BY MOSTAPHA BEYA
According to Esther Lombardi in her article, “Literature”, literature is a term used to describe written or spoken material. “Literature” is used to describe anything from creative writing to more technical or scientific works, but the term is most commonly used to refer to works of creative imagination, including works of nonfiction, drama, fiction, and poetry. Personally, I think poetry is the best form of literature. Poetry is the only form of literature which needs no translation to be appreciated. With poetry, the emotions the author is expressing are translated without the need for interpretation.
However, Lombardi talks about literature as though every form is equal and without distinction:
Literature introduces us to new worlds of experience. We learn about books and literature; we enjoy the comedies and tragedies of poems, stories, and plays; and we may even grow and evolve through our literary journey with books. Ultimately, we may discover meaning in literature by looking at what the author says and how he/she says it (Lombardi).
I disagree with her approach. I think that poetry should be discussed as its own form, not in comparison with any other. With poetry, there is no need to understand the meaning, but only to feel the emotions; as Robert Frost said: “Poetry is when an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found words.”
According to the Webster Dictionary, poetry is “writing that formulates a concentrated imaginative awareness of experience in language chosen and arranged to create a specific emotional response through meaning, sound, and rhythm.” Personally, I think that poetry is how you feel, not what you think; it is what you imagine, not what is real; it is oxygen that helps your soul become alive every time you recite a line.
Octavio Paz said: “To read a poem is to hear it with our eyes; to hear it is to see it with our ears.” From my own experience I witnessed greatness among my audience when their eyes opened wide, looking deep into my soul when I decided to read my poem in its original language. Even though none of them understood Arabic, they understood the truth beneath my words and the spirituality within the sounds. As T.S. Eliot said, “Genuine poetry can communicate before it is understood.” I thought that was going to be my only experience. Then, in another reading, after I read my poem in English, my audience requested I read it in its original language. Once again I witnessed the difference between understanding the poem and feeling it. At first they applauded the meaning, but then they cherished the feeling more, and that is what poetry is about.
I was holding a translation of Pablo Neruda’s poem while listening to the author reciting it in his own language. Even though I do not speak Spanish, I put the translation away and I sat there listening, feeding my soul on his emotional reactions throughout his reading. At that moment I realized that poetry does not belong to any nationality. Poetry does not speak any one language. The only language that poetry carries is the language of love, hate, sadness, death, and life. It carries the most important things: emotions.
How is it a small poem can carry so much more weight than any other form of literature? Why is it that you can write a book about a poem, you can write an essay about a line in the poem, and you can sing a poem – but you cannot sing a book? “Poetry is ordinary language raised to the Nth power. Poetry is boned with ideas, nerved and blooded with emotions, all held together by the delicate, tough skin of words” (Paul Engle).
Poems enable us to express ourselves in a way which no other form of literature can. If it were not for poetry, Emily Dickinson would be just another woman. It is only because of her poetry that we are able to relate to her, to know her. When she says: “Because I could not stop for death / He kindly stopped for me / The carriage held but just ourselves and immortality” she is declaring revolution on her mortality. With just three short lines, using simple, affordable language, Dickinson faced death with strength and beauty. She became immortal by becoming part of each one of us. She will live within us forever. She becomes a goddess, she becomes air that, whether you like it or not, you breathe. That is the power a poet can hold. They can possess you; it cannot be seen, it can only be felt. It touches the soul and cleanses the mind.