Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Epic Poetry in the 21st Century

We all are fan of epic poetry. There are many poems in different countries and some of the poems are considered to be a part of national heritage and treasure. Think of Iliad and Odyssey. They were written originally in Greece but in our time, they are considered to be a part of the heritage of European civilization. Well, you have to agree with me on one mandate that most of the epic poems were written many years ago or I should say many centuries ago. I cannot think of any notable epic of the twentieth century in any language.

What about the twentieth century? I wonder whether we can find any national epic in this century. What is your idea about it? 

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Lyric: Major Features of Lyric Poetry

Lyric is non-narrative, short poem that reveals the speaker’s personal feeling, emotion, mode, state of mind, expression, thought, attitude, perception etc. in a first person narrative. Lyric poetry does not tell any story, unlike Epic and Ballad; rather it is very personal and solely focused on the speaker’s personal feeling and ideas. Lyric poetry does not address wider public. The speaker in a Lyric poem always uses first person. For example, I, My love etc. So, in Lyric poetry, the speaker directly addresses the readers, invoking his own personal feeling and expressions.

The word ‘Lyric’ comes from the Greek word ‘Lyre’, a stringed musical instrument. Initially, Lyric poem was meant to be sung and poets were used to singing Lyric in a Lyre. Originally, Lyric poet tends to be musical and suits to music very well and musicality is one of the characteristics of Lyric. However, over the time, the meaning of Lyric has been changed and it does no longer mean music. Rather, Lyric poetry is now largely meant for reading.

Sappho is an ancient Greek lyric poet of 6th century B.C. However, only a few of his literary works have so far been retrieved, while much of her other works were destroyed over the years. Still, Sappho is considered to be one of the great Greek poets in world literature. Sappho’s poems are very intimate in meaning. Lyric poetry is generally very intimate in nature. Initially, love was the most popular theme of Lyric poetry. However, other intimate personal feelings gradually came into existence as the theme of Lyric poetry.

Explanation of the speaker’s intense emotion, thought and feeling is the main purpose of Lyric poetry. That is why, some critics say that ‘you do not hear Lyric poem; rather, you overhear Lyric poem’. Among the different kinds of Lyric poetry, 14-line Sonnet is most popular. Some other forms of Lyric poetry are Ode, Elegy etc. For the last 500 years, Lyric has been the most popular form of poetry in the world.

Ballad: Major Features of Ballad Poetry

Ballad is a short narrative poem that tells the tale of a local battle or war or event and local heroic through rustic or unsophisticated or dialectal form of language. Ballad was originally created, performed and preserved orally through generations. In fact, Ballad is originally meant to be sung and the story of a local heroic in a local battle, that a Ballad portrays, is revealed through the song.

Ballad poetry does not tell a grand story of national significance or great heroic deeds, unlike Epic poetry. Rather, Ballad portrays the local heroics of local battles or events or local incidents which have less national importance compared to the Epic heroics. Generally, a Ballad consists of 40-50 lines, but sometimes, it can be as short as 12 lines. Ballad poetry does not have long narration of the events as the length of Ballad is very short compared to Epic. So, in a Ballad, actions happen rapidly and events unfold in flashes. That means, Ballad is fast-paced in terms of its narration.

Initially, Ballads were composed in local dialect or folk form by the illiterate poets, but over time, many great, educated poets also wrote Ballad. Ballad reflects history, fairy tales and myths that are some of the common subject matter of Ballad. This form of poetry is very close to folk tales. As Ballad was originally composed orally, in most of the cases, Ballads are anonymous. Ancient Ballads were preserved or passes through generations, but the name of the creator of a Ballad was lost over time. So, it is assumed that many Ballads were also lost in this process as the Ballads were not written initially.

In Ballad, line or lines are repeated very often in the course of the poem and these repeating line or lines are called ‘Refrain’. Refrain mainly acts as an aid to the memory of the readers. Refrains are given in all stanzas. For example, in The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, “Water, water, everywhere” is used as a refrain. Ballad is very old traditional form of poetry which remains popular till today. During Romantic age, many famous poets imitated the form of folk Ballad.

What is Epic? What are the Major Features of an Epic?

Epic is one of the oldest and widely popular poetic genres in the world. Epic is a traditional form of narrative poetry that portrays heroic deeds of great heroes in a war or adventure and the intervention of Gods and Goddesses on human life. This is a very long poem that uses elevated or majestic language- meaning formal language. Culture and history of a nation or race is often reflected in an epic. For example, Greek poet Homer’s great epics – Iliad and Odyssey- are vastly based on Greek mythology and thus it reflects the Greek culture. The same thing goes to Indian epics Ramayana and Mahabharata through which Indian culture is revealed. Iliad is based on the Trojan War or battle of Troy and thus it reflects history too. Moreover, Epic can also illustrate the founding of a nation. For instance, in Latin Epic Aeneid by Virgil, it is shown how legendary character Aeneas, an inhabitant of Tory, founded Italy and became the ancestor of the Romans.

