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What’s the True Purpose of Poetry?

Jaine Toth | Updated Aug 12, 2021

PART 3 IN SERIES Why Poetry?

The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.

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Jaine Toth | Aug 26, 2015

PART 3 IN SERIES Why Poetry?

The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.

It is as unseeing to ask what is the use of poetry as it would be to ask what is the use of religion. – Edith Sitwell, The Outcasts

Why read a poem, gaze at a painting or sculpture, listen to a moving melody?

RELATED: Reflections on the Healing Power of Poetry

Quotes About the Significance of Poetry

Poetry ennobles the heart and the eyes and unveils the meaning of things upon which the heart and the eyes dwell. – Edith Sitwell, Rhyme and Reason

When power leads men towards arrogance, poetry reminds him of his limitations. When power narrows the area of man’s concern, poetry reminds him of the richness and diversity of his existence. When power corrupts, poetry cleanses. For art establishes the basic human truth which must serve as the touchstone of our judgment… I see little of more importance to the future of our country and our civilization than full recognition of the place of the artist. – John F. Kennedy, Tribute to Robert Frost

Poetry is a sensitive guide that escorts us in a profound consideration and penetration of the infinity of life. Poetry is a window on the world, our pathway to the color and the sound and the emotion, the sorrow and the joy, the pain and the exaltation of our existence. Poetry is a unique probe and mirror of humanity—encompassing the humorous and the serious, the ideal and the real, the feeling and the meaning and the understanding of life. – Herbert Ravetch, The Meaning of Life Through Poetry

Poetry, like all art, has a message for us. It says: care, grow, develop, adapt, overcome, nurture, protect, foster, cherish. It says: your reality is spiritual. It says: achieve your full humanness. It invites us to laugh, reflect, cry, strive, persevere. It says: rejoice! Above all, it says to us: be! We cannot turn our backs on art. Art heals. – from a talk by Roger White, Bring Chocolate, in The Language of There

Quotes About the Effect of Poetry

Whether one is highly or minimally educated, literate or illiterate, poetry can affect them:

Even beginning readers can know if a poem appeals to them…because it enables them to see things in ways they’ve never seen before. For example: since I read James Reeves’ poem about the snail as a “toppling caravan” I’ve never been able to look at snails the same way… The poet’s job, you see, is not to give us straight, encyclopedic fact but to tell us something new or to tell something old in a new way—to give us fresh images. – Myra Cohn Livingston, in an interview with Michael Cart

Poetry is the language in which man explores his own amazement. – Christopher Fry, Time, April 3, 1950

Like the onion, poetry is a constant discovery. “Peel the onion, layer after layer, until its very heart is reached…it adds taste, zest, and a sharp but sweet quality that enriches our lives.” – Ruth Gordon, Peeling the Onion

Poetry is to prose as dancing is to walking. – John Wain

What does it take for poetry to be effective?

Poems… that contain ideas… unify our thoughts or feelings. They shape how we perceive the world and excite us with images of beauty of moments of truth. Since ancient times poets have been known more for their ideas than for the words they used to convey them. – Michael J. Bugeja, The Art and Craft of Poetry

A poem should not mean, but be. – Archibald MacLeish

We hate poetry that has a palpable design upon us—and if we do not agree, seems to put its hand in its breeches pocket. Poetry should be great and unobtrusive, a thing which enters into one’s soul, and does not startle or amaze it with itself, but with its subject. – John Keats, Letter to J. H. Reynolds, February 3, 1818

The poet speaks to all men of that other life of theirs that they have smothered and forgotten. – Edith Sitwell, Rhyme and Reason

Poetry is not a luxury but a necessity.

Poetry matters because life, tears, people, birth, human experience matter. – Jimmy Santiago Baca

Quotes About the Spiritual Purpose of Poetry

Abdu’l-Baha encouraged those who understood that the best use of poetry, or any art or endeavor, has a spiritual purpose. He wrote to the composer and lyricist Louise Waite:

Verily, I chanted thy poem. Its significance was beautiful, its composition eloquent and its words excellent. It was like the melody of the birds of holiness… The breasts of the friends were dilated, and the hearts of the maid-servants of the Merciful were exhilarated by its chanting. Blessed art thou for uttering forth such an excellent poem and brilliant pearl. – Tablets of Abdu’l-Baha, Volume 1, pp. 57-58.

And to a nine-year-old boy of Hamadan, Persia, by the name of Issac:

O thou who art sweet tongued! Thy poem is a wonder to the minds and intellects and thy composition an evidence of the gift of the great Lord. Therefore, thy wine is the pure wine, thy heart the recess of light and thy brow radiant with love. If the people of the world were fair in judgement, the sweetness of thy poem should be a sufficient proof. – Tablets of Abdu’l-Baha, Volume 2, p. 403.

Speaking of all the arts, after advising they are “a gift of the Holy Spirit, Abdu’l-Baha said:

These gifts are fulfilling their highest purpose, when showing forth the praise of God. – Abdu’l-Baha, quoted in Lady Blomfield, The Chosen Highway, p. 167.

Pick up a volume of poetry, write a poem, or do both, and let the effort sweeten your life.

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  • Mark David Vinzens
    Aug 12, 2021
    Poetry opens and awakens the Eye of the Heart. When the Eye of the Heart awakens, then we see the world with the Divine Vision and the true nature of reality is revealed. Beauty is the splendor of Truth.
    • Jaine Toth
      Aug 12, 2021
      Thank you, Mark. Your comments are excellent, concise, and poetical.
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