A Magic Named Poetry

Sahil Sharifdin Bhat

Every sane person knows at least one, two or more lines of poetry by heart. Every eloquent orator adorns his speeches with a few relevant lines of poetry. Every existent religion has preserved its salient teachings in the form of poetry. If religions shed poetry, they will vanish within a few decades. Poetry is beauty. Everything that touches human hearts is poetry. The full moon, the starry sky, the sunrise, the sunset, the morning breeze, the summer drizzle, the waterfall, the flowers, the chirping of birds, the ebb and tide of the sea, the dimple on a damsel’s chubby face, the smile on a baby’s lips, the sweat drops on the forehead of a bride, the blush on the face of a bashful lover,   the tears of joy in the eyes of a student who has just checked his results, the colourful butterfly resting on the petals of a rose, the fragrance of flowers, the fleeting winter sun,  the floating clouds, the calm deer in a lush green pasture, the valley surrounded by dense forests and flanked by roaring streams filled with crystal clear cold water,  the melodious calls echoing from the rooftops of religious places— all are poetry. Poetry is art. Poetry is medicine. Poetry is food for the soul. Poetry is peace. Poetry is happiness. Poetry is magic. Poetry awakens oblivious and slumbered communities. Poetry calms down aggressive warriors and sheathes naked swords. Poetry melts stones and encourages the weak. Poetry brings tears in fierce eyes and decks  withered lips with pretty smiles. Poetry is fire. Poetry is cool water too. Poetry is philosophy. Poetry is fun too. Poetry is taught by professors, quoted by leaders, sung by farmers, appreciated by teenagers, analyzed by philosophers and enjoyed by one and all. To sum up,  poetry is a type of literature that uses language to convey experiences, feelings and consciousness. It’s a form of creative writing that can be found in cultures around the world. Poetry would not be a universal human practice if it did not serve large and various purposes. People have sung or chanted poems to sow and reap, court reluctant lovers, march into battle, lull infants to sleep and call the faithful to worship. Poetry gave humanity the words to get through life. 

A Brief History of Poetry: 

The art of poetry is as old as human beings themselves and predates written text. In other words, humans invented the writing system 5000 years ago in Mesopotamia, in modern-day Iraq, but poetry existed before it. The oldest surviving speculative fiction poem is the Tale of the Shipwrecked Sailor, written in Hieratic and ascribed a date around 2500 BCE. Some scholars claim that the oldest surviving epic poem is ‘the Epic of Gilgamesh’, dating from the 3rd millennium BCE. There are more such ancient poems listed below:

1) The Istanbul Tablet #2461: Dating  2000 BCE.

2) The Story of Sinuhe: An Egyptian epic poetry from around 1800 BCE.

3) The Iliad and the Odyssey: Ancient Greek epic poems attributed to Homer.

4) Avestan books (the Yasna): Persian religious texts.

5) Virgil’s Aeneid: Roman national epic, written between 29 and 19 BCE.

6) The Ramayana and the Mahabharata: Ancient Indian epics.

7)The Shijing (Classic of Poetry): An ancient Chinese collection of poems dating back to the 11th to 7th centuries BCE. 

8) The Mu’allaqat: They are referred to as the “Hanging Odes” or “Golden Odes.” These are a collection of seven pre-Islamic Arabic poems highly esteemed for their eloquence and artistic expression.  

The oldest European poet whose work is still widely read and appreciated today is Homer. Although the exact date of Homer’s life is uncertain, it is generally believed that he lived around the 8th or 9th century BCE. Homer is traditionally credited with composing two of the greatest epic poems of ancient Greece: The Iliad and The Odyssey. Other notable poets of Europe from Homer to Geoffrey Chaucer include: 

1) Sappho (c. 630–570 BCE): Ancient Greek lyric poet known for her poems on love and relationships. she is often regarded as one of the greatest lyric poets of ancient Greece.

Pindar (c. 518–438 BCE): Ancient Greek lyric poet, particularly celebrated for his odes.

2) Virgil (70–19 BCE): Roman poet, author of the epic poem “Aeneid.” 

Horace (65–8 BCE): Roman poet and satirist, known for works like “Odes” and “Satires.”

