,
quip with dragons and fairies at teatime,
love and muse in the evening,
and flourish with midnight ink.
(Sleep? No. We could miss a poem.)
~Terri Guillemets, "Overclocked," 2011


In the earlier years of his literary career he would frequently awake at night, get out of bed, light a candle, and compose many lines upon some poem which he said had "forced itself upon his mind." ~William H. Hayne, "Paul H. Hayne's Methods of Composition," c. 1892 [a little altered –tg]


I yearn to
fall asleep to
the rose-scented
burning-pink smoke
and dreamy aromas
of soul-poetry,
so that I wake to
a poem-tinted dawn
and morning's sweet fragrance
lays out my new day's path
in flowers of purpose and joy.
~Terri Guillemets


Who can sleep when all the words of the poem aren't just exactly right?! ~Terri Guillemets, "Poeta insomnis," 2014



Poetry: Math & Science


[P]oets are masters of us ordinary men, in knowledge of the mind, because they drink at streams which we have not yet made accessible to science. ~Sigmund Freud, quoted in A Dictionary of Scientific Quotations by Alan L. Mackay, 1991


The word "Verse" is used here as the term most convenient for expressing, and without pedantry, all that is involved in the consideration of rhythm, rhyme, meter, and versification... the subject is exceedingly simple; one tenth of it, possibly may be called ethical; nine tenths, however, appertains to the mathematics. ~Edgar Allan Poe


Science is for those who learn; poetry, for those who know. ~Joseph Roux, Meditations of a Parish Priest


Mathematics and Poetry are... the utterance of the same power of imagination, only that in the one case it is addressed to the head, in the other, to the heart. ~Thomas Hill


Can [poets] do anything but gradually ascend towards the source, towards the primitive ideas that bind together man—the family and society—with a different cement to that of science and of law? Long will it be ere poetry can solder together the fragments of its falling sceptre; but these fragments are beautiful, and in the present day he who succeeds in picking up one of them will be a king among us. ~Alexandre Vinet (1797–1847)


Poetry is a mystic, sensuous mathematics of fire, smokestacks, waffles, pansies, people, and purple sunsets. ~Carl Sandburg


Everything one invents is true, you may be perfectly sure of that. Poetry is as precise as geometry. ~Gustave Flaubert


If Galileo had said in verse that the world moved, the inquisition might have let him alone. ~Thomas Hardy



Poetry: Free Verse & Form


"Them kind of poems ain’t stylish no longer. Rhymes has gone out. Everything’s ‘free verse’ now. I’ve been readin’ up about it. So I’ve wrote some of ’em. They’re real easy to do — jest lines chopped off free an’ easy, anywheres that it happens, only have some long, an’ some short, for notoriety, you know, like this." And she read:
      "A great big cloud
      That was black
      Came up
      Out of the West. An’ I knew
      Then
      For sure
      That a storm was brewin’.
      An’ it brewed."
"Now that was dead easy — anybody could see that. But it’s kind of pretty, I think, too, jest the same. Them denatured poems are always pretty, I think — about trees an’ grass an’ flowers an’ the sky, you know. Don’t you?" ~Eleanor H. Porter, "Free Verse — à la Susan," Dawn, 1918


Sorry if these lines are irregular in length and jolty in meter. ~J. F. Bowman, 1868  [a little altered —tg]


The best literary periods have always been those when authors weighed and counted their words. ~Joseph Joubert, translated by George H. Calvert


I recently bought a book of free verse. For twelve dollars. ~George Carlin, Napalm & Silly Putty, 2001


I'd as soon write free verse as play tennis with the net down. ~Robert Frost


Couldn't you play better tennis with the net down? ~Carl Sandburg


Much of the work usually known as "free verse" is not verse at all. Much of it is not poetry either. It has been aptly called "shredded prose." ~Marguerite Wilkinson, The Poetry of Our Own Times, 1926


