Three Components of Great Poetry

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Does it Evoke Powerful Emotions?

The first thing that I look for when I read a poem is whether or not it evokes a strong emotion. For me, this is the most important signifier that a poem has potential, and if I don’t feel this on the first read, I usually abandon it. Because of the briefness of poetry, if it doesn’t evoke some strong emotional reaction immediately, I feel that I can confidently say that I won’t find it very interesting. 

Is the Writing Clear and Artful?

The next thing that I find important in recognizing good poetry is looking for poems that have some type of style and musicality in the writing. I look for interesting word choices and combinations that conjure up unusual or emotional imagery and show the writer’s voice clearly. I find that without this, the message of the poem might as well have been delivered through any other medium, like fiction or songwriting. Why write poetry if not to create beautiful sentences and play with the limits of language a bit?

Is the Message Meaningful?

Lastly, I look for a powerful message saying something important. I find that the most meaningful poems have a clear purpose. That doesn’t mean that their purpose is always obvious—sometimes mystery can be very interesting and actually serve the purpose of the poem—but I still need something to hang on to, some reason behind the poem. I find that my favorite poems reveal something that I never realized about myself, human nature, or life in general and can offer me a new perspective. 

Overall, I am of the belief that poetry can be anything you want it to be, after all, what’s the point of the arts if we can’t be creative in the way we want to? However, after reading lots of poetry over the years and realizing how much certain poems have meant to me, I think that my three components of great poetry can help someone out there to find poems that are just as meaningful and impactful to them.  

Below is one of my favorite poems by the Irish Poet, William Butler Yeats:

When You Are Old 

By W.B. Yeats

When you are old and grey and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;

How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;

And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.

Source: The Collected Poems of W. B. Yeats (1989)

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