Like the Child and the Artist, the Poet is guided by a need to discover beauty and then share it. There is something absolutely raw in the way they feel things and express themselves. That’s why it isn’t surprising that Arthur Rimbaud was only a teenager when he published his most important work. His poems are soulful and unchecked ramblings, and they do what all great poets are able to do—reduce life to its essence, to give us a distillation of what it means to exist.
“A language must be found,” he wrote, “of the soul, for the soul and will include everything: perfumes, sounds, colors, thought grappling with thought!” If you traffic in metaphor, not direct language or journalistic reporting, then you have a Poet’s soul. Finding a higher truth, which John Keats wrote is beauty in its purest form, drives all poets. Robert Frost defined the truth in an accessible way when he wrote about neighbors mending walls.
Whether in an epic, love sonnet or in the simplest haiku, poets capture the spiritual and mysterious. Jane Kenyon put it this way: “The poet’s job is to put into words those feelings we all have that are so deep, so important, and yet so difficult to name, to tell the truth in such a beautiful way, that people cannot live without it.” The former U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins has managed this difficult feat—making poetry essential—as one of the most humorous and popular poets of our time.
Emily Dickinson, Pablo Neruda, Sylvia Plath, Langston Hughes, Maya Angelou
A zen-like ability to appreciate and help others to see the humor and loveliness of simple things
An inability to compromise ideals and a tendency to use intoxicants for inspiration, often drugs or alcohol, or both. Also poets can be so introverted and hermetic that they become misanthropic.
Reading, extended periods of solitude, including long walks, and isolation in nature
- Illuminations by Arthur Rimbaud
- Lunch Poems by Frank O’Hara
- Picnic, Lightning by Billy Collins
- The Norton Anthology of Poetry edited by Margaret Ferguson, Mary Jo Salter, and Jon Stallworthy
- The Voice That is Great Within Us: American Poetry of the Twentieth Century by Hayden Carruth
“Poets utter great and wise things which they do not themselves understand.” -Plato