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17 Poets’ Quotes About Poetry

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April is National Poetry Month, and it’s worth celebrating. But don’t take our word for it – just ask these poets about their craft and their colleagues.

1. “Poetry is ordinary language raised to the Nth power. Poetry is boned with ideas, nerved and blooded with emotions, all held together by the delicate, tough skin of words.” — Paul Engle, from an article in The New York Times

2. “He who draws noble delights from sentiments of poetry is a true poet, though he has never written a line in all his life.” — George Sand, from The Devil's Pool

3. “Poetry is not an expression of the party line. It's that time of night, lying in bed, thinking what you really think, making the private world public, that's what the poet does.” — Allen Ginsberg, from Ginsberg, A Biography.

4. “To be a poet is a condition, not a profession.” — Robert Graves, in response to a questionnaire in Horizon, 1946. 

5. “Poetry is emotion put into measure. The emotion must come by nature, but the measure can be acquired by art.” — Thomas Hardy, as quoted in The Later Years of Thomas Hardy by Florence Hardy. 

6. “Poetry is the journal of the sea animal living on land, wanting to fly in the air. Poetry is a search for syllables to shoot at the barriers of the unknown and the unknowable. Poetry is a phantom script telling how rainbows are made and why they go away.” — Carl Sandburg, from The Atlantic, March 1923

7. “Poetry should surprise by a fine excess and not by singularity—it should strike the reader as a wording of his own highest thoughts, and appear almost a remembrance.” — John Keats, from On Axioms and the Surprise of Poetry.

8. “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, from A Defence of Poetry and Other Essays.

9. “It is a test [that] genuine poetry can communicate before it is understood.” — T. S. Eliot, from the essay "Dante." 

10. “Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquillity.” — William Wordsworth, from "Preface to Lyrical Ballads." 

11. “We make out of the quarrel with others, rhetoric, but of the quarrel with ourselves, poetry.” — William Butler Yeats, from PER AMICA SILENTIA LUNAE

12. "'Therefore’ is a word the poet must not know.” — Andre Gide, from Journals.

13. “I would define ... the Poetry of words as The Rhythmical Creation of Beauty.” — Edgar Allan Poe, from "The Poetic Principle." 

14. “Poetry ... is the revelation of a feeling that the poet believes to be interior and personal which the reader recognizes as his own.” — Salvatore Quasimodo, from a speech in New York, quoted in The New York Times

15. “A poet dares be just so clear and no clearer... He unzips the veil from beauty, but does not remove it. A poet utterly clear is a trifle glaring.” — E. B. White, from One Man's Meat

16. “The poet is the priest of the invisible.” — Wallace Stevens, from Opus Posthumous.

17. “A poet can survive everything but a misprint.” — Oscar Wilde, from The Children of Poets.

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16 Tips From Famous Authors for Writing Better Poetry
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The elusive art of poetry isn’t so hard to master if you know how to set the stage. In honor of World Poetry Day, here are a few handy rituals from some of history’s greatest poets.


Samuel Johnson once said of himself: "[I am a] hardened and shameless tea-drinker, who has, for 20 years, diluted his meals with only the infusion of this fascinating plant; whose kettle has scarcely time to cool; who with tea amuses the evening, with tea solaces the midnight, and, with tea, welcomes the morning.” The end result was that he reportedly drank 25 cups in a single sitting.


A photo of W.H. Auden
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Tea isn’t strong enough for everyone. W.H. Auden took more aggressive stimulants: amphetamines. Auden took a dose of Benzedrine every single morning, though his affinity for the chemicals is likely to blame for his heart failure at age 66.


A photo of Dame Edith Sitwell
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Dame Edith Sitwell was known for delivering dramatics, the most notable of which might be her practice of lying in an open coffin to prep for writing.


A photo of Agatha Christie
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... is best eaten in the tub. Agatha Christie would chow down on the fruit while taking a bath and dreaming up ideas. If fresh apples aren’t your thing, Friedrich Schiller had an alternative use: letting them rot under the lid of your writing desk. Whenever he needed a hit of inspiration, Schiller would lift the lid and let the putrid stench lead him to brilliance.


An illustration of Amy Lowell
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Pulitzer Prize winner Amy Lowell famously chain-smoked cigars, which she claimed were preferable to cigarettes because they lasted longer and therefore allowed her to keep her focus on writing.


