How Not to Hate Poetry and Kind of Enjoy It

Poetry can seem odd to most of us. It can be difficult to understand and very hard to grasp. So much so that someone wrote a book titled The Hatred of Poetry. NPR recently wrote on the problem many of us have: a lot of grand promises are made regarding what poetry can and will do, but why is it so many people fail to be changed by it or even see it as beautiful? Why should anyone be interested in poetry?

One major reason is that Scripture comes to us in many different genres including poetry. Narrative, songs, prophecies, and the like all have a poetic touch to them. Reading poetry will aid us in reading the Bible, but there's more: it will also help us to become more human.

By understanding more of what poetry is and how it shapes us, I hope that we will actually come to enjoy this genre. Maybe, just maybe, we might not hate poetry after all.

1. Poetry affects the heart and imagination, as well as the mind.

Poetry is not primarily self-expression; it actually does something to us. Through the metaphors and images a poem relays, the depictions change us on our gut level. Poetry alters our vision of goodness, beauty, and truth in describing how things could be or should be. Poetry uniquely affects the heart and casts many of the familiar things around us in a new light by bringing them together with associations we otherwise might not have made.

2. Poetry changes our vision of the world and of living.

Through altering our hearts and imaginations, poetry opens the door to imagining the world differently. Poetry allows us to perceive the riches of the world that daily surround us. Instead of reading for mere information or facts, poetry forces us to withhold our judgment upon things and teaches us to receive things as a gift.

3. Poetry allows us to read other things more readily.

Poetry affects how we understand metaphors, expressions, verse, and song. It opens the door to genres and literature that we may have never wanted to read before. Reading poetry, while difficult, brings a focus of mind and heart that alters our experience of reading itself. Scripture itself is filled with poetry and poetic images that are often difficult to understand. Becoming familiar with the “rules” of poetry helps us to become better readers overall.

4. Poetry gives the heart new ways of expressing itself.

Poetry opens avenues and doors for self-expression where frustration and an inability to communicate previously existed. It develops patience in thought as well as in speech. Poetry allows the tongue to measure itself and communicate feelings in a beautiful and true manner. Whether we are communicating frustration or joy, poetry has the capacity to make known to others what one thinks and feels.

5. Poetry allows us to empathize with others and experience what others experience.

Poetry brings a new level of empathy to our hearts, allowing us to experience the pains, sorrows, and joys of others through their words. Reading poetry thus trains the heart in mercy and compassion through imagining ourselves in other people’s shoes.

6. Poetry makes us alert to not only the things said but to what others mean by them and how they mean it.

Poetry teaches us about how words function. The overall purpose of the words, as well as what they are meant to do to the reader, is seen much more vividly in poetry. In learning to read what words mean in their context, as well as how they are being said, we train ourselves to listen to others in similar fashion and communicate more clearly.

7. Poetry brings us into a universal conversation about the most important things of life.

Poetry is a universal form of expression and conversation. Joining this host of writers and speakers, even from a distance, brings to the front of our minds the most important aspects of life, filling us with wonder. This very thing—the wonder that surrounds us and fills us with joy—causes us to slow down, take a breath, and consider our existence in this world. In this way, poetry teaches us more and more about what it means to be human.

Photo of Timothy W. Massaro

Timothy W. Massaro

Timothy Massaro has written for Core Christianity, Modern Reformation, and other publications. He oversees the Christian Education ministry at Resurrection PCA in San Diego and serves as a hospice chaplain. He has an affinity for all things J.R.R. Tolkien (except the movies) and has interests in the intersections of philosophy and theology. His biggest prayer is that the gospel in all its beauty might re-kindle a wonder and joy of God’s goodness in our hearts and that our lives might adorn the gospel. Connect with Timothy on Twitter @word_water_wine.‚Äč

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