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12th Century and Before

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Explore the Craft of Writing Poetry

Prior to the 13th century, I think the various poetic schools or movements are probably better simply described by culture and time. Alphabet, symbols, written characters and language itself was still developing. The Chinese, the Greeks, the Jews, the Romans, the Celts, the Norsemen, the Welsh etc all left their mark. But unlike later poetic movements, it was a beginning not an expansion or revolution. It wasn't a group of poets that got together and shared philosophy or style. It happened over time in specific regions with the poets each finding their own way influenced by their specific language and culture.

  • Classical Greek - The Greeks are the first to study features of how language can be shaped to the special purpose of poetry. They are responsible for recognizing, naming and describing every possible metric foot. They identified and named the various sounds and rhythms in meter such as the iamb and trochee.

    Song of Furies by Aeschylus

    UP and lead the dance of Fate!

    Lift the song that mortals hate!

    Tell what rights are ours on earth,

    Over all of human birth.

    Swift of foot to avenge are we!

    He whose hands are clean and pure,

    Naught our wrath to dread hath he;

    Calm his cloudless days endure.

    But the man that seeks to hide

    Like him, his gore-bedewèd hands,

    Witnesses to them that died,

    The blood avengers at his side,

    The Furies' troop forever stands.


    O'er our victim come begin!

    Come, the incantation sing,

    Frantic all and maddening,

    To the heart a brand of fire,

    The Furies' hymn,

    That which claims the senses dim,

    Tuneless to the gentle lyre,

    Withering the soul within.


    The pride of all of human birth,

    All glorious in the eye of day,

    Dishonored slowly melts away,

    Trod down and trampled to the earth,

    Whene'er our dark-stoled troop advances,

    Whene'er our feet lead on the dismal dances.


    For light our footsteps are,

    And perfect is our might,

    Awful remembrances of guilt and crime,

    Implacable to mortal prayer,

    Far from the gods, unhonored, and heaven's light,

    We hold our voiceless dwellings dread,

    All unapproached by living or by dead.


    What mortal feels not awe,

    Nor trembles at our name,

    Hearing our fate-appointed power sublime,

    Fixed by the eternal law.

    For old our office, and our fame,

    Might never yet of its due honors fail,

    Though 'neath the earth our realm in unsunned regions pale.

    English translation by Henry Milman

  • Cyclic Poets is a name given to the early Greek epic poets, most of whom composed oral works including Homer. The epic poems that survived were recorded later. The name cyclical makes reference to the subject matter of their work which included the complete cycle of various wars.
  • The Edda Measures, the Nordic lanugage of poetry.

    from The Sibyl's Prophesy by Snorri Sturluson 12th century Iceland


    Brothers will fight,

    bringing death to each other.

    Sons of sisters

    will split their kin bonds.

    Hard times for men,

    rampant depravity,

    age of axes, age of swords,

    shiled split,

    wind age, wolf age,

    until the world falls into ruin.

  • Tang Poets would simply be any poet that wrote poetry during the Tang Dynasty, 6th and 7th century China. It included the great Li Po and thousands of other Chinese poets. It encompassed the many forms of the Gushi and especially Lu Shi. To study the Tang poets, is to study that vast work of China's ancient culture.



    The old poetry or Gushi of the Tang dynasty was pretty much centered on the number of characters in the line, either 5 characters or 7 characters while the Lu Shi included specific numbers of lines as well as other poetic techniques. All of the Ancient Chinese poetic genres and forms are fascinating to explore and you are invited to explore them all in the forum for Chinese Poetic Devices, Genres, Stanzaic and Verse Forms.

    Sending Old Poems to Yuan Zhen by Xue Tao,

    considered one of the finest female poets of the Tang Dynasty


    Everyone writes poems in their own manner

    but only I know delicacy of wind and light.

    When writing of flowers in moonlight, I lean toward the dark.

    Of a willow in rainy dawn I write how twigs hang down.

    They say green jade should stay hidden deep,

    but I write candidly on red-lined paper.

    I'm old now but can't stop writing,

    so I open myself to you as if I were a good man.

    Drifting on the Lake by Wang Wei


    Autumn is crisp and the firmament fat,

    especially far from where people live.

    I look at cranes on the sand

    and am immersed in joy when I see mountains beyond the clouds.

    Dusk inks the crystal ripples.

    Leisurely the white moon comes out.

    Tonight I am with my oar, and can do everthing,

    yet waver, not willing to return.

    Both poems found translated in The Anchor Book of Chinese Poetry by Tony Barnstone and Chou Ping
  • The 24 Official Welsh Meters dating back to 100 BC and collected and finally recorded in 12th century BC, this rigorous and complicated code helped form a culture.

    Boast by Gwalchmai translated by Carl Lofmark


    I love May's nightingale, killer of morning sleep,

    And the lingering glance of a bright-faced girl.

    I love fine, well-bred horses, fast as the stag,

    Bright sorrow and the pain of love.

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