Shredded prose is prose
Twisted in heat to occasional rhythms,
And broken savagely into irregular lengths,
And packed and sold as verse.
      Yet
Our lives and thoughts are prose,
With only occasional bursts of rhythmic rapture
And with frequent broken jumps of change.
And so the prose-shredder
Often hits us in more intimate spots
Than the versifier,
It must be admitted.
~Everybody's Magazine, 1915


The modern poet does not deny the right of regular verse to exist, or to be poetic. He merely affirms that poetry is sincerity, and has no essential alliance with regular schemes of any sort. He reserves the right to adapt his rhythm to his mood, to modulate his metre as he progresses. ~Herbert Read, Phases of English Poetry, 1928


The poet who writes "free" verse is like Robinson Crusoe on his desert island: he must do all his cooking, laundry, darning, etc., for himself. In a few exceptional cases this manly independence produces something original and impressive, but as a rule the result is squalor — empty bottles on the unswept floor and dirty sheets on the unmade bed. ~W. H. Auden, "Squares and Oblongs," 1947


My own verse is usually free verse. The freer the better. ~L. Ron Hubbard


Teenagers are free verse walking around on two legs. ~Dorothy Allison


Poetry was music. Poetry was not the thing said, but continual evocation of delicious suggestions of meaning. Poetry was an unconscious crystallization of glittering images upon the bare twig of metre. Poetry, at the nadir of this search for its essence, became the formless babble and vomit of the poet's subconscious mind. ~A. D. Hope, 1957


Modern poets
pay at the tollbooth with pretty words
then swim naked under the bridge.
~Terri Guillemets, "Contemporary poetry," 2016


Modern poets mix much water with their ink. ~Johann Wolfgang von Goethe


Modern poets are bells of lead. They should tinkle melodiously but usually they just klunk. ~Lord Dunsany, 1954


Poetry is not imagination, but imagination shaped. Not feeling, but feeling expressed symbolically; the formless suggested indirectly through form. Hence the form is an essential element of poetry. And, the form in which poetical feeling expresses itself is infinitely varied. ~Frederick W. Robertson, paraphrased from a lecture delivered before the Members of the Mechanics’ Institution, 1852


I love writing poetry because poetry can be anything we want it to be — just like daydreaming. There are no rules except those in our own hearts and pens. ~Terri Guillemets, "Quiet time with my soul," 1998



Whitman & Swinburne


Thus, Whitman set out to express in his poetry the soul of his Culture awakening into self-consciousness on its own soil. Not only is the Faustian soul self-conscious; it is eternally restless, constantly striving upward, and possesses a sense of spiritual infinity. All these characteristics are given expression in Whitman's poetry. ~Walt Whitman Review, 1976


Did you ask dulcet rhymes from me?
Did you find what I sang erewhile so hard to follow, to understand?
Why, I was not singing erewhile for you to follow, to understand — nor am I now;
— What to such as you, anyhow, such a poet as I? — therefore leave my works,
And go lull yourself with what you can understand;
For I lull nobody — and you will never understand me.
~Walt Whitman, "Did You Ask Dulcet Rhymes from Me?," Drum Taps, 1865


"Did you ask dulcet rhymes from me?" inquires Mr. Whitman of some extraordinary if not imaginary interlocutor; and proceeds, with some not ineffective energy of expression, to explain that "I lull nobody—and you will never understand me." No, my dear good sir—or camerado: not in the wildest visions of a distempered slumber could I ever have dreamed of doing anything of the kind. The question of whether your work is in any sense poetry has no more to do with dulcet rhymes than with the differential calculus. The question is whether you have any more right to call yourself a poet, or to be called a poet by any man who knows verse from prose, or black from white, or speech from silence, or his right hand from his left, than to call yourself or to be called, on the strength of your published writings, a mathematician, a painter, a political economist, a dynamiter, a civil engineer, an amphimacer, a rhomboid, or a rectangular parallelogram. ~Algernon Charles Swinburne, "Whitmania," The Fortnightly Review, 1887 August 1st [a little altered –tg]


