The Puzzlement of Poetry

Books and poetry on a table with coffee

Books and poetry on a table with coffee


‘Poetry is when an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found words.’

Robert Frost


It is a constant source of puzzlement that poetry is often written in such a way as to make it incomprehensible and unintelligible to the reader.  This begs the question of whether it is intentional on the part of the author and if so, why?  Why write poetry that no one except the author can truly understand?  Is the art of writing poetry for the exclusive benefit of the author, or is it intended to evoke pathos in the reader?


Poetry provides a form of expression of emotions which when dressed in words serves as an outpouring of powerful feelings, which is a welcome release for the author.  In this sense, poetry is cathartic, acting as a soothing tonic on raw emotion which diffuses and escapes with the stroke of a pen.  Poetry cleanses the mind and soul.  It is as if putting thoughts and emotions into words and committing them to paper unburdens the author and sets them free.


Poetry validates the author’s feelings and life experiences.  There is comfort in sharing ones emotions, in the same way as sharing a problem with another eases the burden and lightens the load.  An idea or thought is given credence and joy and sorrow are scattered like confetti, touching every soul.  Why then are so many poems unintelligible, leaving the reader in some doubt as to the meaning of the words or the message they convey?  Perhaps one explanation is the author’s desire to hold back a little and keep a tiny precious piece of personal knowledge to himself.  In this way, poetry allows the author to bare his soul but not appear naked and exposed.


Arguably, unintelligible poetry adds mystery and curiosity so that the reader is free to interpret the poem subjectively and make of the poem what he will.  Visually, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  Emotionally, poetry is best understood through the readers’ empathy and pathos, which is the glue that binds humankind.  A quiet knowing and stoic acceptance comes from shared experiences.  The comfort and reassurance that comes with knowing that others’ lives have been touched by words that reach into the heart and leave their imprint like ink on paper.


Poetry, like prayer, is a medium of communication which channels empathy in a silent conversation between the author and reader and nourishes the soul.  Like invisible string, poetry bonds the human spirit and like no other form of literature, it leaves a lasting impression on the reader, through its artistic expression of pathos.


Niki Philippou


Author of ‘Let Fate Decide


Valesta 36Α, 2370 Agios Dometios,
Nicosia, Cyprus
Phone: +357 22 35 80 28


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