Poets on Poetry

Famous quotations about poetry:


'Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquillity.'   

William Wordsworth


'A good poet is someone who manages, in a lifetime of standing out in thunderstorms, to be struck by lightening five or six times; a dozen or two dozen times and he is great.'

Randall Jarrell


'Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal.'



'Milton, Madam, was a genius that could cut a Colossus from a rock; but could not carve heads upon cherry-stones.'

(To Miss Hannah More, who had expressed a wonder that the poet who had written Paradise Lost should write such poor sonnets.)

Samuel Johnson


'Deprivation is for me what daffodils were for Wordsworth.'

Philip Larkin


'Poetry is the record of the best and happiest moments of the happiest and best minds.'

Percy Bysshe Shelley


'Writing free verse is like playing tennis with the net down.'

Robert Frost


'...nine-tenths of what passes as English poetry is the product of either careerism, or keeping one's hand in: a choice between vulgarity and banality.'

Robert Graves


'Poetry is not a turning loose of emotion, but an escape from emotion; it is not the expression of personality, but an escape from personality. But, of course, only those who have personality and emotions know what it means to want to escape from these things.'



'Most people ignore most poetry because most poetry ignores most people.'

Adrian Mitchell


'No man can read Hardy's poems collected but that his own life, and forgotten moments of it, will come back to him, in a flash here and an hour there. Have you a better test of true poetry?'

Ezra Pound


'I wish our clever young poets would remember my homely definitions of prose and poetry; that is prose; words in their best order; - poetry; the best words in the best order.'



'Well, write poetry, for God's sake, it's the only thing that matters.'

e. e. cummings


'In my view a good poem is one in which the form of the verse and the joining of its parts seems light as a shallow river flowing over its sandy bed.'


(Translated by Lucien Stryk)


'Use no superfluous word, no adjective, which does not reveal something. Don't use such an expression as 'dim land of peace.' It dulls the image. It mixes an abstraction with the concrete. It comes from the writer's not realising that the natural object is always the adequate symbol. Go in fear of abstractions.'

Ezra Pound


'Poetry is the journal of a sea animal living on land, wanting to fly in the air.'

Carl Sandburg


'Poetry is simply the most beautiful, impressive, and widely effective mode of saying things, and hence its importance.'

Matthew Arnold


'I consider myself a poet first and a musician second. I live like a poet and I'll die like a poet.'

Bob Dylan


'Poetry fettered fetters the human race.'

William Blake


'Swans sing before they die - 'twere no bad thing
Did certain persons die before they sing.'



'The only way of expressing emotion in the form of art is by finding an 'objective correlative'; in other words, a set of objects, a situation, a chain of events which shall be the formula of that particular emotion; such that when the external facts, which must terminate in sensory experience, are given , the emotion is immediately evoked.'



'To break the pentameter, that was the first heave.'

Ezra Pound


'Poetry is what in a poem makes you laugh, cry, prickle, be silent, makes your toe nails twinkle, makes you want to do this or that or nothing, makes you know that you are alone in the unknown world, that your bliss and suffering is forever shared and forever all your own.'

Dylan Thomas


'I have never started a poem yet whose end I knew. Writing a poem is discovering.'

Robert Frost


'The poet is the priest of the invisible.'

Wallace Stevens


'Poetry is, at bottom, a criticism of life.'

Matthew Arnold


'The poet's mind is in fact a receptacle for seizing and storing up numberless feelings, phrases, images, which remain there until all the particles which can unite to form a new compound are present together.'



'As a guiding principle I believe that every poem must be its own sole freshly-created universe, and therefore have no belief in 'tradition' or a common myth-kitty or casual allusions in poems to other poems or poets, which last I find unpleasantly like the talk of literary understrappers letting you see they know the right people.'

Philip Larkin


'I think a poet is anybody who wouldn't call himself a poet.'

Bob Dylan


'You I am sure will forgive me for sincerely remarking that you might curb your magnanimity and be more of an artist, and 'load every rift' of your subject with ore.'

John Keats (in a letter to Shelley 1820)


'Like a piece of ice on a hot stove the poem must ride on its own melting.'

Robert Frost


'I could no more define poetry than a terrier can define a rat.'

A. E. Housman


'If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry.'

Emily Dickinson


'There are three things, after all, that a poem must reach: the eye, the ear, and what we may call the heart or the mind. It is most important of all to reach the heart of the reader.'

Robert Frost


'Modesty is a virtue not often found among poets, for almost every one of them thinks himself the greatest in the world.'

Miguel de Cervantes


'Publishing a volume of verse is like dropping a rose-petal down the Grand Canyon and waiting for the echo.'

Don Marquis


'Poets are the hierophants of an unapprehended inspiration; the mirrors of the gigantic shadows which futurity casts upon the present; the words which express what they understand not; the trumpets which sing to battle, and feel not what they inspire; the influence which is moved not, but moves. Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world.'

Percy Bysshe Shelley (A Defence of Poetry)


'I've had it with these cheap sons of bitches who claim they love poetry but never buy a book.'

Kenneth Rexroth


'Poets aren't very useful. / Because they aren't consumeful or very produceful.'

Ogden Nash


'I believe that every English poet should read the English classics, master the rules of grammar before he attempts to bend or break them, travel abroad, experience the horrors of sordid passion, and - if he is lucky enough - know the love of an honest woman.'

Robert Graves


'Great poetry is always written by somebody straining to go beyond what he can do.'

Stephen Spender


'It is always hard for poets to believe that one says their poems are bad not because one is a fiend but because their poems are bad.'

Randall Jarrell


'Everybody has their own idea of what's a poet. Robert Frost, President Johnson, T.S.Eliot, Rudolf Valentino - they're all poets. I like to think of myself as the one who carries the light bulb.'

Bob Dylan


'In this poor body, composed of one hundred bones and nine openings, is something called spirit, a flimsy curtain swept this way and that by the slightest breeze. It is spirit, such as it is, which led me to poetry, at first little more than a pastime, then the full business of my life. There have been times when my spirit, so dejected, almost gave up the quest, other times when it was proud, triumphant. So it has been from the very start, never finding peace with itself, always doubting the worth of what it makes.'


(Translated by Lucien Stryk)







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