Poetry is an insightful essence of aesthetic feeling which is an intellectual and soulful combination of perception, introspection and insight, and is more meaningful than its outward appearance and which is an impression of its reality.
But what are modernity and postmodernism in poetry, which is the subject of endless interest, discussion, and debate these days? On the basis of which features do we identify a poem as modern or postmodern? Philosopher and poet Shikdar Mohammed Kibriah has discussed this in detail and in depth in his scholarly treatise “Nature of Poetry : Modern and Postmodern”.
Nature of Poetry : Modern and Postmodern
Nature and Scope of Poetry
In nature what is poetry? Poetry is not a metaphysics, mathematics or science, history, or any subject in which some rules and regulations literally can be applied. Poetry may not be grammar or metaphysics, but it is not such a thing that has no identity, character, or philosophy. It must have a philosophy as such every meaningful object holds a philosophy, identity, and outlook in itself. It may be explicit or obscure, or at least symbolic. Poetry is not different from that. It has a nature and scope too.
In nature analytically how can poetry be defined? It’s not easy to answer simply as such it’s not easy to define philosophy. In defining philosophy there are a lot of outlooks and theories and so, no axiomatic definition can still be established. In that way, poetry has a lot of contradictions in its definition. Even though poetry and philosophy are not the same subjects, they have many similarities in nature. Both are involved in realizing the absolute truth, beauty, and creativity. But in the realization of the absolute as like philosophers have different views, ideas and outlooks, poets have different ways and outlooks too.
Despite remaining many different views both idealist and realist or materialist philosophers do not ignore their opposition. They only put their different views on realizing the way, method, and conclusion. Because there are some such rules in philosophy that are self-evident. In the same way, poetry has some rules, techniques, and formative identities through which it shows its distinction. It is true that these are not literally unbreakable like logic or grammar, yet there is no scope of defining poetry as art out of order and it should not be claimed as freedom of a poet as freedom means no autocracy.
Poetry collects its essential formative elements from natural objects. These are perceivable. These sensitivities are experienced intellectually and enriched with abstract beauty. They create an outstanding feeling of intuition that is aesthetic and it is truly the heartbeat of poetry. In a true sense, the source of this feeling is the appearance of reality. Though it is sensationally experiencing, it assimilates the absolute feeling of spiritual experience. It is temporal but it crosses the time and holds an eternity that is, in fact, an understandable world of ideality. It is both traditional and modern. Again, modern and postmodern in the sense and sensitivity, thinking, and creativity. Its tendency is frequently postmodern. It is a constant truth about poetry. So, there is no scope for depicting it as a postmodernist project of Foucault-Derrida. It is, in fact, poetic nature and its natural way of advanced and progressive evolution.
A full agreement between poetry and recent postmodernism may not be possible but postmodern trends have some aspects related to the great human values along with the insightful truth of the poetry. Modernism ignored them and created a great crisis for civilization. But poetry can never ignore them for its nature. It is as positive as great modern values like individuality, free-thinking, freedom of speech, democracy and liberality, etc. In reality, extremism is a curse for any civilization and synthesis is the fruitful pragmatic way of serial evolution for human civilization. Obviously characteristic trends of contemporary civilization should be criticized, evaluated and cultured. Negative trends should be marked and separated and positive trends should be preserved. It is a must for reforming a civilization as well as poetic thought too.
Poetry is an art. Nature of art is an aesthetic feeling which is mainly complacent originating from joyous or touchy experiences. Ignoring others is not achieved. True complacency is often combined with all, not involved in causing others unhappiness, distress, or dissatisfaction. Thus aesthetic feeling is inevitably related to goodwill. But modernism tried to establish a materialistic civilization and indiscriminately ignored metaphysical and religious values in the name of scientific truth. But these values are the real safeguard of law and order, peace and prosperity, and human solidarity. Consequently, God, goodwill, and spirituality along with tradition, heritage, etc. have started to be rejected by the modernists and their motivated followers all over the world. Hedonists and capitalists have dominated the civilized and cultural world. As a result, world order is now at stake. Human rights are severely ruined. No true activities for peace, solidarity, equality, stability, and human prosperity are seen here.