To have great poets, there must be great audiences, too. ~Walt Whitman


Walt Whitman … the remarkable American rhapsodist who has inoculated readers and writers with ethical and æsthetic rabies … the genuine energy and the occasional beauty of his feverish and convulsive style of writing … energetic emotion and sonorous expression … a style of rhetoric not always flatulent or inharmonious … exuberant incontinence … so pitiful a profession or ambition as that of a versifier … such were the flute-notes of Diogenes Devilsdung … James Macpherson could at least evoke shadows; Martin Tupper and Walt Whitman can only accumulate words … Mr. Whitman's Eve is a drunken apple-woman, indecently sprawling in the slush and garbage of the gutter amid the rotten refuse of her overturned fruit-stall; his Venus a Hottentot wench under the influence of cantharides and adulterated rum … the sources of inspiration which infuse into its chaotic jargon some passing or seeming notes of cosmic beauty, and diversify with something of occasional harmony the strident and barren discord of its jarring and erring atoms … but there is a thrilling and fiery force in his finest bursts of gusty rhetoric… ~Algernon Charles Swinburne, phrases extracted from "Whitmania," in The Fortnightly Review, 1887 August 1st [a little altered –tg]


She took up the volume of Swinburne and began reading it mechanically by the flickering candlelight. The rolling, copious phrases conveyed little meaning to her, but she liked the music of them.... A great tear splashing down across The Triumph of Time recalled her to herself. Often and often, with secret contempt and astonishment, had she seen Esther dissolved in tears over her favourite poets. Should she grow in time to be like Esther, undignified, unreserved? ~Amy Levy (1861–1889), Reuben Sachs: A Sketch, 1888



"Poetry is..."


Poetry is frosted fire. ~J. Patrick Lewis, "Poetry Is…", 2010, jpatricklewis.com


Poetry is truth in its Sunday clothes. ~Joseph Roux (1834–1905), Meditations of a Parish Priest, 1886, translated from French by Isabel F. Hapgood


Poetry is the language in which man explores his own amazement. ~Christopher Fry


Poetry is life distilled. ~Gwendolyn Brooks


Poetry is a blind date with enchantment. ~J. Patrick Lewis, "Poetry Is…", 2010, jpatricklewis.com


Poetry is reverie on paper. ~Terri Guillemets, "Quiet time with my soul," 1998


Poetry is a mirror which makes beautiful that which is distorted. ~Percy Shelley


Poetry is a pack-sack of invisible keepsakes. ~Carl Sandburg


Poetry is the log of man's fugitive castaway soul upon a doomed and derelict planet. ~Christopher Morley (1890–1957), "The Autogenesis of a Poet," c.1920


Poetry is a search for syllables to shoot at the barriers of the unknown and the unknowable. ~Carl Sandburg


Poetry is energy of the soul made ink. ~Terri Guillemets, "Lust & creativity," 1995


Poetry is a sequence of dots and dashes, spelling depths, crypts, cross-lights, and moon wisps. ~Carl Sandburg


Poetry is the achievement of the synthesis of hyacinths and biscuits. ~Carl Sandburg


Poetry is experience’s armor against oblivion. ~J. Patrick Lewis, "Poetry Is…", 2010, jpatricklewis.com


Poetry is the art of uniting pleasure with truth, by calling imagination to the help of reason. ~Samuel Johnson


Poetry is perfect verbs hunting for elusive nouns. ~J. Patrick Lewis, "Poetry Is…", 2010, jpatricklewis.com


Poetry is a kinetic arrangement of static syllables. ~Carl Sandburg


Poetry is the breath and finer spirit of all knowledge... ~William Wordsworth


Poetry is the tunnel at the end of the light. ~J. Patrick Lewis, "Poetry Is…", 2010, jpatricklewis.com


Poetry is the establishment of a metaphorical link between white butterfly-wings and the scraps of torn-up love-letters. ~Carl Sandburg


