What makes a good poem ?
1. A good poem must be well written with a concise and accurate use of language. The great advantage of poetry is that it can encapsulate ideas in the minimum of words. This is one of the main distinguishing features of poetry as compared to prose.
2. A good poem should be able to lift the reader out of the ordinary and give glimpses of a more illumining reality.
“To see a world in a grain of sand,
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
And eternity in an hour.
– William Blake.
Here the immortal Blake uses the most basic of items a small grain of sand to conjure most powerfully visions of eternity. These lines are so powerful because they leave to so much to the imagination of the reader.
3. A mantric quality of language. Prose seeks to explain, poetry merely states. Good poetry is not an argument but convinces the reader through its own power.
“A thing of beauty is a joy forever”
4. A good poem should engage the heart of the reader it should be more than mere intellectual cleverness.
“That love is all there is;
all we know of love”
5. Good poetry can offer hope from seemingly painful experience. Many great poets deal with our fear of death there poetry offers an alternative view to the pessimism that can pervade man.
“Because I could not stop for death
He kindly stopped for me-
The carriage held but just Ourselves –
Emily Dickinson wrote frequently on the theme of death. She does not offer certainties but ambiguously points to immortality. To a large extent the reader can make up his own mind. This is another good quality of a poem it engages the reader to think for himself
Poetry often takes its inspiration from nature. Nature is all around but a poet is able to capture its essence in the written word. This brings us a new appreciation for the wonders of nature.
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.
6. Poetry from the heart. Good poetry can never be faked. There is a saying that a “poet is born not made” Whether this is true or not writing poetry is not like learning to write by rote.
7. Good poetry is poetry that we can feel an identification with. Whether it is a rhyming sonnet of Shakespeare or a simple statement of W.Carlos Williams we feel in very good poetry that it articulates our own inner feeling. There does not seem a separation between poet and reader. The reader himself can feel a oneness with the poet. In this poem Sri Chinmoy identifies with struggling humanity and at the same time offers a Seers vision of a better future.
“I cry aloud, but all in vain;
I helpless, the earth unkind
What soul of might can share my pain?
Death-dart alone I find.”
“But hark! I hear Thy golden Flute,
Its notes bring the Summit down.
Now safe am I, O Absolute!
Gone death, gone night’s stark frown!”
– From the Golden Flute by Sri Chinmoy
8. Epic nature
In this final extract from Savitri by Sri Aurobindo, the poet touches on the divine essence of life, and builds up the theme, with a mantric cadence and
The vast universal suffering feel as thine:
Thou must bear the sorrow that thou claimst to heal;
The day-bringer must walk in darkest night.
He who would save the world must share its pain.
If he knows not grief, how shall he find grief’s cure?
If far he walks above mortality’s head,
How shall the mortal reach that too high path?
If one of theirs they see scale heaven’s peaks,
Men then can hope to learn that titan climb.
God must be born on earth and be as man
That man being human may grow even as God.
He who would save the world must be one with the world,
All suffering things contain in his heart’s space
And bear the grief and joy of all that lives.
His soul must be wider than the universe
And feel eternity as its very stuff,
Rejecting the moment’s personality
Know itself older than the birth of Time,
Creation an incident in its consciousness,
Arcturus and Belphegor grains of fire
Circling in a corner of its boundless self,
The world’s destruction a small transient storm
In the calm infinity it has become.
If thou wouldst a little loosen the vast chain,
Draw back from the world that the Idea has made,
Thy mind’s selection from the Infinite,
Thy senses’ gloss on the Infinitesimal’s dance,
Then shalt thou know how the great bondage came.
Banish all thought from thee and be God’s void.
– Sri Aurobindo, Savitri.