April is National Poetry Month, and so to celebrate, we are going to be spotlighting a few different aspects of the history of this beloved art form in the coming weeks! This week, we delve into the subject of the first poets: who were they, what kind of poetry did they write, and how did their creation of a new style of language and expression spark a centuries-long love of poetry? Read on to find out!
Poetry was not always as we typically envision it: works on a page organized into stanzas. In fact, the first poets did not even write down their poetry at all. Poetry began as an oral tradition; people would use spoken poetic forms to communication information on a variety of subjects: myth, religion, day-to-day activities, and more. Poetic forms were, and remain today, well-suited to an oral performance. Think of the characteristics of most formal poetry: there is a set meter, rhythm, cadence, and rhyme scheme that is followed. Now think of the mnemonics and proverbs that stick in your head- “An apple a day keeps the doctor away,” “you snooze, you lose,” “a friend in need is a friend indeed.” The reason those little sayings stick is the same reason that the first poets were able to recall their poems and recite them for an audience; the nature of the language is such that we can easily remember it, like the lyrics to a song.
The First Poets: Ancient Greece
Oftentimes, the very first poets are cited as those coming from Ancient Greece: Virgil and Homer, for example. Their poems were considered “epics,” long and detailed accounts of historic battles, dealings between gods and goddesses, and the travels of heroes. These were some of the first poems to capture the public’s imagination and become a fixed part of the culture. In the thousands of years that have followed, people have remained equally as captivated by poetry.
Celebrating National Poetry Month and the First Poets
So how can you honor these first poets in your own celebration of National Poetry Month? Try picking up a copy of the Odyssey or the Iliad to read some of the earliest poems out there! And of course, continue writing your own work and expressing yourself through verse. If you like what you write, consider submitting it to our poetry contest and show your work to the world!