Almost every language in the world has its own epic like Iliad and Odyssey in Greek, Ramayana, and Mahabharata in Sanskrit, Beowulf in English etc. Great heroic, war, Gods and Goddesses are some of the common features of epic poetry in any language. Heroes, who are centered in the story of an Epic, are often portrayed as the sons of Gods and Goddesses. In an Epic, a hero is often involved in a war or adventure or journey and encountered with various obstacles, sometimes even created by the Gods and Goddesses. The hero overcomes all the obstacles, sometimes with the help of Gods and Goddesses, in order to win the war or finish the journey or reach the goal, by showing his heroic and portraying some morals that are highly valued in that particular society. The journey, war or adventure often leaves a mark in their later life.

In Western Epic, description of wars, ancestry of the heroes, journey to the other world, Gods and Goddesses are given at the beginning. Gods and Goddesses very often invoke inspiration by their deeds. Similes and metaphors are also used in Epic. Another important feature of Epic is found in Homer’s writings: Iliad and Odyssey- where you can see that people are involved in a war or adventure or journey, but Gods and Goddess play the role of a determiner as they pre-determine the human destiny. For example, in Odyssey, the central character, Greek hero Odysseus, requires 10 years on his way home to Ithaca because the Poseidon, the God of sea, creates lots of obstacles for Odysseus on his way back home. However, he gets over all the obstacles with the help of his protector, the Goddess Athena. There are some other characteristics of Epic.

An Epic starts in media res- meaning the narrative of an epic begins in the middle of the story, not from its beginning. Past events, characters and setting of Epic are often presented through a series of flashbacks. The setting of an Epic is generally very vast involving many nations or races, the world or the universe. Use of epithet is seen in Epic as you can see in Homer’s Epics. Epithet is a word or group of words or phrase which is used to personify a character or a thing in an Epic. In place of the name of a character or thing, an epithet is used, invoking layers of meaning. For example, in Homer’s Iliad, Achaeans, the inhabitants of Achaea, are referred to as “flowing-haired” or “bronzed-armored”. These are the epithets which are used repeatedly in the course of an Epic. Heroes often reflect the values of a particular civilization that the hero belongs to in an Epic.

The oldest Epic in the world is “Epic of Gilgamesh” which is set in Arab Peninsula of Ancient Mesopotamia. The name of the writer of this poem is unknown. Epic of Gilgamesh is the tale of mythological king Gilgamesh, king of Uruk, and his journey to the City of Dilmun, looking to know the secret of the eternal youth so that he could bring back his dead friend, Enkidu, on the earth. Here, I am giving a list of names of popular and widely-known Epics of world literature:

1. Epic of Gilgamesh (based on Mesopotamian mythology)

2. Iliad (Greek Epic) by Homer

3. Odyssey (Greek Epic) by Homer

4. Aeneid (Latin Epic) by Virgil

5. The Divine Comedy (Italian Epic) by Dante Alighieri

6. Beowulf (Old English Epic)

7. The Faerie Queene (English Epic) by Edmund Spenser

8. Paradise Lost (English Epic) by John Milton

The role of Epic has been changed over the years. Initially, Epic was the most popular medium of telling stories, but over time, Prose has taken over the role of telling stories. However, still Epic has its appeal among the readers intact in the literary world.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Major Divisions of Poetry: Narrative and Non-Narrative

Poetry is the oldest literary form through which a poet evokes his emotion, feeling, sensual response, thought, ideas, liking, disliking etc. mental and personal aspects either subjectively or objectively. Poetry very often provides the readers with layers of hidden meaning through its lines, using different elements of poetic diction like ambiguity, symbolism, irony etc. In poetry, use of language or poetic diction is very important because language is what makes difference between poems, even if the poems are written on similar theme. Language is used aesthetically in poetry. Sometimes poetry is written independently, while sometimes it is written in a particular poetic form or convention.

On the basis of subject matter, style or literary characteristics, poetry is classified in two genres. These are:

1. Narrative Poetry

2. Non-narrative Poetry

Narrative Poetry

Narrative poetry is the oldest genre of poetry which tells a story with regular rhyme scheme and meter. Narrative poetry can be short or long. Very often, narrative poetry reveals tradition and culture of a particular nation or country. This kind of poetry dates back to ancient time and many scholars believe that narrative poetry, in the past, was performed orally or recited as the evening entertainment for the people. For example, ballads in Scots and English, the tales of Robin Hood, some Baltic and Slavic heroic poems have this oral tradition. Sometimes, narrative poetry may consist of a number of short narrative poems relating individual episodes. Greek poet Homer’s famous epics Iliad and Odyssey are prominent examples of this kind of narrative poetry.

The story revealed in narrative poetry can have historical link- meaning the story is based on historical fact. For instance, Alfred Lord Tennyson’s Charge of the Light Brigade is based on the incident that occurred at the Battle of Balaclava during the Crimean War. However, sometimes the story might come from poet’s imagination or ancient mythology like Mahabharata, Ramayana of ancient India. Epic and Ballad are the two old and popular form of narrative poetry.

Non-narrative Poetry

Non-narrative poetry does not tell any story, unlike the narrative poetry. This kind of poetry reveals the speaker’s emotion, feeling, thought, mode, attitude, belief, observation, experience, state of mind etc. Poets of non-narrative poetry directly address the readers, without describing the characters and their actions. In this genre of poetry, poems are totally focused on the inner thought, ideas, feeling, perception and emotion of the speaker or poet. Some of the popular forms of non-narrative poetry are Lyric, Sonnet, Ode, Elegy etc.