Professor Wu's Rulebook

Poets on poetry – poems for the soul

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The importance of poetry, and the innate, natural beauty of it has been acclaimed for generations. JFK wrote that poetry was “the means of saving power from itself, for when power leads man towards arrogance, poetry reminds him of his limitations. When power narrows the areas of man’s concern, poetry reminds him of the richness and diversity of his existence. When power corrupts, poetry cleanses.”

Yet the ability to write poetry is also known as being incredibly difficult. Elizabeth Bishop, former Poet Laureate of the United States, said it was “an unnatural act”, which took “great skill to make it seem natural. Most of the poet’s energies are really directed toward this goal: to convince himself (perhaps, with luck, eventually some readers) that what he’s up to and what he’s saying is really an inevitable, only natural way of behaving under the circumstances.”

Poet and journalist, Rishi Dastidar, meanwhile said that writing poetry was “a patient game”; and that it was a fine balancing act between being “a post-modern Casanova” and “on a bad day: a failed post-modern Casanova.”

So what exactly makes a good poem? What makes a good poet? And, ultimately, what’s this poetry business all about, anyway?

This #WorldPoetryDay, we’ve brought together a collection of some of the best quotes about poetry – by poets, for poet – to try and make the day more than a Twitter #Hashtag and into more of a real celebration of what poetry is, and what it ultimately does for the human soul.



  1. William Wordsworth

“Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquillity.”


  1. Robert Graves

“A perfect poem is impossible. Once it had been written, the world would end.”


  1. H. Auden

“A poet must never make a statement simply because it sounds poetically exciting; he must also believe it to be true.”


  1. Percy Byshhe Shelley

“Poetry lifts the veil from the hidden beauty of the world, and makes familiar objects be as if they were not familiar.”


  1. Rita Dove

“Poetry is language at its most distilled and most powerful.”


  1. Lucille Clifton

“Remember that the first poems didn’t come out of a classroom. Poetry began when somebody walked off of a savanna or out of a cave and looked up at the sky with wonder and said, “Ahhh.” That was the first poem.”


  1. Virginia Woolf

“Anon, who wrote so many poems without signing them, was often a woman.”


  1. Plato

“Every heart sings a song, incomplete, until another heart whispers back. Those who wish to sing always find a song. At the touch of a lover, everyone becomes a poet.”


  1. Robert Frost

“A poem begins as a lump in the throat, a sense of wrong, a homesickness, a lovesickness.”


  1. Charles Darwin

“If I had my life to live over again, I would have made a rule to read some poetry and listen to some music at least once every week.”


  1. Charles Bukowski

“Poetry is what happens when nothing else can.”


  1. Vincent van Gogh

“I have nature and art and poetry, and if that is not enough, what is enough?”


  1. Emily Dickinson

“If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that it is poetry.”


  1. John Keats

“Poetry should surprise by a fine excess and not by a singularity – it should strike the reader as a wording of his own highest thoughts, and appear almost a remembrance.”


  1. Salman Rushdie

“A poet’s work is to name the unnameable, to point at frauds, to take sides, to start arguments, shape the world, and stop it going to sleep.”



Of course, these are but a few of countless thoughts on the subject of poetry. Which ones are we missing? Let us know in the comments below!

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