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Origins of Poetry

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The Ancient Greek timeline of poetry lasted from the 7th to 4th century BC, and are believed to be the first civilisation to commit their poems to the written word.  They went on to produce most of the classic forms of literature, drama and poetry, and their great poets handed down their observations to the next and next generations.

Hesiod the 7th century Greek poet who wrote of a farmer’s life and Theogony, a genealogy of the God’s.

Pindar a 5th – 6th century lyric poet credited with writing ode’s to their victorious athlete’s.

Sappho a 7th century poet and she wrote of passionate love songs in a lyrical form.

The Ancient Greek’s period of culture ended when they were conquered firstly by Alexander the Great between (356-323 BC) and then again by the might of Rome in (250-150 BC).

The Romans went on to develop their own style of literary and poetic works, using the Greek form as their base.  From these humble beginnings the creation of a modern style of literature so began.

During the 11th – 13th centuries, the mighty Popes of the Holy Roman Empire and the Middle Ages banned creative and artistic expression.

People wanted to express themselves, and so in the mid 11th century a group of troubadour musicians in Southern France sang and wrote lyrics.  They were much influenced by the ways and lifestyle of the Arabic civilisation and Omar Khayyam and Rumi, having been inspired by Latin and Greek poets, and not of this land.  With an understanding, the musicians and poets went forth and created a refreshingly new style by the 13th century.

Early troubadours started life as singing poets, but the true masters included the likes of Bertrand de Born, Arnaud Daniel, and Marie de France, and their style of works influenced the likes of Geoffrey Chaucer and Dante Alighieri.  It was not uncommon to see the delivery of news, and performance styled sketches in a lyrical manner.

This has been referred to as the Provencal Movement of the 13th century and by the mid 14th century; most troubadours had fled to Italy and Spain to join the Sicilian School of poets.

For Frederick II let it be known he required poets to write about courtly love, and so it was between 1230 and 1266 many canzone’s (An Italian lyrical form of varying lengths, intended to be set to music, mainly based on romantic themes) were written.

A group of Sicilian poets in the court of Frederick II, were able to turn verses of love into a spiritual heartbeat, a style that would show its face during the Elizabethan and Shakespearean times.

With the 12th century, Sicily integrated the languages and cultural influences of Arabic, Greek and Latin, creating the perfect form for their lyrical poetry.

It all started with Cielo of Alcamo, a court poet, who created a form of lyrical poetry.  From these early beginnings, the court poets used lyrical poetry and the canzone style which became the standard verse of the day.  Yet like all new styles, someone was waiting in the wings to change it, and in this case it was Giacomo de Lentini, who re-invented it into a sonnet.

Giacomo de Lentini, proved himself to be more than that of a poet, for it was he who went on to create a new language: Italian.

With the help of Sicilian poets, they abolished repetitive and what has become known as interchangeable lines.  They also believed poetry was for reading, not as an accompaniment to music and created a 14 – line sonnet structure, which is still used by many poets to this day.

The works and styles of Sicilian poets came to the attention of Dante as the 14th century loomed, who spread them through Florence, and the literary heartlands.

As the Renaissance period burst into existence, shining its light upon a new era in time.  Scholars from many European countries keenly watched with interest, as a cultural awakening was taking place across Europe.

As the Italian Renaissance waned, its greatest poetic export was that of ballad and sonnet, which found their way to England with the assistance of Thomas Wyatt.

Christopher Marlowe-1585

Christopher Marlowe

Christopher Marlowe (1564-1593) was responsible for the creation of the unrhymed verse, as used by him for his plays.  He died early, and so William Shakespeare fashioned the style of the blank verse in a form which would meet the requirements of his plays.

Sonnets swept through England during the latter part of the 16th and early 17th century, through the writings of Edmund Spenser, Philip Sydney and William Shakespeare, each adding their own individual touches.

Poets of the Elizabethan era had more freedom in their writings, and so the human side became the new genre in writing.  One could say that the Elizabethan times, showed a slight resemblance to the early works of Ancient Greek.