True poetic sense should not be blocked. It is not autistic but rather a free thoughtful, well-wisher, and a human aesthetic. For a poetical need a poet flies in the sky by sputnik or borak, rides a boat of Noh. or rafts with Behula like Lakhindar. He explores scientific truth in a holy book, searches the door window of paradise on his laptop, and whatnot. This is the latitude of poetic sensitivity. A poet holds the entire universe in his poetic thought from the earth to the greater space as his poetical objects.
Human appeal, commitment, and optimism may exist in poetry. There should be no scope for ignoring them. Because poets are also born on this earth. They are not different from that angel or devil. Individually every poet is a citizen of a society or a state and above all, a citizen of the world. So, he is almost a statutory being and an ethical entity too. He has no scope of ignoring humanistic goodwill even if he should have more spacious freedom as a creative entity than common citizens enjoy. His rightful space should be up to the expectation he truly needs for his creativity to keep flowing without any interruption and he may not be an autocratic too that causes social unrest and breaks the law of order, nature and customs proved positive for human civilization.
Modernists say that while art is objective, it is restricted by its object and then there remains actually no art. Because art is a self-satiation of enjoying the beauty. But what is beauty? Beauty is a feeling of pleasure. It’s touchy to our sensitivities. But how? There is no scope for mentioning it as a specific process. Because it is, in fact, so many kinds—natural and supernatural and then quite impossible to be enlisted. They may be physical, psychological, intellectual, emotional, spiritual, ethical, social, and so on. If they grow a feeling of beauty, they naturally will be a part of art. Then they do not exist as objectivity, they truly act as a part of subjectivity. Here subjectivity along with objectivity makes a creative harmony of feeling beauty. If this harmonious process is perfectly done, it holds an absolute truth of the universe and thus makes art universal. It is firstly empirical, then intellectual, and lastly intuitional. It is the center of aesthetic beauty for both artists and art-seekers. When an art-seeker can reach here in the way of feeling, he is satisfied with an immense joy of beauty. We can conclude here that objectivity is not a barrier to artistic creativity rather it supplies the sensitivities needed for it. That is why humanistic appeal or commitment is inevitably related to the nature of the arts. If there is no truth, beauty, or goodwill in its nature, it will be then nothing but a bottomless basket. So, an artist has no scope of being irresponsible for humanity, civility, morality, beauty, prosperity, and so on. Poetry is an art—in fact, a high-class art. Therefore, a poet cannot ignore it. But it mainly depends on how successfully he applies it through his wordy project.
In poetry, there exists a combination of poetic experience, realization, emotion, and conclusion through an aesthetic flow and it is the natural truth of featuring a poetic art. In this feature, the poet evolves his self-realization, outlook, and belief. He reveals his experiences and feelings in an aesthetic intimacy through a perfect wordy project. But his belief or outlook is not a standard or consideration for evaluating his poetic ability. Standard is how poetic artistically he has worded his feelings and reactions in his poetry.
Formation of Poetry
Just as the word ‘poetry’ comes to our audition, some conceptual features related to our poetic knowledge activate our psychology as a pre-established agent through which we experience, identify and realize poetry. But it is true that our outlook about things is frequently changing with the passage of time. Necessarily or evolutionarily. We consider it as the reflection of our progressive thought about our contemporary sense. But in reality, in spite of being changed, we have such basic sensitivities which never change and these sensitivities exist ever. As for an example, “We are man”—we can never set aside this sensitivity, concept and identity. We can never forget it or change anymore. The man, we walked once only on foot, rode on horse and step by step we used car, plane etc.. With the necessity of time we used different vehicles but in all of the cases we, man remained man too. We became speedy; But this speed could not change the nature and identity of our human entity anymore. In all the periods we and our corporeality, mentality and value of morality basically remained unchanged.
In the field of poetry, we have no scope of avoiding this flowing and natural truth.
