World Poetry Criticism
Poetry, as a means of creative expression, predates the written word. Poems in various forms were recited and later written around the world in service of conveying messages and describing the human experience. Historically, religion and aspects of culture have inspired poetry. Scholars speculate that the repetition, rhythms, and rhyming associated with poems allowed for easier memorization of messages relayed only through oral traditions. The development of alphabets and written language provided the ability to preserve poetry. Fragments of poems have been found on various artifacts, including commemorative stone carvings, left behind by numerous cultures.
Poems through the centuries have taken on a wide variety of forms and have focused on innumerable themes from odes venerating objects to depictions of everyday behaviors to emotions, especially those associated with fear, grief, and love. The ancient Sumerian poet Enheduanna, the archaic Greek poet Sappho—both female—the Islamic mystic Rumi, and the Italian poet Dante (Alighieri) all predate the time of William Shakespeare and the proliferation of poetry that survives in the English language. Also before Shakespeare, the anonymous epic poem Beowulf, set in ancient Scandinavia, and Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales serve as poetry milestones during the evolution of the English language.
Poetry allows for deeper insight into very particular aspects of specific cultures but can also focus on universal human experiences that reach across cultures and time. Different countries and cultures have contributed various styles, approaches, and forms to the craft from the Irish limerick to Japanese haiku to the English sonnet.
In the increasingly connected world of the twentieth century, poets like Pablo Neruda of Chile, Jacques Prévert of France, and Shu Ting (pen name of Gong Peiyu) of China became internationally known for their contributions to poetry in their native languages. While nothing replaces reading a poem in the language in which it was written, translators work hard to convey the rhythms, emotions, and messages of poems from other cultures when introducing work to non-native readers.
Poets today have the advantage of any number of paths to creating their works—from adhering to traditional forms to mixing various poetic elements to innovating new approaches. Additionally, a significant number of poets blend languages to depict the experiences of people with mixed heritage or to bring new insights into how language itself plays a role in facilitating or complicating interactions between humans.