Poetry is a greased pole to the castle in the air. ~J. Patrick Lewis, "Poetry Is…", 2010, jpatricklewis.com


Poetry is a glass, half-fuel. ~J. Patrick Lewis, "Poetry Is…", 2010, jpatricklewis.com


Poetry is creative; to be a poet is to remake the universe. ~Alexandre Vinet (1797–1847)


Poetry is art with words and art is poetry without words. ~Quoted in the Moralia of Plutarch as an "oft-repeated saying"  [Loeb, 1927: "poetry is articulate painting, and painting is inarticulate poetry" —tg]


Poetry is a perfectly reasonable means of overcoming chaos. ~I.A. Richards (1893–1979)


Poetry is the overflowing of the soul. ~Henry T. Tuckerman, "Bryant," Thoughts on the Poets, 1850


Poetry is just the evidence of a life. If your life is burning well, poetry is just the ash. ~Leonard Cohen, unverified


Poetry is not always words. ~Terri Guillemets, "Moonglow over the mountain," 1991


Poetry is more than verse-making, more than the jingle of words, more than the sing-song of meter.... Without poetry, life is a tread-mill; a veil of tears; a dreary waste. ~Author unknown, c.1895 [possibly Silas X. Floyd –tg]


Poetry is combat—
soul versus world.
~Terri Guillemets, "Soul verses," 1994


Poetry is found in various shapes,
As vital or mental the mixture takes,
Or roundness or sharpness passion awakes...
~H.W. Jeffree, Life: An Epic, "Book IV," written 1861, revised 1874


poetry is flitting butterfly words
leaving inky spots on fragile papery wings
~Terri Guillemets


All poetry is simply an escape from reality. It says what is palpably not true. The only difference between poets is a difference in the kind of escape they crave. Some are content with visions of a pretty girl who is also a good cook and pays for the marketing out of her own funds; others demand the insane consolations of metaphysics, or the hiding-place of a jargon no one can understand. ~H.L. Mencken


In essence, poetry is the love of life... ~Christopher Morley (1890–1957), "The Autogenesis of a Poet," c.1920


And poetry is man's rebellion against being what he is. ~James Branch Cabell


Poetry is nobody's business except the poet's, and everybody else can [f*@%] off. ~Philip Larkin



Poetry: Miscellaneous


The whole art of poetry — Calling everything something else. ~Charles Searle, Look Here!, 1885


Poetry,—the language of the Imagination and the Passions,—the oldest and most beauteous offspring of Literature. ~Frederick Hinde, Poetry, a lecture delivered in London on the evening of April 8, 1858


I would define... the Poetry of words as The Rhythmical Creation of Beauty. ~Edgar Allan Poe


I should define poetry as the exquisite expression of exquisite impressions. ~Joseph Roux (1834–1905), Meditations of a Parish Priest, 1886, translated from French by Isabel F. Hapgood


All-pervading spirit to the ear
Blended with the movings of the soul
~James G. Percival, "Poetry," c.1822 [a little altered –tg]


To cut the Gordian knot is not the same as to untie it. Children and lunatics cut what the poet patiently spends his life in trying to untie. ~Jean Cocteau


Then, in what beauteous dress will Poetry oft clothe or decorate what in Prose is but too frequently flat and commonplace. ~Frederick Hinde, Poetry, a lecture delivered in London on the evening of April 8, 1858


Poetry slips a silk dress over naked prose. ~James Lendall Basford (1845–1915), Seven Seventy Seven Sensations, 1897


Poetry should be a sacred thing... It should be, in fine, the historian of human nature in its fullest possible perfection, and the painter of all those lines and touches, in earth and heaven, which nothing, but taste, can see and feel. It should give to its forms the expression of angels, and throw over its pictures the hues of immortality. There can be but one extravagance in poetry; it is, to clothe feeble conceptions in mighty language. ~James G. Percival, Preface to Clio, 1822


I think poetry should... strike the reader as a wording of his own highest thoughts, and appear almost a remembrance. ~John Keats, 1818


