BBC Home
Explore the BBC


Guides: Poetry

Last Updated: Monday March 21 2005 11:05 GMT

What is poetry?

Actor dressed as poet Percy Bysshe Shelley
An actor dressed as poet Percy Bysshe Shelley
Many people have tried to define exactly what poetry is.

It is more than just words that rhyme or lines in verses.

Often good poetry says something meaningful in just a few words. It is concentrated language.

If normal sentences are orange squash, poetry is like the syrup before it is diluted.

If you read a few lines of poetry, it often sticks in your mind. That's why it works well in places where people have to read quickly, such as on posters at train stations.

Poets usually have strong feelings about the subject of their poem. They often want the people who read their poems to feel the emotion too.

Here's how some famous poets define poetry:

  • "The best words in the best order." Samuel Taylor Coleridge

  • "The record of the best and happiest moments of the best and happiest minds." Percy Bysshe Shelley

  • "If I read a book and it makes my whole body so cold no fire can ever warm me, I know that it is poetry." Emily Dickinson

  • "A poem begins with a lump in the throat, a home-sickness or a love-sickness. It is a reaching-out toward expression; an effort to find fulfillment. A complete poem is one where the emotion has found its thought and the thought has found the words." Robert Frost

  • "Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings." William Wordsworth
Poetry often has a strong rhythm or beat, like the lyrics to a song.

Many poems use words to paint a picture in your head.

BBC Homepage >> | CBBC Homepage >>

Meet the Team | Help | Contact Us | News sources | Privacy & Cookies Policy