Oxford English Dictionary - poetry
Copyright Oxford University Press
poetry 'p<e>UItrI. Forms: 4-7 poetrie, 5
-trye, -terye, 6 Sc. poyetrie, 5-
Etymology: ME. = OFr. poetrie, poeterie (13-14th c.),
old Ital. poetría (Florio); ad. late and med.L. poetria, f.
poeta poet. [ Poetria occurs in a scholium on Horace Epist.
ii. i. 103, written (according to O. Keller, Pseudacro) c
650, perh. in North Italy, and preserved in MSS. of 10th c.; also in 9th or 10th
c. MSS. of Martianus Capella. It is used as the title of treatises on the art of
poetry, esp. the Nova Poetria of Gaufrei de Vinsauf (Galfridus de Vino
Salvo, also called Galfridus Anglicus) about or soon after 1200; and in various
works of the 13th c., as the Græcismus of Eberhardus Bethuniensis
c 1212 (`Arte poetria fungor dum fingo poema'), the translation of
Averroes' paraphrase of Aristotle's Poetics by Hermannus Alemannus c
1260, and the Catholicon of Joannes de Janua, 1286 (`a poeta,
poeticus, et hæc poetria ars poetica'). (I. Bywater.) The
relation of the word to L. poetria, Gr. poihtria, poetess, is not clear;
but, from its antiquity, its formative suffix cannot be identified with Fr.
-erie, Eng. -ery, -ry, in such words as chirurgery,
drollery, bigotry, mimicry. Our earliest English examples
are from Chaucer, to whom the Nova Poetria of Galfridus was well known,
as he makes the Nun's Priest refer to it in his Tale (l. 527) and apostrophize
the author as `O Gaufred deere Maister souerayn'.]
I In obsolete senses.
1 A rendering of med.L. poetria in sense of an ars
poetica or treatise on the art of poetry. Obs.
- 1447 Bokenham Seyntys Introd. (Roxb.) 3 - Galfridus
Anglicus in hys newe poetrye.
2 Applied to imaginative or creative literature in general; fable,
poet sb. 1 b.
- C. 1384 Chaucer H. Fame ii. 493 - When thou
redest poetrie How goddes gonne stellifye Briddes fisshe best.
- 1387 Trevisa Higden (Rolls) II. 279 - Of pe bryngynge
forp of mawmetrie com wel nyh al pe feyninge of poetrie [L. De ortu
idolatriæ omnia pene figmenta manarunt; 1432-50 Alle figmentes toke
begynnenge allemoste of ydolatry].
- 1484 Caxton Fables of Aesop ii. Proem, - Fable
is as moche to seye in poeterye as wordes in theologye.
- 1530 Tindale Pract. Prelates Wks. (Parker Soc.) II. 268
- They..feigned Miracles, and gaue themselues only unto poetry, and shut up the
- 1601 Holland Pliny II. 607 - Their profession of
Poëtry, that is to say, of faining and deuising fables, may in some sort
II In existing use.
3 The art or work of the poet: a With special reference to its
form: Composition in verse or metrical language, or in some equivalent patterned
arrangement of language; usually also with choice of elevated words and
figurative uses, and option of a syntactical order, differing more or less from
those of ordinary speech or prose writing. [ In this sense, poetry in its
simplest or lowest form has been identified with versification or verse: cf.
quots. 1658, 1755. ]
- 1386 Chaucer Clerk's Prol. 33 - Fraunceys Petrak..whos
Rethorik sweete Enlumyned al Ytaille of poetrie, As Lynyan dide of Philosophie.
- 1412-20 Lydg. Chron. Troy iii. xxv. (MS. Digby
230), - Til pat he [Chaucer] came and with his poetrye Gan our tunge first to
- C. 1440 Promp. Parv. 406/2 - Poetrye, poetria.
- 1509 Hawes Past. Pleas. (Percy Soc.) 2 - Nothinge I am
experte in poetry, As the monke of Bury, floure of eloquence.
- 1567 Satir. Poems Reform. vi. 9 - Thair plesand flowre of
- 1586 W. Webbe Eng. Poetrie (Arb.) 21 - Poetrie..may
properly be defined, the arte of making: which word as it hath alwaies beene
especially vsed of the best of our English Poets, to expresse ye very faculty of
speaking or wryting Poetically.
- 1658 Phillips, - Poesie, or Poetry, the art of
making a Poem, i. any kind of subject consisting of Rythm or Verses.
- 1727-41 Chambers Cycl. s.v., - The rules of poetry and
versifying are taught by art, and acquired by study... Its matter, long
and short syllables, and feet composed hereof, with words furnished by grammar;
and its form, the arrangement of all these things in just and agreeable
verse, expressing the thoughts and sentiments of the author.