Words become luminous when the finger of the poet touches them with his phosphorus. ~Joseph Joubert, translated by George H. Calvert


One must forgive a large self-consciousness to a great poet. We cannot deny a certain Godlikeness to one who creates men from his brain. ~Marie Dubsky, Freifrau von Ebner-Eschenbach (1830–1916), translated by Mrs Annis Lee Wister, 1882


ever been kidnapped
by a poet
if i were a poet
i'd kidnap you
put you in my phrases and meter...
~Nikki Giovanni, "Kidnap Poem," c.1970


True poetry forever lasts... ~Pierre de Ronsard (1524–1585), translated by Curtis Hidden Page, 1903


I was condemned to poetry. I was a dreamer: nose in a book, head in the clouds. ~Fred Chappell, Look Back All the Green Valley, 1999  #infj


...if the author had said, "Let us put on appropriate galoshes," there could, of course, have been no poem... ~Author unknown, analysis of Elinor Wylie's "Velvet Shoes," 1948  [quoted by David Wagoner at the beginning of his poem "Walking in the Snow," the first line of which is "Let us put on appropriate galoshes..." —tg]


There is often as much poetry between the lines of a poem as in those lines. ~Alexandre Vinet (1797–1847)


Poetry! poetry! the emptiest of all words, or the most significant,—the most frivolous of all things, or the most important. ~Alexandre Vinet (1797–1847)


WANTED: A needle swift enough
To sew this poem into a blanket.
~Charles Simic, 1969


'T is not the chime and flow of words, that move
In measured file, and metrical array...
Nor all the pleasing artifice of rhyme...
'T is a mysterious feeling, which combines
Man with the world around him, in a chain
Woven of flowers, and dipped in sweetness, till
He taste the high communion of his thoughts,
With all existences, in earth and heaven,
That meet him in the charm of grace and power.
~James G. Percival, "Poetry," c.1822


The poet needs to admire; he is in a merely human sense the high priest of the true, the beautiful, the grand. On whatever side he spreads his wings it is his mission to bear the universal homage to these worthy objects, or to some ideas of them. ~Alexandre Vinet (1797–1847)


...the purest poetry is nothing less than magic... ~W. J. Dawson, "The Family Album," The Autobiography of a Mind, 1925


So the poetic feeling needs no words
To give it utterance; but it swells, and glows,
And revels in the ecstasies of soul,
And sits at banquet with celestial forms...
~James G. Percival, "Poetry," c.1822


Poets swing too high, until the chain kinks and snaps mid-air. The fall is poetry. ~Terri Guillemets


Beauty is the true meaning of poetry. But after all nothing is said; and a thinker, a sensitive mind, will extract more from the simple word itself than can be embodied in a hundred varnished phrases. ~T.C. Henley, "Beauty," 1851


[T]rue poets... can pierce through the clouds to the light, and save the purity of their inspiration from the general disorder. ~Alexandre Vinet (1797–1847)


She comes like the husht beauty of the night,
And sees too deep for laughter:
Her touch is a vibration and a light
From worlds before and after.
~Edwin Markham, "Poesy," Gates of Paradise and Other Poems, 1920


The history of poetry is not exclusively and identically the history of works written in verse. Poetry dwells in prose writings as well; nay, is necessarily met with there, for poetry is less a class of writings than a breath unequally but generally diffused throughout literature: it is whatever raises us from the real to the ideal; whatever brings the prosaic in contact with our imaginations; whatever in any intellectual work echoes within the soul; it is the beauty of all beautiful things; it penetrates into spheres apparently most foreign to it; and what Voltaire has said of happiness may be equally said of poetry,—"She resembles fire, whose gentle heat secretly insinuates itself into all other elements, descends into rocks, rises in the cloud, reddens the coral in the sand of the seas, and lives in icicles that winters have hardened." ~Alexandre Vinet (1797–1847)


We ask the poet: 'What subject have you chosen' instead of: 'What subject has chosen you?' ~Marie Dubsky, Freifrau von Ebner-Eschenbach (1830–1916), translated by Mrs Annis Lee Wister, 1882