Poetry is a reflection of introspective intuition that is revealed through a special wordy project with an outstanding meaning of its instinctive nature. It is the artistic technique of poetry. It is special with its meaning, imagination, flow and lyric. This lyrical flow is the pulsation of poetry. All of these are combined in a rhythmic pattern of poetic formation. It is not different from the basic concept of poetry as it is originated from its basic sensation. Therefore, rhythm is an inevitable element of poetry even if how it could be applied that is a different question and a matter of experiment too. But it couldn’t be directly ignored. If it is ignored, poetry would be then a prose and it will miss its nature and identity. We have some specific concepts or characteristic ideas about story, novel and prose too which identify them individually. That is why, we have no logical base to make them confusing to the poetry. In fact, it has no any inevitability too. Then, just doing or having something new is not a positive way of true progression rather it can be said as an subdued application. It is a normal truth that poetry will be evoluted by the time but how and how much evolution will be achieved that is a different question rather in every cases poetry has to be poetry too. It means poetic evolution should be done but any ruining process. In all the stages of evolution it should have its origin and save the basic distinctive ideas related to its existential knowledge.
As such human body is formed with the combination of different organs, poetry is formed and developed too in that way of combination of some basic characteristics and makes an artistic feature of word. It achieves progress evolutionary, not revolutionary. Human being forms its entity with visual body and nonvisual soul. We obviously know that corporeality is directly sensible but soul is spiritual. Corporeality is experiencing elementary and, so it is concrete but soul is intellectual or intuitional, then it is abstract. Again, as such soulless body is dead, a poetry with words but meditation may not be a perfect poetry even though magical. Word is the body of poetry and meditation is the activities of its mind. Therefore, no lively poetry could be truly created but a perfect combination of word and meditation. It means both objectivity and subjectivity are the inevitable elements of poetry. Sensitivity with perfect emotion is the flow of language. It is the source of poetry and must needed for it. we can depict it as the spiritual activity of poetry. Without it poetry is locked and averse to life. If sensitive emotionality does not come out of the words, then how it could be said a poetry. This type of prosaic poetry does not have any appeal or inspiration.
True sense means such a thing that is the source of active sensitivity and appealing to the rhythm of creativity that holds intellectuality and emotionality and wants to overcome objective artificiality to be sensibly meaningful to the subjectivity through an outstanding aesthetic introspection. Poetry is mainly that kind of aesthetic texture.
Obscurity of Poetry
Modern poetry is to be often questioned for its complexity, perplexity and ambiguity like obscurity. Following that it is also questioned whether this kind of obscured, anecdotic or ambiguous modern poetry would be lasting or not. Let’s have a study to see whether it’s real or not, in fact it has any utility or not and why and how it is emerged.
Firstly it can be told poetry is a feeling of flying-effort from perception to imperception. It is truly a distinctive process of exploring the nature of things and beings that is not likely to the experiencing of science, philosophy, religion, sociology, psychology and so on. It is, in fact, distinguished in its insightfully development, flashing, creativity and natural intellectuality and aesthetic amazement is its object.
With the advancement of time our pre-established ideas, values, senses and thoughts are mostly changed. But these are different from person to person in most cases. These differences may cause poetic complexity in easy meaning or understanding. On the other hand, while a poetry-reader fails to be closed innately with the language, theme, thought or formative style of the poetry, he complains about the complication of the poetry.
In fact, poetry is naturally abstract. Then, an abstract controversy may be caused between poetry and its reader that creates question of complication. However, complexity is not an abnormal, inconsistent or unthinkable idea in the poetic perspectives.
Again, mysteriousness is a cause of meditation that is the real process of introspection. While introspection reaches to its high level, it touches an intuitional truth of feeling beauty. It is absolutely a subjective process. Then, subjectivity may create an anecdotic wall. That’s why, poetic complexity should not be logically complained anyhow.
Poetry has an distinctive ego. It is, in fact, poetry and it is both formed and formless. Both of them form poetry in a body. The antinomy of form and formlessness is the introspection of poetry that explores it’s nature. It is to depend on it’s form to have it’s nature. Such as element is needed to have a form, words are the formative elements of poetry. As a body is the bearer of soul, words bear the essence of poetry in the same way.
