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It takes special pleasure in focusing on the verbal music inherent in language.When we hear a poem, we may recognize certain patterns, such as a regular beat, a rising rhythm, or a series of rhymes.When we see a poem printed on a page, we might notice another kind of pattern that cues us we are not looking at standard prose: those ragged right-hand margins, indicating the lines must stop there and nowhere else.
This formal patterning, considered aside, for a moment, from poetry's higher aims or its subject matter, has long been one of the chief identifying hallmarks of poetry.
Roughly speaking, the devices by which poets achieve these patterned arrangements of language are called the elements of verse.
We may feel we know what a thing is, but have trouble defining it.
That holds as true for poetry as it does for, say, love or electricity.
What is this thing that can so physically affect some persons?
One poet called a poem "a thought, caught in the act of dawning." Another said a poem is a means of bringing the wind in the grasses into the house.This was vital to poetry's existence before the invention of writing.Homer's vast epics, the , were oral compositions committed to and transmitted by human memory before they were eventually written down.The word "verse" comes to us from the Latin , a "turning," and denotes the turning from the end of one line to the beginning of the next line.For the ancient Greeks and Romans, as for us today, the line was the basic unit of poetry, just as the sentence is the basic unit of prose.Yet another stated, even more enigmatically: "Poetry is a pheasant disappearing in the brush." It is just like poets, of course, to talk this way: .It often seems they refrain from saying a thing straight if they can give it a little twist.This is an important point, to which we'll want shortly to return, but let's consider verse and its patternings a little farther.It is surprising to some people to learn that more than ninety percent of the poems in any standard anthology of English poetry are written in formally structured, highly patterned metrical verse.The long, rolling, repetitive lines of American poet Walt Whitman and the passionate Hebrew psalms found in the Holy Bible are well-known older examples of free verse.Free verse has grown in popularity since the early twentieth century and has now pretty well "swept the field," as poet Stanley Kunitz observed.