To properly appreciate poetry, one must recognize what exactly makes poetry. Is it simply a set of rhyming words? Is it seventeen syllables –five, seven, and five? Is it the rhythm of the words? What exactly makes good poetry?
Let’s first examine two pieces of poetry. Particularly, Robert Frost’s Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening and Virginia Scott’s Snow.
In Frost’s poem, the reader is quickly introduced to the traveler, a man and his horse riding through the woods, while in Scott’s, the reader is immediately told about a doe standing at the side of the road. While both deal with similar subjects, both poems are exceptionally different in almost every way.
Frost uses a traditional style of poetry –the end lines of three of the four sentences rhyme, and the lines are fairly short, typically ten or less words each. It reads easily, but –as in most of Frost’s poems –imagery is key, and abundantly used from the start. When reading, one quickly falls into the easy pace set by the narrator of the poem; in fact, it almost seems as if the poem is setting the reader’s pace, rather than the reader themselves. The reader is left wondering where the man is going, or why he stopped, but whatever reason the traveler stopped, it is quickly made clear that it is a short stop; the reader is informed that the man has ‘promises to keep’, and has quite a ways to go yet.
While Frost’s use of imagery is exceptionally well-done, the poem is typical of what one would see from this era of writing. What sets him apart from other writers in this age is his excellent use of rhythm, and imagery.
Scott, however, uses a very different style. Written nearly a hundred years after Frost, Scott writes in a way that is not easily recognizable as poetry –in fact, one could argue that Scott’s work isn’t poetry in the traditional sense. There is no rhyming, no easy rhythm, or set line structure. From the very beginning, the reader notices the disjointed feeling, even before finishing the first few lines. As well, the reader is left feeling a disconnect: while the first sentence deals with a doe standing by the side of the road, the second immediately jumps to spirits, and memories, and then back to a doe. The entire piece reads similar; no clear purpose is ever made, but there is much talk of spirits, and a few lines about mountains and woods, before the doe makes a reappearance at the end.
Again: there is no rhyming, there is no rhythm, there is no sentence structure, or even tone. It reads as one would speak; perhaps a bit more flowery than most, but definitely not what one would consider when thinking of poetry. There is no obvious ‘narrator’, other than perhaps, the doe, and it is never made clear if the poem –entitled snow –is actually about snow or ghosts.
But again –bear in mind that this ‘poem’ was written in the seventies, when all the traditional rules were being challenged, and anyone could produce anything and call it whatever they wanted.
While each poem purports to be about snow, Scott’s poem falls short of what was promised. She attempts to use the deer on the edge of the road as some sort of symbolism for her spirits and ghosts and memories, but again, this effort falls flat on its face.
Frost, on the other hand, elevates symbolism to an art. When reading the poem, the symbolism comes to mean something to each individual reader. To one, it might simply be about a man who has stopped to appreciate the beauty around him. To another, perhaps, a feeling of a man rushed, attempting to take a metaphorical breather is what is presented. To perhaps another, loneliness shines through in the traveler’s quiet contemplations.
In conclusion, it quickly becomes obvious to the reader that Frost was a master of words, and a master of his art, while Scott… Well, there is a reason why Frost is a common name in poetry, and Virginia Scott is simply another faceless name.