- 1755 Johnson, - Poetry, metrical composition; the art
or practice of writing poems.
- 1838 Thirlwall Greece II. xii. 116 - The first period
of Greek poetry..is entirely filled by the names of Homer and Hesiod.
- 1906 J. W. Mackail (Communicated), - In general, the
essence of poetry as an art is not so much that it is rhythmical (which all
elevated language is), or that it is metrical (which not all poetry is, except
by a considerable extension of the meaning of the word), as that it is
patterned language. This is its specific quality as a `fine art'. The
essence of `pattern' (in its technical use, as applied to the arts) as distinct
from `composition' generally, is that it is composition which has what is
technically called a `repeat'; and it is the `repeat' which technically
differentiates poetry from non-poetry, both being (as arts) `composition'. The
`repeat' may be obvious, as in the case of rhymed lines of equal length, or it
may be more implicit, to any degree of subtlety; but if it does not exist, there
is technically no poetry. The artistic power of the pattern-designer is shown in
the way he deals with the problem of `repeat'; and this is true of poetry
likewise, and is probably the key (so far as one exists) to any technical
definition or discussion of the art.
b The product of this art as a form of literature; the writings of a
poet or poets; poems collectively or generally; metrical work or composition;
verse. (Opp. to prose.)
- 1586 Webbe Eng. Poetrie 28 - The first wryters of
Poetry among the Latines, shoulde seeme to be those, which excelled in the
framing of Commedies.
- 1588 Shaks. Tit. A. iv. i. 14 - Cornelia neuer
with more care Read to her sonnes, then she hath read to thee, Sweet Poetry, and
- 1749 Numbers in Poet. Comp. 75 - Speak here..of the several
Sorts of English Poetry, as divided into Heroic, Pastoral, Elegy, Satire,
Comedy, Tragedy, Epigram and Lyric.
- 1763 J. Brown Poetry & Mus. xiii. 223 - If the Poet
select and adapt proper Music to his Poem; or the Musician select and adapt
proper Poetry to his Music.
- 1798 Wordsw. Lyr. Ballads (ed. 2) Pref. note, -
I here use the word `Poetry' (though against my own judgment) as opposed to the
word Prose, and synonymous with metrical composition. But..the only strict
antithesis to Prose is Metre; nor is this, in truth, a strict antithesis.
- 1807 Edin. Rev. XI. 216 - The end of poetry..is to please-and
the name, we think, is strictly applicable to every metrical composition from
which we receive pleasure, without any laborious exercise of the understanding.
- 1828 Whately Rhet. in Encycl. Metrop. I. 290/1 -
Good Poetry might be defined, `Elegant and decorated language in metre,
expressing such and such thoughts'.
- 1846 Wright Ess. Mid. Ages II. 39 - Poetry was the only
form of literary composition found in the primeval age.
c With special reference to its function: The expression or embodiment
of beautiful or elevated thought, imagination, or feeling, in language adapted
to stir the imagination and emotions, both immediately and also through the
harmonic suggestions latent in or implied by the words and connexions of words
actually used, such language containing a rhythmical element and having usually
a metrical form (as in sense 3 a); though the term is sometimes extended to
include expression in non-metrical language having similar harmonic and
emotional qualities (prose-poetry).
- 1581 Sidney Apol. Poetrie (Arb.) 28 - Verse being but
an ornament and no cause to Poetry: sith there haue beene many most excellent
Poets, that neuer versified.
- 1588 Shaks. L.L.L. iv. ii. 165, - I will proue
those Verses to be very vnlearned, neither sauouring of Poetrie, Wit, nor
- 1689-90 Temple Ess. Poetry Wks. 1731 I. 235 - Nor is it
any great Wonder that such Force should be found in Poetry, since in it are
assembled all the Powers of Eloquence, of Musick, and of Picture, which are all
allowed to make so strong Impressions upon humane Minds.
- 1779-81 Johnson L.P., Waller Wks. II. 267 - The essence
of poetry is invention; such invention as, by producing something unexpected,
surprises and delights... Poetry pleases by exhibiting an idea more grateful to
the mind than things themselves afford.
- 1798 Wordsw. Lyr. Ballads (ed. 2) Pref., - Poetry is
the breath and finer spirit of all knowledge; it is the impassioned expression
which is in the countenance of all Science.
- 1853 Robertson Serm. Ser. ii. xx, - All Christ's
teaching is a Divine Poetry, luxuriant in metaphor, overflowing with truth too
large for accurate sentences, truth which only a heart alive can appreciate.
