How Did Poetry Start

When it comes to the origins of poetry, there is a great amount of debate on when and where it started. Some experts believe that it started in pre-historic times with oral tradition and stories passed down through generations. Others believe that it began with the emergence of written language. Whatever its origins, poetry has flourished throughout the ages, embracing many different styles and forms, and captivating readers worldwide with its power and lyricism. In this article, we’ll explore how poetry began, where it developed, and what some of its key forms have been throughout its long and varied history.

The earliest signs of poetry can be traced back to approximately 3000 BC in Mesopotamia, an area encompassing present-day Iraq and regions of Syria, Iran, and Turkey. Inscribed tablets of baked clay, called ‘cuneiform’, have been discovered that recorded epic stories and hymns that historians believe to be the earliest recorded works of poetry. Cuneiform hymns were aimed at praising gods and goddesses, depicting their power, importance and beauty. Such idols were honored and praised with elaborate speeches and songs. This ancient form of poetry most likely gave rise to later forms of ritual-based poems and religious verses.

The Ancient Greeks were also renowned for their passion and appreciation for poetry. In his legendary ‘The Poetics’, Aristotle declared poetry to be the highest form of art, ‘the fairest and most lofty of all ways of expression’. Works of the period were inscribed onto marble monuments and included epic myths such as those written by Homer, the Odyssey and the Iliad. In the poet’s own words, ‘toil is the source of all good poetry’. He paved the way for others such as Sappho and Pindar, who also embraced this art form with grace and innovation. Their creations showcased a range of themes such as love, passion, courage, and honour.

The next major changed occurred in Medieval Europe when, in an effort to spread Christian teachings, poets began composing works about religion and faith. Writers such as Geoffrey Chaucer and Dante Alighieri wrote works such as ‘The Canterbury Tales’ and ‘Divine Comedy’, and it was during this era that the sonnet was born. Sonnets and ballads were used during this time to capture the imaginations of initiates, establishing a new way of conveying faith and religious history. Later still, in the Renaissance, when print presses became more accessible, poetry flourished with a bright new light.

It is during this period that key forms of poetry began to emerge and flourish, including odes, romances, satires, and elegies. The Romantic era also rose during this time, where works, such as those by William Wordsworth, were inspired by nature and questioned the traditional social and religious order. Later, transcendentalists sought to explore individualism and mysticism in their works and question the governments in power. Today, poetry continues to be a deeply personal form of expression and companies such as The Poetry Society are actively dedicating their efforts to advancing and expanding the literature for modern readers.

Historical Context

To uncover how poetry first began, it is important to consider the historical context in which it was written. Ancient Egypt was the birthplace of some of what are considered to be the oldest works of poetry in the world, with fragments of hieroglyphic works written on tombs and temple walls. It was during this period that the influence of the Egyptian culture on literature became more pronounced, with various religious and mythological stories being written in the form of poetry.

In the Greek and Roman Empires, epic poetry was an integral part of the culture and was used to record the great heroes and their conflicts. Later, in Medieval Europe, much of the literature that was being produced was religious in content, with writers such as Beowulf and John Lydgate composing works that were deeply infused with Christian teachings. During the Renaissance and Enlightenment eras, poetry evolved to become more personal and reflective in nature, with writers increasingly exploring what it meant to be human.

Types of Poetry

Poetry can be divided into two broad categories: narrative and lyric. Narrative poetry tells stories, usually about love and loss, gods and goddesses, or other mythical beasts and deities. Lyric poetry, on the other hand, is more focused on being poetic or musical in its language and typically uses rhyme and metre to create a flow and resonance in the reader’s mind. It often expresses deep emotions, observations, and personal experiences.

Within the overarching genres of narrative and lyric poetry, there are further sub-genres, such as sonnets, haiku, odes, elegies, and epics. Each of these forms has its own unique structure and features, such as particular rhyme and metre schemes, that affect the tone and overall effect of the work.

Poetic Devices

Poetic devices can be used to enhance the meaning and expressiveness of a poem. Common poetic devices include metaphors, similes, imagery, symbol, diction, and repetition. Metaphors are comparisons between two unlike things; similes are comparisons between two unlike things using the words “like” or “as”; imagery is the use of words to create vivid pictures; symbols represent an idea, emotion, or thing; diction is the choice of words; and repetition means using the same words or phrases multiple times. All of these literary techniques can be used to create a mood or build tension, evoke emotion, and to make the poem more memorable.

Modern Poetry

Today, poetry is still a vital and powerful art form that continues to give voice to a multitude of perspectives and stories. From social and political themes to more nuanced and abstract takes on traditional ideas, modern poetry continues to thrust open the realm of possibility when it comes to communicating in a creative and meaningful way. For example, the spoken word movement, which has grown significantly over the past decade, has given rise to revolutionary forms of poetry such as rap and spoken word, as well as various forms of performance poetry.

New media such as the internet and mobile phones have also enabled the dissemination and consumption of poetry, allowing for a variety of platforms for poets to share their work, including blogs, websites, and social media. Writers all around the world now have the opportunity to connect with one another and with their audiences in ways that were unimaginable when poetry first began.

Reception and Influence

Throughout its long and varied history, poetry has been embraced by cultures in a multitude of ways, and its influence in literature, music, and art has reached many people worldwide. From Ancient Greece to the present day, poets have sought to capture the beauty and mystery of this art form and to use it to evoke emotion and inspire thought. Poetry has been used to express emotions on a personal level, to explore social or political issues, or to tell stories with a timeless relevance and power. As a result, its impact on the world of literature has been profound, and its reach continues to extend to people from all walks of life.

Contemporary Trends

In recent times, poetry has seen a resurgence in popularity due to its growing presence in digital media. From Instagram to Snapchat and Twitter, more and more poets are sharing their work with a wider audience, and innovative venues such as live readings and slams have enabled poets to greater engage an audience with their work. Additionally, the proliferation of social media has seen the emergence of new forms of poetry, including hashtags, spoken word and rap. These new forms have allowed people to explore the various possibilities of monologue and the ways that traditional ideas can be expressed in new and exciting ways.

The rise of new media has also led to the growth of short-form poetry–written works that comprise no more than a few lines, such as haikus–which offer poets an accessible and efficient way to communicate their ideas. Similarly, the increasing accessibility of literary magazines and journals has opened up new opportunities for writers to publish their work and for readers to discover new voices in the literary world.


The emergence of poetry is a momentous event in human history, and its continued presence in our lives today demonstrates how it continues to shape and inspire us. From its origins in pre-historic times to its multiple forms and modern trends, poetry proves itself to be a powerful and versatile art form. At its core, it seeks to evoke emotion, provoke thought and spread awareness of the beauty and mystery of life, no matter what its form may be. Although there is much debate over when and where it began, poetry will continue to benefit and captivate readers of all ages for years to come.

Minnie Walters is a passionate writer and lover of poetry. She has a deep knowledge and appreciation for the work of famous poets such as William Wordsworth, Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost, and many more. She hopes you will also fall in love with poetry!

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