What is poetry and how does it differ from other forms of literature such as the drama, biography, fiction etc. no doubt you would seek a definition of poetry. Would you search for some definition of poetry you would find many, in fact as many as to land you in a maze.
Poetry has been defined differently by different poets and critics. No definition can be considered as absolute and final. While some focus on what is said, some give prominence to how it is said. While some consider emotion as important, some prefer thought to emotion. The average reader of poetry finds himself lost in a welter of such mutually contradictory views about poetry as are given by poets and critics from time to time.
When one thinks of poetry, the first aspect that comes to one’s mind is that poetry is metrical composition. Poetry is composition in verse. However, this alone does not make poetry. Just have a look at the nursery rhymes in the Readers for primers.
Buckle my shoe,
Shut the door.
Rain, rain, go away.
Come again another day.
Little Johny wants to play.
Well, all such rhymes are metrical composition in verse. But can you call them poems? No. No doubt, there are certain other aspects for a metrical composition in verse to be recognized as poetry.
In ancient times, rhyme was considered to be the most essential aspect of poetry. Poetry was distinguished from prose writing on the basis that rhyme was used in the former whereas no rhyme was used in the latter.
Later, rhyme or a definite, systematic metrical arrangement of sound (syllables) came to be looked upon as the distinctive aspect of poetry.
The advent of the blank verse dismissed the first view. Nowadays we come across poems, which are like fragmentary lines of prose. This being so every attempt at confining poetry to a watertight compartment in the form of a definition would end in futility.
However, there are certain elements like form, theme and style or diction etc. which one searches for and finds in every piece of poetry. We can have a brief discussion of these elements that set poetry a distinctive literary form.