Still Life with a Copy of De Waere Mercurius

The Decline of Poetry & How Our Expression Is Dying

There was a time when poetry played a central role in our culture and civilization but today it has been pushed backstage. It occupies an obscure corner in our society - one knows the foremost poets of today. The classics still have their audience, their aura of mystery and attraction but poetry as a living mode of expression for our cultural experience has died.

Modern Poetry

Today poetry is not expressive enough. It does not stir emotions as it used to nor is it deep and pregnant with meaning. It isn't something one can ponder for hours and even if deeper subjects of human reality are discussed, if at all, they are expressed in such a vague manner that they say nothing new and give no deeper insight. Poetry these days leaves us with a feeling that something is lacking, something that classical poems and even some poems from 30 to 40 years ago had. 

Ironically, poetry today is being written on a scale never seen before thanks to social media and the internet but the quality of such poetry is very low - quantity degrades quality. The result is that you have to sift through thousands of poems to find something even relatively good. 

The Decline of Poetry

How did we get here? From Homer's Illiad to Shakespearean sonnets and from there slowly we have come to Rupi Kaur's Milk and Honey. What happened? One of the main reasons that poetry has fallen so much is the amount of leash we have given to poetic expression. Nowadays, almost anything written in English is considered poetry and there is no concrete standard or form of any kind whatsoever. We have come to such a point where a piece of prose considered horrible can be passed on as poetry (with slight alterations) and nobody bats an eye.

There was a time when poetry was considered one of the most profound forms of expression; now it is the lamest. One might even say that poetry has lost its purpose in the many years of decline and new poets have failed to step up to give it a new direction. You can put Shelley's Ozymandias beside almost any (there are a few good ones) modern poem and find the difference in depth and meaning as stark as a dark cloud in bright daylight.

Great Poems Need a Lifetime

To write a good poem, a poem that stands out in depth and meaning, you need as much effort, dedication, and practice as writing a good 1000 to 1500 words article or prose. Even then there is no guarantee because true poetry is genius; it touches all of us, but few are born with it. True poets are a rare breed.

Poetry is a symphony where words and feelings are in synchronization transporting you into another world. If done right, it deepens and enhances your worldview bringing color and life to lifeless and colorless things.

You might be thinking that most poems, even most classical poems, fail to convey such a feeling of wonder and epiphany; and you will be right. Only masterworks from the great poets of old convey such feeling, masterworks which were made from the bone, blood, and sinew of these poets. Poetry demands everything from a poet; his work, his life, his time, and all his passion. Only then can a poet kindle in himself a flame which remains alight in his poems for centuries. 

Who in this modern age is willing to give so much to poetry? Who even thinks of it? The academic poets write for promotions and degrees, others write poetry in their free time without putting in much effort. On one side of the coin there are people with skill and dedication but little passion and on the other there are people with passion but very little skill and dedication, and a good poet needs both: skill and passion.

Why is Poetry so Important?

Poetry is the highest faculty of man, his highest possible transcendence. Nothing can reach it neither science nor physics or any other vistas of knowledge because poetry is the highest expression of language and language is the base, the highest epitome of civilization - without language, there is no civilization.

Without poets like Dante, Shakespeare, Rumi, Tagore, Iqbal, whole civilizations are voiceless. Poets express the deep emotions of the people through their words and you see masterpieces like Illiad and Inferno born from those flames.

The Demise of Expression

While our modern lives are more orderly, more comfortable, more peaceful, and more luxurious than they were a few hundred years ago, We as humans have become hollow from the inside. Our systems are working better than ever but the individual units, the humans, have become hollow. We have lost our ability to express in the journey to modernization.

All around us we see increasing cases of crowd violence like mob lynching and gang rapes, mass killings perpetrated by single individuals, and many other similar events. One of the reasons for such violence and bestiality is the lower expression power of our present age (there are other reasons, no doubt).

Art Cannot Be Dumb-ed Down

Our educators and intellectuals want to dumb down literature and arts. "Everything should be simple. Art should be so simple that the common Joe could understand it," they tell us but the don't know that Shakespeare can't be dumb-ed down. Goethe and Dante can't be dumb-ed down. Tagore or Iqbal can't be dumb-ed down. Similarly, if a contemporary poet wants to tackle the subjects that haunt us, the language he uses can't be dumbed-down.

When language is dumbed-down, civilization comes to a lower level of existence. A level that is closer to animals - wilder than anything before which results in people unconsciously reacting like animals.

The crowd has their grievances for sure (like all of us) but they don't know how to express them. The crowd remains silent, a fire burning inside each of them, a fire of hulk-like rage fueled by family grievances, systematic persecutions, and injustices and then one day they find a way to express that hate on the world. A girl, a boy, or a man from another group becomes the object of expression for their frustration. People need to express themselves and only language and poetry can give people a civilized expression.

Free Speech and Poetry

We hear much talk about free speech but no one talks about how expression is vital to free speech. Without people really knowing how to express themselves this expression is brought down to threats, bad jokes, loud swearing, and battle cries. Such kind free speech, or free expression, doesn't contribute anything good towards a society.

Closing Thoughts

Poetry needs to be taken seriously again. Some rules must be established with a proper criterion for good and bad poetry. It has been over a century since a new poetry form was invented and during all these years the poets have moved towards "free verse poetry" - a formless structure-less no-rules system for writing poetry, a system abused by the psuedo-poets of our century. Why have we not established new forms or renewed old ones?  Our modern expression has been crippled due to the lack of such innovation.

The way forward lies in picking up the old books again, learning from the masters, and revitalizing the name of poetry. Not everything is to be left for the audience to decide. Prose has a standard, why not poetry?

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