English | History | PSHE | Relationships and health

How poetry can save your soul and the world

But does it make us better people? Alien to many and unfamiliar to most, this ancient art form claims deep and mysterious powers. Today we examine what they are.  "Poetry is thoughts that breathe and words that burn", said poet Thomas Gray. "The best words in their best order", added Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Poetry can be hard to define, but you know it when you see it. There is no doubt: words have great power. UNESCO head Audrey Azoulay says poetry can "open doors" and help world peace. Poets are as old as civilisation. They can tell big stories like the Epic of Gilgamesh and small truths, like Shakespeare’s sonnets. They are more popular than ever. Last year, Amanda Gorman became the youngest poet to speak at a US presidential inauguration. Her books topped the Amazon charts and she was invited to perform at the Super Bowl. However, many people find poetry hard and pointless. Are they right, or do we need poems to save the world? The ancient Greek philosopher Plato hated poetry. He called it “the mother of all lies” for using emotions to convince people, instead of logic. The Tudor writer Stephen Glosson agreed, saying poets wasted their time. His attack inspired An Apology for Poetry, a defence of literature by poet Philip Sidney. Poetry can “teach and delight”, wrote Sidney. Poems help us understand ourselves and others. “Poetry improves us,” says poet Brad Leihauser. We pay attention to the sound and rhythm of words and we become calmer and happier. Many writers have said no one reads poetry anymore. But in the UK, readers spent £12.35m on poems in 2020 – an all-time high. Young poets like Rupi Kaur are leading this boom, using social media to promote their work. Right now, says Susannah Herbert of the Forward Arts Foundation, "there is a hunger for more nuanced and memorable forms of language". The UN believes poetry can help make world peace, but is that asking too much of words? But does it make us better people? Well-versed Yes: Reading poetry makes us attentive and performing gives us the confidence of public speaking. Memorising poems trains our focus and memory. Writing them helps us understand and communicate our feelings. No: Poetry encourages us to stay wrapped up in our emotions. It celebrates vague and obscure language when we need clarity and purpose. Instead of messing around with words, we should learn practical skills. Or... Poetry is pointless and that's the point. We spend too much of our time trying to improve ourselves and the world. But something doesn't have to be useful to be valuable and give us pleasure.   KeywordsSamuel Taylor Coleridge - An English poet and critic whose thoughts and writing greatly influenced modern poetry.

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