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Quotations of Poets on Poetry

Here are a selection of interesting quotations from various poets on the role of the mind, emotion and imagination in writing poetry:

For poems are not, as people think, simply emotions ... they are experiences. For the sake of a single poem, you must see many cities, many people and Things, you must understand animals, must feel how birds fly, and know the gesture which small flowers make when they open in the morning.
—Rainer Maria Rilke

There is a theory that every new poem, like an engineer's drawing, should sum up all that has gone before and take it a step further, which means that before anything worthwhile can be written everything worthwhile must be read. This seems to me a classroom conception ... A style is much more likely to be formed from partial slipshod sampling than from the coherent acquisition of a literary education.
—Philip Larkin

What one is not released from is the constant struggle between mind and imagination to decide what is important enough to be written about ... Separating the man who suffers from the man who creates is all right - we separate the petrol from the engine - but the dependence of the second on the first is complete ... Very little that catches the imagination, in short, can get its clearance from either the intelligence or the moral sense ... The poet is perpetually in that common human condition of trying to feel a thing because he believes it, or believe a thing because he feels it.
—Philip Larkin

The poet's task is to move our feelings by showing his own, and not to display his learning, or mimic the fine notes of his predecessors ...
—Philip Larkin

Poetry should begin with emotion in the poet, and end with the same emotion in the reader. The poem is simply the instrument of transference.
—Philip Larkin

One demands two things of a poem. Firstly, it must be a well-made verbal object that does honor to the language in which it is written. Secondly, it must say something significant about a reality common to us all, but perceived from a unique perspective. What the poet says has never been said before, but, once he has said it, his readers recognize its validity for themselves.
—W. H. Auden

Poetry lifts the veil from the hidden beauty of the world, and makes familiar objects be as if they were not familiar.
—Percy Bysshe Shelley

Poetry is an event, not a record of an event.
—Robert Lowell

Poets utter great and wise things which they do not themselves understand.
—Plato

If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry.
—Emily Dickinson

A poem begins with a lump in the throat; a home-sickness or a love-sickness. It is a reaching-out toward expression; an effort to find fulfilment. A complete poem is one where an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found the words ...
—Robert Frost

Like a piece of ice on a hot stove, the poem must ride on its melting.
—Robert Frost

The proof of a poem is not that we have never forgotten it, but we knew at sight we never could forget it.
—Robert Frost

It is around the fundamental and impossible mystery of existence that the poet wraps his paroxysms ...
—George Barker

Poetry is not a turning loose of emotion, but an escape from emotion; it is not the expression of personality, but an escape from personality.
—T. S. Eliot

I know that some of the poetry to which I am most devoted is poetry which I did not understand at first reading; some is poetry which I am not sure I understand yet ...
—T. S. Eliot

I use the poem as a sort of launching pad for free-associations.
—John Ashbery


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