The poem is, then, a little myth of man's capacity for making life meaningful. And in the end, the poem is not a thing we see — it is, rather, a light by which we may see — and what we see is life. ~Robert Penn Warren, 1958


His home is in the heights: to him
Men wage a battle weird and dim...
The perilous music that he hears
Falls from the vortice of the spheres...
~Edwin Markham, "The Poet"


A poet acquires a kind of spiritual jurisdiction over the places he has sojourned in and the hills he has haunted. ~W.H. Gresswell, "A Poet's Corner," 1889


The eye is the only note-book of the true poet. ~James Russell Lowell


His rhymes the poet flings at all men's feet,
And whoso will may trample on his rhymes.
Should Time let die a song that's true and sweet
The singer's loss were more than match'd by Time's.
~William Watson, "'Subjectivity' in Art," Epigrams of Art, Life, and Nature, 1884


Your prayer can be poetry, and poetry can be your prayer. ~Terri Guillemets, "A lonely pen at night," 1992


So we dreamt a dream. And there seemed to arise the Poet. And he seemed to say, There is a man who sits and thinks,—thinks deeply. And his fancy draws up forms and facts from The Beautiful. And a pen writes them down; and it is Poetry, and he is a Poet. ~"Architecture," The Fine Arts' Journal, 1846 November 7th


     Theodore—"I was at first afraid that he was one of those numerous poets who have driven poetry from the earth, one of those stringers of sham pearls who can see nothing in the world but the last syllables of words, and who when they have rhymed glade with shade, flame with name, and God with trod, conscientiously cross their legs and arms and suffer the spheres to complete their revolution."
     Rosette—"He is not one of those. His verses are inferior to him and do not contain him. What he has written would give you a very false idea of his own person; his true poem is himself, and I do not know whether he will ever compose another. In the recesses of his soul he has a seraglio of beautiful ideas which he surrounds with a triple wall, and of which he is more jealous than was ever sultan of his odalisques. He only puts those into his verses which he does not care about or which have repulsed him; it is the door through which he drives them away, and the world has only those which he will keep no longer." ~Théophile Gautier, Mademoiselle de Maupin, 1835


The one who builds the poem into fact,
He is the rightful owner of it all...
~Edwin Markham, "Song Made Flesh"


The Phœnix is also very much like an intelligent eagle, with gold and crimson plumage and an exceptionally waggish tail. It has the advantage of fifty orifices in his bill, through which he occasionally sings melodious songs to oblige the company. As he never appears to anyone more than once in five hundred years, sometimes, when he has the toothache for instance, only once in a thousand years—which is why he is called a rara avis—if you ever meet him at any time take particular notice of him. And if you can draw, if it is only the long bow, make a sketch of him. He lives chiefly on poets—which is why so many refer to him. He has been a good friend to the poets of all ages, as your cousin William will explain. If you have not got a cousin William, ask some one who has. ~S.J. Adair Fitz-Gerald (1859–1925), The Zankiwank & The Bletherwitch, 1896


Invariably pure and austere, poets mostly
starve to death embracing empty mountains,
and when white clouds have no master,
they just drift off, idle thoughts carefree.
~Meng Chiao, translated by David Hinton


Poetry is a way of taking life by the throat. ~Robert Frost, 1963


A rose in sunlight is nature.
A rose in the dark is poetry.
~Terri Guillemets


We need the knowledge of the poet, the prophet and the deeper things of life... ~Joseph F. Daniels, "The Empty Heart" (A Paper Read on the Educational Future of Libraries before the Library Section of the Colorado Teachers' Association, 1908 December 29th)


I sew my life together with the glittering threads of poetry. ~Terri Guillemets


The desert attracts the nomad; the ocean, the sailor; the infinite, the poet. ~Joseph Roux, translated by Isabel F. Hapgood


