Friday, June 22, 2012

Carl Sandburg: a definition (nine actually) of poetry

Poets and critics and scholars have long debated the nature of poetry.  However, I don't think anyone has come up with one definition that satisfies everybody.   Carl Sandburg has come up with nine himself.

Nine Tentative (First Model) Definitions of Poetry

1.  Poetry is a projection across silence of cadences arranged
               to break that silence with definite intentions of echoes,
              syllables, wave lengths.

2.  Poetry is the harnessing of the paradox of earth cradling
                life and then entombing it.

3.  Poetry is a series of explanations of life, fading off into 
               horizons too swift for explanations. 

4Poetry is a sky dark with a wild-duck migration.

5.  Poetry is a search for syllables to shoot at the barriers of
                the unknown and the unknowable.

6.  Poetry is a packsack of invisible keepsakes.

7.  Poetry is a phantom script telling how rainbows are made
               and why they go away. 

8.  Poetry is the achievement of the synthesis of hyacinths and

9.  Poetry is the capture of a picture, a song, or a flair, in a
               deliberate prism of words.

Is this a poem?

I think Sandburg is really saying here that poetry can't be defined.  My favorite definition, though, comes from Robert Frost who once said, when asked what poetry was, that poetry is what gets lost in the translation.   But, if I had to choose one of Sandburg's,  I guess I'd go with No. 4.

   The sea darkening  .  .  .
Oh voices of the wild ducks
   Crying, whirling, white
                    -- Basho --

from A Little Treasury of Haiku
trans.  Peter Beilenson


  1. Madame V,

    Yes, it has that ironic paradox--it's explanations of life, but too fast to view perhaps.

    I just noticed a typo in No. 9. That should read "a song" and not "a son."