Poetry should be metered, because metered poetry is, quite simply, better than free verse.  This is for the same reason that realist art trumps impressionist art and that Baroque music trumps rock and roll and hip-hop. It is because art, in its best state, is not about the experience of the individual, it is about the shared experience of all humanity.

When you read a poem that is understandable and follows the most basic conventions that are accepted in the English-speaking world then it can be widely experienced and appreciated, whether by a young woman in Iowa or an old man in New Delhi.

The same goes for realist art and Baroque music. You may not like the poem, artwork, or music and may not find it particularly stimulating, but at the very least you can generally understand what it is, what some of its goals are, how it defines goodness, and how it strives toward that goodness. It is fairly easy to tell whether it has been executed decently or not.

In the case of a poem, if it maintains a balanced meter and if it relies on the standard conventions of poetry, such as rhyme, alliteration, metaphor, simile, and others, then it is clear what it values as good. Now, whether such a conventional poem is actually good or not will depend on the contemporary message being conveyed and whether or not it is clear, engaging, and worthwhile. The prerequisite, though, is that the poem meet the basic standards for being good otherwise your poem may have a message that is clear, engaging, and worthwhile, but the amount of people it would have the potential to reach would be severely fragmented and diminished.

The poetry, art, and music proliferated today moves further and further toward fragmentation in perspective. If you do not explain to a person why a modern poem, painting, or song is supposedly good, there is a strong chance he or she will have no idea that it is good at all.

More than Words

This is not merely a philosophical discussion. The shared experience of humanity, either ignored by most modern poetry, music, and art, or embraced by most classical poetry, music, and art, is something with real scientific implications. The most obvious being the Mozart effect whereby plants and children have been scientifically shown to benefit from listening to music by 18th century composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

Yet, the Mozart effect is really just the tip of the iceberg. British scientist Rupert Sheldrake calls this connection between our fellow men morphic resonance and posits that each person and animal has a morphogenetic field. The morphic resonance and morphogenetic fields operate across time and space with the connection being stronger between organisms and things that are similar.

Sheldrake discusses these concepts in the context of the human genetic code. Modern science poured billions of dollars into the Human Genome Project with the theory being that we could find bad genes that cause diseases passed on, supposedly, in your genes from your parents and could find genes that explain your physical, and potentially mental, characteristics similarly passed on. Indeed, people today say something is “in his genes” or say someone has “bad genes” or “good genes.”

Sheldrake posits this whole approach is wrong. Mainstream science’s obsession with the human body and genes is like someone who, after seeing a television for the first time, takes it apart and wonders how the components create the images on the screen. It is the intangible signal coming in that creates the images. Similarly, it is the intangible morphogenetic fields and morphic resonance that determine what will happen. If your field is very similar to your father’s field and he had heart disease then it may be similarly warped in such a way as to create heart disease in you.

Sheldrake’s theory goes a long way in explaining inexplicable but observable phenomena in human and animal life. The implication for poetry and the arts is also profound. Regardless of what spiritual persuasion, or lack thereof, you may be from, reality as we know it is different from what mainstream science has told us. The intangible has much more power than we realize.

When poetry, art, or music aligns with the time-tested traditions left by millennia of poets, artists, and musicians and is widely accepted by people today, then it could truly have a positive impact on you and society, physically, mentally, and spiritually.  It positively activates the scientifically and undeniably real connection between all of us. Call it what you want: morphic resonance, the shared human experience, or simply good poetry.


Originally published on the Epoch Times.

Featured Image: “Sunset, Lake George, New York” by Jasper Francis Cropsey (1823-1900). (Courtesy of New York Historical Society)



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5 Responses

  1. Corey Browning

    Wow! Nicely said. I agree with this. Most free verse I have ever read/written is really trash if it be called “poetry”. As the saying goes “free form can be fancy prose, fancy prose can be free form, which is which?” This really shows the problem with free form poetry, is if it’s hard to tell if it’s even poetry then I feel it shouldn’t be called poetry. Though I have a question. You mentioned dark themed poetry with no “light/good” theme. What do you feel about poetry such as Edgar Allen Poe? Yes he may break with some tradition but I find his verse very enjoyable. Not among my favorite poetry but it’s up there.

  2. Hannah E. Reed

    I feel as if you are too often trying to relate poetry, the art as old as language, to the modern world. Poetry should and could touch things beyond this world and all the ‘worlds’ as disparaged and empty as it. And a poem doesn’t need to rhyme or be metered to be good… I mean I love writing villanelles and I am desperately trying to understand what good means both as implied in morality and even more in art. But a poem is, I think, supposed to touch something that a mortal form never could.
    The metered voice is the tone of the ancients, free verse is the shout of today’s hipsters. Yet, you seem to have forgotten history’s favorite lesbian- Sappho, our mother of lovelorn, sandstorm free verse.

    • Hannah E. Reed

      And I would also like your opinion on Sylvia Plath. She is my favorite and she wrote brilliantly. When she was younger, she wrote villanelles that exalted the madness the villanelle is capable of through its obsessive repetition , and as she grew older, she began to write a sort of free verse that no poet has ever seemed to touch since her. I could go on and on about her, but I would like to know what the “Society” thinks of her poetry?

  3. Evan Mantyk

    Hi Hannah,

    I think your last sentence putting ” ‘the Society’ ” in quotation struck me the most. It is just me, Evan Mantyk, responding under the Society’s name and who wrote the above post. Many people have joined or contribute to the Society but running the nitty-gritty stuff is myself and just a few other people. As you might imagine, a group of poets together has a wide range of opinions. From talking with poets and reading their poems and essays, the consensus just seems to be just this: traditional poetry is still quite valuable and something that we should cherish. People have told me it is a relief to be able to submit traditional poetry and read traditional poems on the Society’s website, and that they have been told elsewhere things like “no rhyming.”

    Actually, we do publish some free verse and accept free verse submissions. Ultimately, it does come down to the meaning more than anything else. However, generally speaking, this is a poetry site for traditional poetry (I am but one man after all). We are going with the general view of English poetry throughout history (meter and rhyme) and not outliers. That’s just our modus operandi, and there are plenty of other sites out there I’m sure who will accept free verse submissions.

    The poets you mentioned have good qualities to draw upon and be inspired by. Actually, I believe that Sappho did write in meter; it is just that the translation was done in free verse, as is often necessary with translation (we have published some free verse translation as well). See this link for more info: (http://english.chass.ncsu.edu/freeverse/Archives/Spring_2013/prose/ArchaicGreekPoetsJillACoyle.html)

    Let me know if I can be of any further service to you and feel free to email me at submissions@classicalpoets.org

    Kind Regards,
    Evan Mantyk

  4. Daniel Kemper

    Yes! Evan. Encore: It’s about integrity vs. disintegration. I have said for a long time now (unaccomplished as I am) that a key skill for writing a good sonnet Elizabethan Sonnet, is being able to write a good five-paragraph essay.

    Also, up for consideration/challenge: Perhaps “free verse” is not properly taxonomized as poetry at all. As put here, it’s not necessarily a remark on its value as art, just that the categorization is wrong. A lot of contradictions of “what is poetry” evaporate when the categories are cleaned up this way. Poetry, beginning as an oral tradition, distinguished itself from other speech by meter. Not by line breaks, which can’t be heard and which appear to be the only thing free verse offers to distinguish it from prose.

    As to whether free verse should have its own category or be considered a radical type of text justification on the page, that might be an interesting discussion.


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