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History of Poetry

By Gary R. Hess. Category: Poetry

Poetry, from the Greek poesis meaning 'making' or 'creating', has a long history. As an art, poetry may out date literacy itself. In prehistoric and ancient societies poetry was used as a way to record cultural events or tell stories. Poetry is among the earliest records of most cultures with poetic fragments found on monoliths, rune stones, and stelae.

The telling of stories about history have been used up until the 20th century, and in some cases, it is still in use today. During the Middle Ages, Ballads were a common way of doing just this, and it was also a way to pass along news throughout the kingdoms. Today, Ballads are not used in the same way. However, Odes, for example, have been and will always be a way to tell stories about histories greatest feats.

The oldest surviving poem is the "Epic of Gilgamesh". The poem, based on the history of King Gilgamesh, was written around 3000 BC in Sumer, Mesopotamia in cuneiform script on clay tablets.

Ancient societies such as the Chinese Shi Jing developed canons of poetic works to ritual, as well as aesthetic, importance. Recently, intellectuals have struggled to find a definition that covers the entire poetic compass from the differences of haiku to Shakespearean to slam poetry. Tatakiewicz, a Polish historian of aesthetics, wrote in The Concept of Poetry "poetry expresses a certain state of mind." This view point has been growing in popularity every year. Today, even media that doesn't involve words has been called poetry; for example, paintings and classical music.

Aristotle's Poetics describes three genres of poetry: epic, comic and tragic. Aristotle's work was highly influential throughout the Middle East during the Islamic Golden Age, then through Europe during the Renaissance. Later, aestheticians described poetry to have three major genres: epic, lyric and dramatic, with dramatic holding the subcategories tragic and comedy. During early modern Western tradition, poets and aestheticians sought to distinguish poetry from prose by using the understanding that prose was written in a linear narrative form and used logical explication, while poetry was more abstract and beautiful.

Modern theorists rely less on opposing prose and poetry as to focusing on the poet as an artist. Intellectual disputes over the definition of poetry had erupted throughout the 20th century resulting in rejection of traditional forms and structures of poetry, coinciding with questioning of traditional definitions of poetry and its distinction between prose. More recently, post-modernists began to embrace the role of the reader and highlight the concept of poetry; incorporating its form from other cultures and the past.