Some of the things we remember most vividly from childhood can be associated with a rhyme or a song. The simplest forms of nursery rhymes exist in many cultures passed down either in the written form or part of an oral tradition. Like all poetry they originate from situations observed, like Ring A Ring O’Roses which references the black plague and the deaths that ensued, or an expression of feelings and emotions. The brilliant thing about poetry is that it can become all things to all people and transcends age and education. It doesn’t require a degree to write or compose orally a sentiment but rather a response to something that you then have a desire to share with others or just express for one’s own satisfaction. No doubt much of the poetry that was ever written was done so privately and at times in a state of much despair or euphoria. At any rate much of it was probably never intended for public scrutiny but was perhaps found in a journal or in a box of keepsakes and letters. For as long as man has existed and had the ability to communicate poetry has in one form or another flourished. The interesting thing about language is that it can reflect a time period, a culture and offers a window into that lifestyle, those people and the events that surrounded them. Poetry as a very immediate emotional response to these diverse occurrences can help to reveal a person’s thinking but also a very intimate look at life. As with all aspects of language either written or spoken it reflects the time period it represents by its use of vocabulary and style.
Different moments in history have leant themselves to the introduction of new words and expressions and so it is that words and phrases once considered common, say in Shakespeare’s day, would now no longer be appropriate or even understood. Similarly, some words have adopted different meanings by the will of common usage and thus cease to convey the original meaning. What this means is that as language evolves and adapts so the writing it feeds does too. Poetry as a reflection of the day can provide a window into the language of a moment in time. Thus, we can be appalled and even offended by something because we fail to see its meaning and significance to ourselves but maybe we just haven’t been keeping up! Every generation has its poets and these individuals become the voice of their time and in some instances their social class. Unlike lengthy essays or editorials, a poem can concisely express a moment an observation or emotion that will encourage thought and consideration on the part of the reader. The poet seeks to express his emotion and maybe engender a response. After all this is what art in any form can do for any society. Poetry has the unique ability to be personal yet universal and to sometimes achieve this with many words but often just a few. Think of the Japanese haiku poem whose content carefully adheres to a particular format. Once you start looking at the different types of poetry you realize there are numerous styles and formats some of which you’ve probably never heard of or read. What a wonderful way to rediscover history and learn a new or renewed appreciation for the language of a time period.