3) Ovid (43 BCE–17/18 CE): Roman poet known for his works “Metamorphoses” and “The Art of Love.”

4) Catullus (c. 84–54 BCE): Roman poet famous for his love poetry.

5) Dante Alighieri (1265–1321): Italian poet, author of “The Divine Comedy.” 

Chaucer, William Shakespeare, Wordsworth, Goethe etc were not even born when Muslim poets like  Omar Khayyam (1048–1131), Ibn al-Farid (1181–1235), Hafez (1315–1390)  and Rumi (1207–1273) took the world of poetry by storm. Their verses are not just literary expressions but also convey profound spiritual wisdom, exploring the themes of divine love, unity and the mystical journey. Alas! modern Muslims do not bother to know about their glorious past and rich heritage. 

Moreover, English literature is divided into three major periods: the Old English period (c. 500-1066 CE), the Middle English Period (1066-1500 CE), and the Modern English period (1500-2020). The Old English period is not worth mentioning. It consists mostly of religious and historical works. Most Old English poets are anonymous; only twelve of them are known by name from Medieval sources, but only four of those are known by their vernacular works to us today with any certainty: Caedmon, Bede, Alfred, and Cynewulf. Of these, only Caedmon, Bede, and Alfred have known biographies.

1) Caedmon (658–680 AD): The oldest poem in English literature is the ‘Hymn of Creation’ by Caedmon. Therefore, he is the first known writer in English literature.

2) Bede (673–735 AD): Bede wrote scientific, historical and theological works. His best-known work is the “Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum,” or “An Ecclesiastical History of the English People.”

3) Alfred the Great (848–899 AD):The title of “the father of English prose” has been assigned to several different men, including King Alfred the Great, Sir Francis Bacon, Sir John Mandeville, and John Wycliffe.

4) Cynewulf (9th century AD): He is known for his four Christian poems, namely, ‘The Fates of the Apostles,’ ‘Juliana,’ ‘Elene,’ and ‘Christ II’ (also referred to as ‘The Ascension’).

Other notable poems from the Old English period include:

– Beowulf: An Old English epic poem in the tradition of Germanic heroic legend consisting of 3,182 alliterative lines. It is one of the most important and most often translated works of Old English literature. Its poet is not known.

– The Dream of the Rood

– The Wanderer

– The Battle of Maldon

– The “Battle of Brunanburh”

– The Seafarer

– The Wife’s Lament

– The Ruin

– Andreas

– Christ and Satan

– Deor/The Lament of Deor


The real English poetry was written in the Middle and Modern English periods, and a student of English literature is supposed to read Geoffrey Chaucer, William Shakespeare, John Milton, William Wordsworth, Coleridge, Lord Byron, Shelley, Keats, Robert Browning, Emily Dickinson, W.B. Yeats, T.S. Eliot, Philip Larkin, Sylvia Plath, Ted Hughes and a few others. Some students enjoy reading the poetry of Emerson, H.W. Longfellow, Pablo Neruda, Goethe, Mirza Ghalib, Mir Taqi Mir, Allama Iqbal, Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Sarojini Naidu, Rabindranath Tagore, Kamala Das, Faraz, Jaun Elia, etc., too.

Some amazing definitions of poetry: 

 Painting is silent poetry, and poetry is painting that speaks. (Plutarch)

  • Poetry is nearer to vital truth than history. (Plato)
  • Poetry is the art of uniting pleasure with truth. (Samuel Johnson)
  • Poetry is thoughts that breathe, and words that burn. (Thomas Gray)
  • Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility. (William Wordsworth)
  • Poetry is the best words in the best order. (Samuel Taylor Coleridge)
  • One merit of poetry few persons will deny: it says more and in fewer words than prose. (Voltaire)
  • The crown of literature is poetry. (W. Somerset Maugham)
  • Genuine poetry can communicate before it is understood. (T. S. Eliot)
  • Poetry is when an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found words. (Robert Frost)
  • Poetry is a deal of joy and pain and wonder, with a dash of the dictionary. (Kahlil Gibran)
  • Poetry is “the axe to break the frozen sea within us.” (Franz Kafka’s) 

Genres of poetry: 

1) Epic Poetry: Long narrative poems that often depict heroic deeds, adventures, and significant events. Examples include Homer’s “Iliad” and “Odyssey.”

