Poetry, Prose and Parable.

Poetry is Music.

Poetry and music have a lot in common. Both use the same techniques, rhythm and metre, or beat, and both are a form of expression which connects with our inner being and elicits an emotional response. Poetry and song lyrics use the same techniques and literary devices; rhyme, simile, metaphor, personification, symbolism and imagery are some examples.

At the beginning of a poetry unit, students would often tell me they hated poetry, it was old, boring, fuddy-duddy stuff, so I would ask them what music they were listening to, then we would listen to that together, pull it apart and discuss the poetic devices alive and well in the songs and rap they were listening to.

Poetry is old, very old; it predates written text. The world’s oldest written poem is believed to be the Epic of Gilgamesh a 4,000 year old poem from Mesopotamia. The Old Testament has its Books of Poetry; Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and Song of Solomon, so named because of the poetic devices used in their construction.

stone tablet with text of Epic of Gilgamesh
Neo-Assyrian clay tablet. Epic of Gilgamesh, Tablet 11: Story of the Flood.
By BabelStone (Own work), CC0. https://www.the-first-ever.com/first-poem-ever/

Other ancient poetic texts are The Bhagavadgita and The Mahabharata which date back about 2500 years and Beowulf, which is regarded as one of the oldest written poetic works in the English language, dates back to the early 11th century. Before poetry was written it was spoken because the stories of old could be remembered and handed down orally if they were constructed using, what we today call, poetic devices. This too is why we sing songs, and songs are used as a teaching tool, think about nursery rhymes and psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, because the poetic devices in song lyrics make the words easy to remember.

From our bookcase.

Shakespeare knew this and wrote his plays and sonnets using iambic pentametre which adds rhythm to a poem by the use of stressed and unstressed beats which mimic the human heartbeat. In the example below you can see, and hear, the da dum, da dum, da dum, da dum, da dum.

Iambic pentameter was used mostly by Shakespeare
Image : Mammoth Memory

It is this iambic pentametre which makes the text of Shakespearean plays a little easier to memorise, as I am sure many students who have had to present a Shakespearean monologue could attest.

It is only fitting that I conclude with my favourite Sonnet; Sonnet 87

Farewell! thou art too dear for my possessing by William Shakespeare

Farewell! thou art too dear for my possessing,
And like enough thou knowst thy estimate.
The Charter of thy worth gives thee releasing;
My bonds in thee are all determinate.
For how do I hold thee but by thy granting,
And for that riches where is my deserving?
The cause of this fair gift in me is wanting,
And so my patent back again is swerving.
Thy self thou gav’st, thy own worth then not knowing,
Or me, to whom thou gav’st it, else mistaking,
So thy great gift, upon misprision growing,
Comes home again, on better judgement making.
   Thus have I had thee as a dream doth flatter:
   In sleep a king, but waking no such matter.


Poetry is meant to be spoken, so say it aloud and hear the poetry, the heartbeat, the music.

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