- A. 1854 H. Reed Lect. Brit. Poets vi. (1857) 220 - A
strain of prose which is poetry in all but poetry's metrical music.
- 1885 Watts-Dunton in Encycl. Brit. XIX. 257/2 -
Absolute poetry is the concrete and artistic expression of the human mind in
emotional and rhythmical language.
- 1906 W. B. Yeats Poems Pref., - Poetry..is in the last
analysis an endeavour to condense as out of the flying vapours of the world an
image of human perfection, and for its own and not for the art's sake.
d Extended (with reference to the etymology) to creative or
imaginative art in general. rare.
- 1815 D. Stewart in Encycl. Brit., Suppl. I. 5
note, - The latitude given by D'Alembert to the meaning of the word
Poetry is a real and very important improvement on Bacon, who restricts
it to fictitious History or Fables... D'Alembert, on the other hand, employs it
in its natural signification, as synonymous with invention or
- 1856 Ruskin Mod. Paint. III. iv. i. Sect.15 -
Painting is properly to be opposed to speaking or writing, but not to poetry.
Both painting and speaking are methods of expression. Poetry is the employment
of either for the noblest purposes.
4 pl. Pieces of poetry; poems collectively. rare.
- C. 1384 Chaucer H. Fame iii. 388 - Oon seyde
Omere was [v.r. made] lyes Feynynge in hys Poetries.
- 1587 Golding De Mornay xxiv. (1592) 372 - What shall we
say then to the Poetries [of our Scriptures], specially of Dauid, considering
that he was afore all the Poetries of the Heathen?
- 1656 Earl Monm. tr. Boccalini's Advts. fr. Parnass. 284
- Desired that she might see both their Poetries; which after she had perused
several times, and duly considered them, she..chose Mauro's Fava.
- 1818 Scott Rob Roy xxiii, - And this young birkie
here,..will his stage plays and his poetries help him here, d'ye think..?-Will
Tityre tu patulæ, as they ca' it, tell him where Rashleigh
- 1886 M. F. Tupper My Life as Author 222 - If some few
have appeared among other poetries in print, they shall not be repeated
5 fig. Something resembling or compared to poetry; poetical
quality, spirit, or feeling. Phr. poetry of the foot or of motion:
- 1664 Dryden Rival Ladies iii. 32 - The Poetry of
the foot takes most of late.
- 1813 Lady Morgan Wild Irish Girl (ed. 5) II. xix. 156,
- `I seldom dance,' said I-`Ill health has for some time coincided with my
inclination, which seldom led me to try my skill at the Poetry of
- 1816 Keats Sonn. Grasshopper & Cricket, - The
poetry of earth is never dead:..a voice will run..about the new-mown mead; That
is the Grasshopper's.
- 1817 Coleridge Biog. Lit. II. xiv. 1 - The sudden
charm, which accidents of light and shade, which moon-light or sun-set diffused
over a known and familiar landscape..these are the poetry of nature.
- 1818 Byron Childe Harold iv. lviii. 32 - That
music in itself, whose sounds are song, The poetry of speech.
- 1846 Mackay Poems, Railways 1 - `No poetry in
railways!' foolish thought Of a dull brain, to no fine music wrought.
- C. 1863 T. Taylor Ticket-of-leave Man in M. R. Booth
Eng. Plays of 19th Cent. (1969) II. 101 - Come along, Emily, if you're at
liberty to give your Montague a lesson in the poetry of motion.
- 1874 Blackie Self-Cult. 70 - To live poetry, indeed, is
always better than to write it.
- 1874 Hardy Far from Madding Crowd I. ii. 13 - The
poetry of motion is a phrase much in use.
- 1946 D. C. Peattie Road of Naturalist iv. 42 - There is
left only the poetry of speed and wind.
- 1959 E. H. Clements High Tension i. 10 - He had never
been back there. He had not..seen poetry in the small exploit.
- 1975 Times 6 Mar. 13/5 - There is a moment of poetry in a
sequence where the dancers simply walk about carrying umbrellas.
- 1975 Listener 4 Dec. 747/2 - Raffles..compares the poetry of
cricket with the poetry of burglary.
- 1977 Zigzag Apr. 30/3 - This song captures what Television are
all about: a kind of poetry in motion with a scorching musical
6 (With capital initial.) The name given to the sixth, or (reckoning
the Preparatory as one, the seventh) class from the bottom or third from
the top, in English Roman Catholic schools, seminaries, or colleges, on the
continent, and subsequently in England. The class so called comes between
Syntax and Rhetoric.
- 1629 [see
grammar sb. 5 c].