We can depict word as the corporeality of the poetry that exposes poetic form. Corporeality represents the essence and envelops it too. Despite being exposer of poetry, word makes poetic truth artistically mysterious in a symbolic cover or camouflage. While a reader fails to master it or anyhow match himself with the poetic truth, he complains about its complexity.
Poetry is mostly subjective in nature. But it is not a true barrier between true poetry and true reader if that wall of complexity is not just applied for creating an artificial poetic magic, willingly made an illogical cover or the poetic thought is not puzzled, perplexed, perverted or unthinkably controversial or willingly created complexity anyhow.
Simply to say, it will be not tough for a poetry-reader to approach the poetic truth if a natural flow of thinking is inherently maintained in poetic art. It can be said that If a clear understanding is not possible too, at least an inexpressible aesthetic feeling of amazing beauty would be achieved. It is, in fact, the fruition of poetry. It is true that poetry is cryptic, covert or ambiguous but it is not totally anecdotic or inaccessible rather parallel to understanding and a harmonious expression of aesthetic feelings.
Imputed complexity in poetry may be depicted as a poetic cleverness of repute-loving poet. Quite impractical or impossible appliance of image, symbol or metaphor and obsolete, lexical or stranger word is nothing but a motivated technique of showing poetic magic. This kind of application is mostly unthinkable, confusing or inaccessible. Verses then turn in to a delirium that is a meaningless netting of irrelevant words. If it is to be said poetry, then the stability of poetry would be obviously questionable. If there is no even short-term poetic appeal, then how could be ever or long lasting?
Is it essential to think poetry only subjective? Or, is it too much unpoetical if a poetry could have a meditative imagery like chiaroscuro with keeping poetic subjectivity and reader objectivity in a body? A poetry reader may not have sensitive pleasant but at least he should have a dreamy, subtle or spiritual pleasant of aesthetic feeling. Therefore, no illusive complexity, abstract coherency should be the object of poetry.
Progression of Poetry
Conservatism is a real bar for any progression. It creates traditionalism that makes everything a blocked universe in every sphere of life. The world is constantly changing, not static. So, our thoughts and all types of thoughtful activities and creativities are definitely motivated or dominated by the contemporary mood, demand and outlook that leads to our mood of action. It’s natural and so, positive. Therefore, we progressive minds try to break all types of conservatism and traditionalism. Obviously we will break the tradition. But how? Whatever the answer, a tradition will be stood before us as doing something in a process means it will turn once into a tradition. It means like that of traditionalism. In fact, in order to break a tradition, we have to follow a new process and when it is accepted massively, it will be a tradition. It may be well-planned, well-organized, integrated and solid; or may be scattered, disordered and weak.
However, the main object of breaking a traditional process is to make a better process that will be contemporary—comparatively more modern, developed, suitable and welfare-characteristic. This is true advancement and progress—a true process of serial evolution. But it should be said that removing an established tradition if a newly formed tradition would not be proved better than that of existing tradition, then it would be logically meaningless; or in the process of breaking tradition if the subject-matter, whole system or existence is at stake, then it will be totally suicidal.
Therefore, in question of breaking or opposing tradition it utmost needs to think freely and intellectually and carefully follow or apply the rules based on it. No, it is not a protection of conservativeness or a strategy of going back rather it is the reality of true progressive movement.
Ancient poetry was mostly rhythmic. But it’s not to be still-continued. Out of necessity we experience outstanding creativity of poetical art in prose-poetry. With the passage of time, poetry will be changed to different form, pattern and style. It’s true but in every changes poetry will be poetry if it’s distinction is sincerely and carefully continued. Nowadays abstract poetry is been written through prosaic version. It is accepted by the modern view. But if this process is overplayed with a view to making it more modern or realistic and so it is devoid of poetic abstract feature, nature and image, then how this robotic poetry could be truly a poetry? No. As, there will be no more poesy in that so-called poetry. It will be poetically soulless—a skeletal poetry.