Old Books and fresh Flowers
Hot Tea, “thought in cold storage”
Brief the Verse, Reverie on hours
Poetry—her Mind's sweet forage.
~Terri Guillemets
[Quoted text is Herbert Samuel. —tεᖇᖇ¡·g]


What is a Professor of Poetry? How can poetry be professed? ~W.H. Auden, 1956


Poets yawn at business,
balk at politics, and believe
words the only currency.
~Terri Guillemets, "Sir Real Life," 2005


A good poem is a contribution to reality. The world is never the same once a good poem has been added to it. A good poem helps to change the shape and significance of the universe, helps to extend everyone's knowledge of himself and the world around him. ~Dylan Thomas


Words are rather the drossy part of poetry; imagination the life of it. ~Owen Felltham


Sunshine cannot bleach the snow,
Nor time unmake what poets know.
~Ralph Waldo Emerson, "The Test"


[P]oets... tremble on the syllable of lovely meanings... ~Christopher Morley


Poetry touches upon the entire spectrum,
from lost to found —
and sometimes back again.
~Terri Guillemets


...his eternally restless, eternally searching spirit that strives toward the heights on the wings of speculative thought. Deep inspiration and exalted feeling permeate every verse of the poem... ~Israel Zinberg (1873–1938), of Solomon Ibn Gabirol


If it is a wild tune, it is a poem... Theme alone can steady us down. Just as the first mystery was how a poem could have a tune in such a straightness as meter, so the second mystery is how a poem can have wildness and at the same time a subject that shall be fulfilled. It should be of the pleasure of the poem itself to tell how it can. The figure a poem makes. It begins in delight and ends in wisdom. The figure is the same as for love. ~Robert Frost


Poetry walks the line — a bit unbalanced — between self and world. ~Terri Guillemets, "Poetry, a creation of self & the world," 1991


The ugly is in poetry only a passing shadow. ~Alexandre Vinet (1797–1847)


The poetry of a given age teaches us less what it has, than what it wants and what it loves. It is a living medal, where the concavities in the die are transformed into convexities on the bronze or gold. ~Alexandre Vinet (1797–1847)


Does not poetry itself lose somewhat in detaching itself so entirely from the reality whence it proceeds, and fixing itself thus solitary in aërial heights? ~Alexandre Vinet (1797–1847)


It sometimes seems to me (it is an error, I confess, but one into which I am for ever falling) that poetry is no longer anything more than an imitation of poetry... ~Alexandre Vinet (1797–1847)


Why should I thus feel all on glow and flame,
Or strive to mark what I can never name;
Could but my pen and ink describe as clear,
As I that awful grandeur now feel here.
~H.W. Jeffree, Life: An Epic, "Book IV," written 1861, revised 1874


[P]oetry, that pearl of intelligence and life, reflects on our brow some pale rays of the glory that has faded away from it. ~Alexandre Vinet (1797–1847)


[P]oetry... folds its wings at the rough contact of reality... it feels in one sense much more, and in another much less, than the soul engaged with reality... ~Alexandre Vinet (1797–1847)


[P]oetry shares our misery, it is agitated with all our uneasiness; like us, it goes, comes, flies, never rests. ~Alexandre Vinet (1797–1847)


The poet sees and selects from on high and afar, and hardly inquires about what is near at hand. ~Alexandre Vinet (1797–1847)


Come voyeur my poems
Feel free, I feel free.
~Terri Guillemets, "Skinnydippin' in ink," 1995


My poem may be a weed, but it has sprung, unforced, out of existing things. It may not suit the circulating libraries for adult babies; but it is the earnest product of experience, a retrospect of the past, and an evidence of the present—a sign of the times—a symptom, terrible, or otherwise, which our state doctors will do well to observe with the profoundest shake of the head... ~Ebenezer Elliott (1781–1849), Preface to Corn Law Rhymes, 1831  [the poetry of politics —tεᖇᖇ¡·g]


If you've got a poem within you today, I can guarantee you a tomorrow. ~Terri Guillemets



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