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Why read Poetry?

Updated: Feb 15, 2023

By Elizabeth Mc Donnell

February 2023

In this blog, I explore how reading poetry will help you to develop your knowledge of English.

However, first treat yourself to the experience of listening to the sound of poetry as it is being read. Listen to these two poems: I Wandered lonely as a cloud by the British poet, William Wordsworth, and Still I Rise by the American poet, Maya Angelou.

The words are shown at the end of this blog and you can also read them on the videos.

What impressions do the readings make on you?

William Wordsworth´s poem takes its inspiration from nature. In April 1802, he was out walking in the Lake District, the United Kingdom. He was accompanied by his sister, Dorothy, who took notes describing their day. It was these notes that reminded William of their walk and prompted him to write the poem.

Maya Angelou wrote´Still I Rise´in 1978. In the poem, she draws upon her experiences, and those of Black African Americans in the United States, to give a message of defiance and of triumph over adversity.

The power of a poet and poetry

Poetry is an oral art form that lies somewhere between speech and song. The poet is the master craftsman, choosing and shaping words into phrases and sentences in ways that connect with the listener. It has a unique power. The words and structures are not ones that you will hear in everyday use, yet poetry is accessible to all ages and communicates across cultures.

To really appreciate poetry, you need to listen to it being read and, also, read it aloud yourself. The sound and flow of the words are as important as their meaning.

Robert Frost´s simple, yet powerful poem, Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening, uses rhyming words at the end of the sentences to create a wonderfully repetitive and enchanting sound. In the third verse, the metaphor, downy flake, conjures up the soft muffled silence created by the newly fallen snow in the wood. The only sound is that of a gentle wind.

The only other sound’s the sweep

Of easy wind and downy flake.

Poetry and the English language

Poems are carefully crafted, often full of rhymes and metaphors, as well as other literary devices. The poet chooses the words carefully because they are conveying a message in a limited space and they wish to make good use of every word. William Wordsworth by writing of daffodils as´fluttering and dancing in the breeze´evokes a powerful image of the energy and joy provoked by this scene. Maya Angelou makes use of a question and response form to call attention and create a strong rhythm in her poem:

´Does my sassiness upset you? Why are you beset with gloom?´

The rhythm of poetry, like that of song, can act as a wonderful aid to memory. Often you find words of a song or poem that you learnt in your childhood coming into your mind. Stop and think for a moment - what poems or rhymes do you remember?

Listening to poems being read helps you to become familiar with stress and intonation in English since the poet pays careful attention to this aspect of the language. Poems are creative works and, by studying them, you learn about the use of metaphor, simile and symbolism, which enrich and colour the language that is in everyday use.

What poems have you read recently? If you would like to know more about reading poetry and learning to appreciate its richness and magic, get in touch with us at Professional English Solutions.

I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud

By William Wordsworth (1770 -1850)

I wandered lonely as a cloud

That floats on high o'er vales and hills,

When all at once I saw a crowd,

A host of golden daffodils,

Beside the lake, beneath the trees,

Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine

And twinkle on the milky way,

They stretched in never-ending line

Along the margin of a bay:

Ten thousand saw I at a glance,

Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced; but they

Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:

A poet could not but be gay,

In such a jocund company:

I gazed—and gazed—but little thought

What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie

In vacant or in pensive mood,

They flash upon that inward eye

Which is the bliss of solitude;

And then my heart with pleasure fills,

And dances with the daffodils.

Still I rise

By Maya Angelou (1928-2014)

You may write me down in history

With your bitter, twisted lies,

You may trod me in the very dirt

But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?

Why are you beset with gloom?

’Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells

Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,

With the certainty of tides,

Just like hopes springing high,

Still I’ll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?

Bowed head and lowered eyes?

Shoulders falling down like teardrops,

Weakened by my soulful cries?

Does my haughtiness offend you?

Don’t you take it awful hard

’Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines

Diggin’ in my own backyard.

You may shoot me with your words,

You may cut me with your eyes,

You may kill me with your hatefulness,

But still, like air, I’ll rise.

Does my sexiness upset you?

Does it come as a surprise

That I dance like I’ve got diamonds

At the meeting of my thighs?

Out of the huts of history’s shame

I rise

Up from a past that’s rooted in pain

I rise

I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,

Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.

Leaving behind nights of terror and fear

I rise

Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear

I rise

Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,

I am the dream and the hope of the slave.

I rise

I rise

I rise.

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

By Robert Frost (1874 - 1963)

Whose woods these are I think I know.

His house is in the village though;

He will not see me stopping here

To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer

To stop without a farmhouse near

Between the woods and frozen lake

The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake

To ask if there is some mistake.

The only other sound’s the sweep

Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,

But I have promises to keep,

And miles to go before I sleep,

And miles to go before I sleep.

Further reading

Background and Biography

William Wordsworth

Maya Angelou

Robert Frost

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