- 1679 Trials of White & other Jesuits 56 - Fall. I
saw him when I was in my Syntax, and now I am in Poetry.
- 1773 [see
grammar sb. 5 c].
- 1838 C. Waterton Essays on Nat. Hist. p. xxiv, - One
day, when I was in the class of poetry..about two years before I left the
college.., he called me up to his room.
- 1887 Stonyhurst Mag. Nov. 34/1 - Poetry..were granted a most
unexpected but none the less welcome holiday on Thursday October 20th.
- 1906 [`Still in use at Stonyhurst, etc.; also at St. Edmund's or
Douay College, now located at Woolhampton in Berks.' (Rev. Sir D. O. Hunter
- 1946 D. Gwynn Bishop Challoner iii. 39 - By the summer
of 1708 he had passed through the two higher classes of Poetry and
7 attrib. and Comb., as poetry
professorship, reader, school,
work-shop; poetry-loving adj.;
poetry-book, a book containing a collection of poems, esp. one
used in schools; poetry reading, the reading of poetry, esp. to an
audience; a poetry recital; poetry recital, a public performance
of poetry; poetry-voice, a pompous or mannered style of writing
poetry or reading it aloud.
- 1847 Thackeray Van. Fair (1848) xii. 103 - She wrote
whole pages out of *poetry-books without the least pity.
- 1877 A. B. Edwards (title) - A poetry-book of elder
- 1881 R. L. Stevenson Virginibus Puerisque 176 - Whether
we regard life as a lane leading to a dead wall..or pule in little atheistic
poetry-books about its vanity and brevity [etc.].
- 1903 A. McNeill Egregious English 102 - The
demand for poetry-books by new writers has practically ceased to exist.
- 1935 E. Farjeon Nursery in Nineties v. 271 - The poem
was `good enough' for the Poetry-Book.
- 1980 G. Nelson Charity's Child vi. 86 - The poetry
- 1798 Wolcott (P. Pindar) Tales of Hoy Wks. 1812 IV. 410
- He scrawls the chairs and tables over, and walls whenever the *poetry-fit is
- 1885 Illustr. Lond. News 7 Nov. 468/3 - The book is one on
which every *poetry lover should form his own opinion.
- 1941 Blunden T. Hardy ii. 34 - The change was natural
to the period and the *poetry-loving author.
- 1979 E. Koch Good Night Little Spy iv. 24 - A
poetry-loving, moon faced charmer.
- 1887 Dowden Transcripts (1896) 516 - The ignominious
years of dreaming, *poetry-making, and the receiving of wretched praise.
- 1793 W. B. Stevens Jrnl. 11 Mar. (1965) i. 72 -
Received a College letter, requesting me to support the pretensions of Mr.
Hurdies to the *Poetry Professorship which will be vacant in Michaelmas Term
- 1940 R. S. Lambert Ariel & all his Quality v. 127 -
Few *poetry-readers win its [sc. the audience's] general approbation.
- 1975 G. Black Big Wind for Summer ii. 32 - The
voice of the British Broadcasting Corporation's top poetry reader.
- 1917 A. Huxley Let. 11 Dec. (1969) 140 - After that to
Eliot, whom I found as haggard..as usual; we held a council of war about a
*poetry reading, in which both of us are supposed to be performing.
- 1945 G. Orwell in New Saxon Pamphlets iii.
35 - That grisly thing, a `poetry reading'.
- 1975 O. Sela Bengali Inheritance xvi. 139 -
She..organised poetry readings and prescribed reading books.
- 1966 J. Betjeman High & Low 73 - A *poetry recital
we are giving to the troops.
- 1978 J. Symons Blackheath Poisonings i. 34 - The
Rink Hall in the village, where the poetry recital was to take place.
- 1976 *Poetry school [see poetry workshop below].
- 1846 Thackeray L. Blanchard Wks. 1900 XIII. 477 - The
young fellow..*poetry-stricken, writing dramatic sketches.
- 1971 Guardian 28 Dec. 13/5, - I hate the *poetry-voice; the
poetry should speak for itself.
- 1972 Country Life 1 June 1418/3 - Stevie Smith..was not one
for the Poetry Voice. She mixes nonsense and its opposite.
- 1976 Times 1 Mar. 3/1 - Mr Lovibond and his
supporters..operate a *poetry school and workshop.
- 1977 Time Out 28 Jan.-3 Feb. 40/5 - Audio-visual poetry
workshop last Fri of month.
Hence 'poetryless a., devoid of poetry.
- 1854 H. Strickland Trav. Th. 28 - A soulless,
poetryless, utilitarian, money-making Englishman is bad enough.