2) Lyric Poetry: Short poems expressing personal emotions, feelings, or thoughts. It is often musical and introspective. Examples include sonnets and haikus.

3) Narrative Poetry: Tells a story through verse, employing characters, plot, and other elements of storytelling. Examples include “The Raven” by Edgar Allan Poe.

4) Sonnet: A 14-line poem, often with a specific rhyme scheme, expressing a single theme or idea. Shakespearean and Petrarchan sonnets are common forms.

5) Haiku: A traditional form of Japanese poetry with three lines and a 5-7-5 syllable count, capturing a moment or emotion in nature.

6) Limerick: A form of humorous verse with a distinctive rhythm and AABBA rhyme scheme, often used for light or humorous subjects.

7) Free Verse: Poetry without a fixed rhyme or meter, allowing for greater flexibility and creativity in expression.

8) Blank Verse: Unrhymed poetry with a regular meter, often iambic pentameter. Commonly used in dramatic and narrative works.

9) Satirical Poetry: Uses humor, irony, or ridicule to criticize or mock people, politics, or society. Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal” is an example.

10) Concrete Poetry: Poems in which the arrangement of words and letters on the page forms a visual representation of the subject. The visual presentation is integral to the poem’s meaning.

11) Doggerel, or doggrel: It is poetry that is irregular in rhythm and in rhyme, often deliberately for burlesque or comic effect.

12) Elegy: A reflective and melancholic poem, often mourning the loss of someone or something. Thomas Gray’s “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard” is a famous example.

13) Ode:  A lyric poem expressing strong emotions or praise, often addressed to a specific subject. John Keats’s “Ode to a Nightingale” is a notable example.

14) Acrostic Poetry: Verses where the first letter of each line spells out a word or message vertically.

15) Ballad: A narrative poem, often in a song-like form, that tells a story with a strong rhythmic and musical quality. 

  1. Prose poetry: It is a hybrid genre that shows attributes of both prose and poetry.

17) Ghazal: A form of poetry with rhyming couplets and a repeating refrain, commonly used to express themes of love and loss in Middle Eastern and South Asian literature.

18) Villanelle: A pastoral or lyrical poem of nineteen lines, with only two rhymes throughout, and some lines repeated.


Purpose of poetry: 

If poetry is judged by the standards of science, technology and economics, it will seem a futile exercise. It has its own significance unknown to non-poets and materialists.  In the Western tradition, it has generally been assumed that the purpose of poetry is to delight, instruct, console and commemorate. Poetry serves as a powerful medium to convey and evoke emotions. It seeks to capture the beauty of the world, whether in nature, relationships or fleeting moments. Narrative poetry tells stories, offering a way to convey tales of heroism, tragedy, love, and various human experiences. Poetry provides a space for introspection and contemplation. Poets explore the complexities of human existence, addressing themes such as identity, purpose, mortality, and the human condition. It can be a powerful tool for activism, shedding light on injustice, inequality and the need for positive change. It has an entertaining aspect, whether through humorous verse, clever wordplay or playful language. It engages readers with its rhythm, rhyme and imaginative use of language. To sum up, poetry helps us understand ourselves and this world better. It enriches us emotionally, ethically, intellectually and spiritually. It has helped our ancestors to preserve their faith, culture, traditions, history and values and it will continue to do so. So long as children will  sing rhymes and teenagers will enjoy songs, poetry won’t cease to exist.  

Teaching of English poetry: 

Teaching is undeniably the most challenging job. However, when a literate person finds himself/herself with no other occupation, they often turn to teaching—be it at home, in a coaching center or at school. It took the Prophet of Islam, Prophet Mohammad (PBUH), twenty-three long years to impart the teachings of Islam to his bright companions. In contrast, modern Molvis aspire to convey the same knowledge in a single sermon (Khutbah), resulting in disastrous outcomes. Unfortunately, modern English teachers behave like modern Molvis.  The blame extends to experts and educationists who prescribe boring poems to students. They expect students only to memorize the summary of the poem and grasp the meanings of tough words. It would be wonderful if students were presented with beautiful poems, encouraging them to not only memorize the text of poems  but also appreciate literary devices, understand the meaning of challenging words and develop a love for poetry.