We obviously acknowledge that poetry is the most artistic type of literature. It means it is more skillful than all other types of literature such as articles, stories and novels etc.. Poetry is the bearer of an impressive mood that is really the element of aesthetic feeling. So, we often try to put a poetic mood in our prosaic creativity to make it more impressive. But we never tell it poetry. A tale may be poetically told in a poem through the distinctive style and form of the poetry. But in a story or a novel this tale is told in a different way.
Poetry, prose, story and novel all are distinct in nature and form. No need to confuse them with each other. If poetry is to be lengthened or elaborated like a prosaic composition, its future will be risky. Then, let poetry be experienced in its own arena. May poetry achieve progress and save its freedom in form, feature and nature. The nature and scope of poetry and prosaic literary works are clearly different. Therefore, it is quite unpoetic to call a prose composition a poetry.
“Rhyme or rhythmic composition is the poetry”—poetry was thought like that in the past. With the passage of time, we effectively experienced the appliances of different types of rhyming and rhythmically composed poetry that undoubtedly developed and enriched the history of our poetic movement. In composing modern prose-poetry, direct application of rhythm is not mostly visual but the innate resonance of rhythm is obviously existent which is felt while reading.
According to the zeitgeist, it can be said to be successful. But there is no logical scope of thinking rhythmic poetry obsolete or useless, because, a rhythmically penned poetry enriched with modern moods, words and rhythmic variations could be considered as a modern poetry. Similarly, with application of rhythmical variations postmodern poetry could be composed too. In fact, rhythm is not a barrier for modernity or postmodernity. It means it’s not actually any bar for poetic movement, progress or evolution rather it can claim to be newly experienced, developed, or achieved evolution to hold the zeitgeist in it. Therefore, as an inevitable element of poetry it should not be ignored anyhow. But it should be applied in the contemporary mood.
Above all, with a view to achieving progression in all spheres of life, we must bear in mind that conservatism or traditionalism obstacles the human progression and advancement of civilization and so, we utmost need to culture them but uprooting the foundation on which its existence is originated, stood, consistent and effectively existing with its creative flow.. True progression is never revolutionary. It’s, in fact, evolutionary. We should follow it in every aspect of life and all our lively activity and creativity like science, philosophy, art, literature, culture and so on. So, poetic progression should be achieved in the way of evolution that effectively combines the contemporary mood with the positive aspect of existing tradition.
Definition of Poetry
Stéphane Mallarmé said poetry is the word. It means not of any compositions composed with words may be poetry. It’s actually not a literally sense rather significantly more indicative that is, in fact, contemplative. Before concluding I would like to present here some brief definitions of poetry by some famous poets.
According to P. B. Shelley‘s 1821 essay, A Defence of Poetry , in which the essence of poetry is articulated like that of poetry is indeed something divine. It is at once the centre and circumference of knowledge that comprehends all science and to which all science must be referred. It is at the same the root and blossom of all other systems of thought. It is that from which all spring, and that which adorns all and that which, if blighted, denies the fruit and the seed, and withholds from the barren world the nourishment and the succession of the scions of the tree of life. It is the perfect and consummate surface and bloom of all things; it is as the odour and the colour of the rose to the texture of the elements which compose it, as the form and splendour of unfaded beauty to the secrets of anatomy and corruption. In a general sense he said poetry may be defined to be the expression of the imagination. Poetry is connate with the origin of man. It is a mirror which makes beautiful that which is distorted. Poetry is a sword of lightning, ever unsheathed, which consumes the scabbard that would contain it. He mentioned that high poetry is infinite; it is as the first acorn, which contained all oaks potentially.
Robert Frost defined poetry as an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found words. Salvatore Quasimodo said that poetry is the revelation of a feeling that the poet believes to be interior and personal which the reader recognizes as his own. Edgar Allan Poe depicted poetry as the rhythmical creation of beauty. He remarked Its sole arbiter is taste. With the intellect or with the conscience, it has only collateral relations. Unless incidentally, it has no concern whatever either with duty or with the truth. Mary Oliver said, “Poetry isn’t a profession, it’s a way of life. It’s an empty basket; you put your life into it and make something out of that.” T.S. Eliot defined poetry as 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.
