Love Affair With Pretty Words

I’ve been trying to get a handle on why the written word is affecting me so deeply. Pretty words leap off the page and stick to me. I call these pretty words poetry, but I’m not sure that’s a good definition for what poetry is. Whatever I learned about poetry in school got lost in iambic pentameter and the formula for Haiku, not to mention, simile, symbolism, and alliteration. It’s as if I were shown the tools of the trade without understanding the purpose of what they are used to create.

Poetry got placed on a shelf and labeled “Not For Me” some time ago. Yet is it possible, I survived this harsh world without poetry? Was it there, like a guardian angel with me all along laughing at my ignorance when I can’t see the thing that saves me on a regular basis.

American Poet, Muriel Rukeyser said, “If there were no poetry on any day in the world, poetry would be invented that day. For there would be an intolerable hunger.” Samuel Coleridge said of poetry, “It’s the best words in the best order.”

Well, that clears things right up.

Perhaps I’ve been sustained all along by this thing called poetry without ever knowing what it really is. I asked some creative types how they define poetry. I got explanations like, “Poetry evokes emotion, speaks to the soul, coveys depth and meaning, paints pictures.” One woman, obviously a poet said, “Poetry is the song that sings from the depths of your being to the vault of the heavens; without soul, pretty words are that gentle touch of a lover to awaken you in the morning for a sunrise and a coffee.”

I’ll have what she’s having.

A friend who has a way with language said this. “The aim of the writing is to just declare all of your thoughts and ideas. But poetry prefers to hide and set up games for the soul and imagination.”

I love all of these explanations. But it left me wondering if it is just pretty words I am so enamored with lately. Maybe poetry still isn’t something I have the sophistication for.

But what of the beautiful words found in literature? Are these not poetry?

“He stepped down, trying not to look long at her as if she were the sun, yet he saw her like the sun, even without looking.” – Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina


“She was becoming herself and daily casting aside that fictitious self which we assume like a garment with which to appear before the world.” – Kate Chopin, “The Awakening”


“I wondered if that was how forgiveness budded; not with the fanfare of epiphany, but with pain gathering its things, packing up, and slipping away unannounced in the middle of the night.” – Khaled Hosseini, The Kite Runner

What about music lyrics? Certainly these words paint pictures that convey emotion.

“Losing a love is like a window in your heart.

Everybody sees you’re blown apart

Everybody hears the wind blow” – Paul Simon, Graceland


“We were born before the wind

Also younger than the sun

Ere the bonnie boat was won as we sailed into the mystic”

– Van Morrison, Into the Mystic


“They got an apartment with deep Pile carpet

And a couple of paintings from Sears

A big waterbed that they bought

With the bread

They had saved for a couple of years” – Billy Joel, Scenes from an Italian Restaurant

Whether it’s poetry or pretty words, their importance is underappreciated. If you ask people about poetry, you’ll get a mix of responses that can lead you to believe most are too cool, too busy, too ambitious to bother with pretty words. “What’s the point, they might ask?” Or, “It’s fine for some people, but I’m no poet.”

Maybe that’s what’s so incredible about the magic of art, whether it be the art of written words or some other form. It sneaks up on you and burrows into the recesses of your mind. You think you’ve chosen an expedited path filled with no-nonsense so as to get to your destination most efficiently. But beauty finds you whether you’ve asked for it or not.  It beckons you to slow your pace, rethink your path, or to be content when you find yourself lost in a forest of new discoveries and unknown possibilities.

I invite you to spend some time today watching out for beauty in any art form, whether it sneaks up behind you or leaps off a page. Take some time to savor it and ask what it is trying to teach you. I promise you won’t regret it.

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