I have been teaching English poetry for over a decade and I structure my lesson plan into three distinct phases:

1) Pre-active phase: This crucial phase involves several steps:

   – I) Selecting the content to be taught, which may be a short poem or a few stanzas from a long poem.

   – II) Choosing appropriate teaching aids, such as textbooks, handouts, visual aids, multimedia presentations or any props required for the lesson. In the absence of a relevant teaching aid, I utilize my smartphone, effectively simplifying complex concepts for my students.

   – III) Setting clear goals for the lesson, ensuring that students not only memorize the poem but also learn new words, literary devices, rhyme schemes, gain insight into the poet’s background and understand both the literal and deep meanings of the poem. The overarching objective is to foster a genuine love for the poem and poetry in general.

   – IV) Preparing a concise list of questions to motivate students and maintain their attention throughout the lecture.

   – V) Planning the timing for each segment of the lesson to ensure that all activities and discussions fit within the allotted time.

   – VI) Keeping potential answers to questions posed by students ready in my mind.

   – VII) Selecting effective teaching methods.

   – VIII) Planning the entry into the class, the presentation of the lesson and the exit from the class.

2) Interactive phase: This critical phase involves the following steps:

   – I) Entering the class with a smiling face, fostering a positive atmosphere unless there is a disturbance or commotion in the class. 

   – II) Posing a few short-answer type questions to engage students, assess their prior knowledge of the lesson and pique their interest.

   – III) Initiating the class with a clear introduction, outlining the objectives and what students can expect to learn.

   – IV) Introducing the poet and explaining the  meaning of the title of poem.

   – V) Recitation:  Reciting the poem aloud and seeking feedback from students on whether they liked any particular lines or stanzas.

   – VI) Encouraging selected students to recite the same poem or part of it aloud, emphasizing expression over a deep understanding of the meaning.

   – VII) Scansion: Conducting scansion to guide students in analyzing the rhyme scheme, form, diction and other literary devices within the poem.

   – VIII) Denotation: Presenting denotation by providing the surface or literal meaning of the poem, employing either intensive (word by word) or extensive (line by line) approaches based on time constraints and student understanding.

   – IX) Explanation: Explaining the deeper meanings of the poem and allowing students to interpret it in their own way. A teacher well-versed in various schools of criticism taught during post-graduation excels in conveying the profound meanings of poems. If time allows, I encourage students to read the poem silently and ponder on its beauties. 

   – X) Recapitulation: Recapitulating the most crucial points of the lesson in a brief summary.

   – XI) Evaluation: Evaluating students by posing questions based on the lesson to gauge their comprehension.

   – XII) Homework: Assigning manageable homework, such as memorizing the poem, composing a poem about their near and dear ones, summarizing the poem in their own words or attempting to answer textual questions independently.

3) Post-active phase: In this phase, I conduct a self-assessment as an English poetry teacher and evaluate my lesson plan. I diligently address any deficiencies, striving to enhance its effectiveness. At times, I seek feedback from bright students when possible.

Qualities of an ideal English teacher:

A specialist English teacher embodies the following qualities:

A] Possesses a Master’s degree in English literature.

B] Demonstrates effective communication skills.

C] Commands a comprehensive understanding of English literature, including poetry, fiction, non-fiction, the history of English literature and English language components such as grammar, writing skills, phonetics and literary figures.

D] Exhibits creativity.

E] Chooses to teach.

Let’s conclude this wonderful article with a wonderful poem titled ‘Allah’: 


[Henry Wadsworth Longfellow]

Allah gives light in darkness,

Allah gives rest in pain,

Cheeks that are white with weeping

Allah paints red again.


The flowers and the blossoms wither,

Years vanish with flying feet;

But my heart will live on forever,

That here in sadness beat.


Gladly to Allah’s dwelling

Yonder would I take flight;

There will the darkness vanish,

There will my eyes have sight.

About The Author

The author lives at Lethapora Pulwama. His name is sahil Sharifdin Bhat. His books are  available on Amazon ,  Flipkart etc . He can be reached at  [email protected])

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