William Wordsworth explained poetry in its defining that it is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquillity: the emotion is contemplated till, by a species of reaction, the tranquillity gradually disappears, and an emotion, kindred to that which was before the subject of contemplation, is gradually produced, and does itself actually exist in the mind. Matthew Arnold said that poetry is at the bottom a criticism of life; that the greatness of a poet lies in his powerful and beautiful application of ideas to life — to the question: How to live. Kahlil Gibran mentioned poetry as a deal of joy and pain and wonder, with a dash of the dictionary. William Hazlitt explained that the light of poetry is not only a direct but also a reflected light, that, while it shows us the object, throws a sparkling radiance on all around it: the flame of the passions, communicated to the imagination, reveals to us, as with a flash of lightning, the inmost recesses of thought, and penetrates our whole being. Poetry puts a spirit of life and motion into the universe. It describes the flowing, not the fixed. It does not define the limits of sense, or analyze the distinctions of the understanding, but signifies the excess of the imagination beyond the actual or ordinary impression of any object or feeling. Theodore Roethke believed a poem is a holy thing — and a good poem is the poem, even a short time after being written, seems no miracle; unwritten, it seems something beyond the capacity of the gods. Some other poets wanted to define poetry as what is deeply felt and is essentially unsayable.
Now we see some splendid definitions from Carl Sandburg’s “Tentative (First Model):
1. Poetry is a projection across silence of cadences arranged to break that silence with definite intentions of echoes, syllables, wave lengths.
2. Poetry is an art practised with the terribly plastic material of human language.
3. Poetry is the report of a nuance between two moments, when people say, ‘Listen!’ and ‘Did you see it’ ‘Did you hear it? What was it?’
4. Poetry is the tracing of the trajectories of a finite sound to the infinite points of its echoes.
5. Poetry is a sequence of dots and dashes, spelling depths, crypts, cross-lights, and moon wisps.
6. Poetry is a puppet-show, where riders of skyrockets and divers of sea fathoms gossip about the sixth sense and the fourth dimension.
7. Poetry is a plan for a slit in the face of a bronze fountain goat and the path of fresh drinking water.
8. 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.
9. Poetry is an echo asking a shadow dancer to be a partner.
10. Poetry is the journal of a sea animal living on land, wanting to fly the air.
Certainly poetry is a wordy project. Poetry reveals itself with words. But how? Artistically. The nature of art is aesthetical that is naturally soulful and romantic. In this connection I’d like to quote here an amazing definition of poetry given by Dr. Jernail Sing Anand from India, a renowned philosopher poet in the contemporary world. He says, ” Poetry is a romance with words”.
Finally, poetry is naturally an aesthetic feeling that is revealed through the words. But how does this feeling emerge? We obviously know that as a subjective soul we perceive sensitive data from the natural objects that are intellectually analyzed, classified and related in our mind to realize them. But, for a vivid and deep understanding of the inherent truth of reality, we utmost need an introspective and finally intuitive look into it. When we are satisfied that we have touched it insightfully, we get moved with its reality that may be joyous, tragic, pathetic, apathetic or sympathetic. If we can depict it through words justly, poetry emerges.
From the study of the distinctive definitions given by the famous poets stated above and considering the nature and scope of the poetry I want to define poetry that,
“poetry is an insightful essence of aesthetic feeling which is both intellectually and soulfully combination of perception, introspection and intuition and warded more meaningfully than that of its outward appearance and which is an impression of its reality.”
About the Author
Shikdar Mohammed Kibriah
SHIKDAR MOHAMMED KIBRIAH, from Bangladesh, Masters in philosophy, globally published, translated and awarded world-renowned poet, writer, and philosopher. His published books are so far 17. His writings have been published in 40 languages. He often takes part in world poetry conferences, festivals, and recitals. He is published in world-class anthologies, magazines, journals, and newspapers. Shikdar is a global poetry promoter. He is the president of Poetry and Literature World Vision.