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Western Poetry

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Joseph A. Bailey, II, M.D.
The poet of the ancient world inside and outside Africa was a Seer (a prophet claiming revelations from God through a vision and then preaching for God to the people), a teacher, a sorcerer, and a mystagogue (a spreader of mystical doctrines) of the regenerative vision. Poetry was understood to stand for all imaginative literature—for novels and dramas; for all narrative fiction; and for all other works of the intellectual imagination. The ancient Greeks defined poetry (poiema, work) as that which is made by creating, inventing, constructing, arranging, or collecting.  Poets were the makers of creative power by intuitively seeing similarities in the dissimilar, in the process of generating a metaphor. Typically, poets select and describe a metaphor (equating unlike things) for purposes of presenting, elaborating on, and clarifying their basic idea—an idea that does not lend itself to otherwise being understood or even described as it stands.

Personification (making a lifeless or abstract thing alive) is an example.

The Greeks considered metaphors to be one of poetry’s fundamental components and to master the subject of metaphors was a sign of genius. In Poetics, Aristotle said poetry is more philosophical than history because historical narratives deal with singular past events whereas poetical narratives deal with possible generalities and what is likely to be true. In Rome—Cicero, a lawyer, orator, and philosopher—said that words not appropriate for everyday use were suitable for poets, and even to the extent that it was all right to lie.  Hence, Poetic License came to mean a poet taking suspicious liberties with the facts.

In the Middle Ages those receiving academic degrees were crowned with laurel and the degree of Poet Laureate was awarded to those skilled in Latin verse and grammar. Later, English universities presented a laurel wreath to graduates to distinguished men of Belles-lettres, a French phrase meaning “beautiful” or “fine” writing in the genre of “polite literature.” It includes works of literary art, aesthetic (e.g. poetry, essays, fiction, dramatic compositions, philosophical writings, oratorical productions, and criticisms) that are valued for their aesthetic qualities and originality of style and tone. In 18th century England a poet laureate was an officer appointed by the crown to compose odes or the like in honor of grand state occasions.  Today, a poet laureate is a poet recognized for excellence.

Meanwhile, arising in the 17th century, the term “Poetic Justice” described a situation in which a person receives his just deserts or “gets what’s coming to him,” as when a trickster’s trick backfires. Up to the present Poetry has acquired “definitions” which conform to the people’s different planes of sophistication.

Plane I is what creative and imagination provoke in one physically (e.g. shivers down the spine) or spiritually (e.g. evoking a particular and beautiful, goodness, or hopeful experience). Plane II is literature written in lines, like songs. Plane III is a language carefully chosen for its sound, its connotations, and its denotations. Plane IV is an arrangement of words in a form appropriate to express thoughts and feelings in more emotional, powerful, connotative, and imaginative ways than in everyday (i.e. narrative) speech or prose. Plane V is externalizing ones most private feelings and wildly frivolous speculations in a socially acceptable manner. When the Western world thinks of literary geniuses, usually most are limited to stand-out European poets while completely ignoring those of African, Amerindian, or Asian descent. To think of ancient Greece brings to mind Homer (the Poetess Sappho of the 7th century BC was “Homer’s” female counterpart); of the ancient Romans, Virgil; of the Italians, Dante; of the English, Shakespeare; and of the Germans, Goethe.

Nevertheless, there are many non-European poets who are deemed by the dominant “colored” peoples of the world to be of equal or superior greatness.

website: www.jablifeskills.com

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