John Milton

John Milton

The Greatest Renaissance poet would have to be John Milton (1608-1674) who wrote Paradise Lost, which was published in 1667.  An interesting fact though, by 1652 he was blind and worked as a Latin Secretary to one Oliver Cromwell, assisted by Andrew Marvel (1621-1678) a Metaphysical Poet.

Nearly a century later, a new breed arose, the Metaphysical Poets who wrote of nature, philosophy and love, starting with John Dryden.  They were known as men of learning, and they wanted to show off their abilities to one and all.

Metaphysical Poetry concluded when William Blake bridged the gap between it, and that of romantic poetry.  Poets were known to look beyond the obvious, a style which would influence the American Transcendentalism, like those of Samuel Cowley, Andrew Marvell and Katherine Philips.

England’s time had arrived with the dawning of the Romantic Poets era, a period which lasted between (1790-1824), yet went on to produce many works written by the masters which we still read to this day.

These poets included the likes of:

William Blake

William Blake

William Blake (1757-1827) An English painter and poet, who enhanced his work with illustrations as can be seen in his works “Songs of Innocence.”

William Wordsworth (1770-1850) An English poet, whose heart showed much support for the French Revolution, which shows through his works, and a love for the English countryside.

Lord Byron (1788-1824) A romantic poet, who supported Italian Independence and the Greek revolt against Turkey.  Often remembered for his sexual scandals, which saw the English society turn their backs on him.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834) Writer of romantic poems, and remembered for; “Rime of the Ancient Mariner.”

Percy Shelley

Percy Shelley

Percy Shelley (1792-1822) Writer who got himself expelled from Oxford University for co-writing “The Necessity of Atheism.”  Yet he went on to write “Ode to a skylark,” and other poems which reflected his idealism and radical thoughts on politics.

John Keats (1795-1821) Another of the English poets who wrote “Ode to a Nightingale,” and “Ode to a Grecian Urn.”

They wrote together, travelled together and lived together.

They made nature a more important part of their works, with more expression and passion, as to challenge the minds and imaginations of their readers … in so doing they planted a seed, which would flourish into a relationship.

Another poet who would be remembered for his works would be Alfred Tennyson (1809-1892) for “The Lotus Eaters.”

A new era replaced the Romantic Movement in 1836; the American Transcendentalists, for they believed in expression of their thoughts through the written word.

They changed people’s ideas on poetry, and studied utopian values, spiritual exploration, and into the artistic side.  Their ideals brought authors, poets and social leaders to their door, and so they grew.

The 19th century saw the American; Gerald Manley Hopkins (1844-1889), put forward natural speech and Walt Whitman (1819-1892) create the free-verse style of poetry.

French poet; Paul Verlaine (1844-1896) put forward the idea that poetry should contain an air of vagueness and music within poems.

The first Surrealist Movement manifesto was drawn up by Andre Breton the French poet in 1924, asking poets to explore the world of dreams, sub consciousness and hallucinations in their works.

American poet Ezra Pound (1885-1972) promoted the works of W.B.Yeats (1865-1939) and T.S.Elliot (1888-1965).

In 1948, with the Second World War over, we saw the emergence of what became known as the Beat Movement.  The style was based on characters and interests, who desired to live life, as they wished to.

It was the beginning of the narrative free verse written by Allen Ginsberg, it was all about free expression.  In 1956 he published a collection of works entitled “Howl.”  So it was that these beat poets as they had been referred to, created a new appreciation in the love of poetry.

As the interest grew, more beat poets surfaced, like; Joanne Kyger, Herbert Huncke, LeRoi Jones, to move the art of poetry further forward.

The history of poetry has had a long and mixed relationship with the reader as the styles have changed.  For in the early days, the definition of poetic writings focused on nature, love, drama and song and later concentrated on repetition and rhyme and how it would read and sound.

Poetry has been used to expand the literal meaning of words, to evoke an emotional feeling or a sensual response…

Poetry has often been referred to, as a way a poet, can create poems as a need to escape the logical side of life.

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