A photo of James Whitcomb Riley
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James Whitcomb Riley—known as the “Hoosier Poet”—would rent a hotel room and strip down to do his writing. Counterintuitively, this was actually a means of self-preservation, as the nakedness kept Riley from going to the bar.


Edmond Rostand
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While Riley fought to keep himself out of the world in order to write, Edmond Rostand fought to keep the world out of his writing space. He became so frustrated by interruptions that he ended up sitting naked in the bathtub to work.


D. H. Lawrence
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While we’re on a nudity kick, D. H. Lawrence liked to climb mulberry trees in the buff because it tickled his imagination.


A photo of Maya Angelou
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Maya Angelou holed up in hotel rooms like Riley, but stayed clothed (as far as we know). The author would rent a room in her hometown by the month as a dedicated place to do her writing. Angelou had all the decorations removed and requested that housekeeping refrain from cleaning, for fear that a valuable scrap of paper might get discarded.


Sometimes environmental stimulants are as good as liquid ones: Hart Crane was known to take leave during parties to tap away at his typewriter with records spinning nearby. Later on he’d return with pages, saying, “‘Read that. Isn’t that the grrreatest poem ever written!’”


A photo of George Sand, a.k.a. Amantine-Lucile-Aurore Dupin
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The verdict is out about whether it helped George Sand’s (a.k.a. Amantine-Lucile-Aurore Dupin) writing, but her lover, fellow author Alfred de Musset, found it exciting when Sand would waste no time between lovemaking and writing. That’s probably for the best, since Sand often wrote between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m.


Edgar Allan Poe
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Edgar Allan Poe wrote works “Annabel Lee” and “Ulalume” with his beloved cat—named Catarina—sitting on his shoulder. While she wasn’t black, Catarina is also believed to be the inspiration for the 1843 story, “The Black Cat.”


William Wordsworth
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William Wordsworth famously loved to set out on foot at all hours of the day to clear his mind, and even went on a walking tour of France in 1790.


A photo of Gertrude Stein
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If the comfort of home is just not confining enough, get in your car and stay parked. Gertrude Stein used to do it, writing on scraps of paper in the automotive quiet.


An illustration of Samuel Taylor Coleridge
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It’s not one to try at home: Samuel Taylor Coleridge wasn’t shy about his use of opium and even said that Kubla Khan was inspired by an opium dream. Coleridge was interrupted while writing the poem and ended up forgetting the lines he needed to complete the structure as originally intended. It wasn’t published until some 20 years later, and only then because Lord Byron encouraged it.


A photo of T.S. Eliot
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It might serve you well to escape within yourself, just as T.S. Eliot did after the success of The Waste Land. Eliot started renting rooms in London’s Charing Cross Road and became “Captain Eliot” or “The Captain.” If that’s not enough, incorporate makeup into the mix. Captain Eliot was also fond of wearing green face powder and lipstick to look like a cadaver.

Why a Major Error in 'A Wrinkle in Time' Was Never Corrected

Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time was published in 1962, and thanks to the recent release of a big-budget Disney adaptation, the book is just as popular as ever. The book has earned its status as a modern classic, but according to the Daily Beast, there's something hiding in the text of every copy that is rarely seen in titles that have enjoyed such a long print run. The book features an error that's been reprinted millions of times, and unless you read Greek, you would likely never notice it.

The mistake falls on page 59 of the new Square Fish edition that was published to tie in with the new film. On that page you'll find a quote from Mrs Who, one of the three mystical beings that guide the protagonist Meg and her companions across the universe. Because verbalizing in her own words takes a lot of energy, Mrs Who communicates strictly by quoting great writers and thinkers from history. In this case, she's quoting the playwright Euripides in his original ancient Greek. She follows it with the English translation, "Nothing is hopeless; we must hope for everything," but Greek speakers will notice that the two quotes don't match up. The original line in Greek includes words that don't make sense together or don't exist at all.

How was such a glaring error able to go unnoticed in a major work for so long? The answer is that it didn't: L'Engle was made aware of it by a friend of Greek heritage in the 1990s. According to L'Engle's granddaughter, the writer could trace the typo back to the Dictionary of Foreign Phrases and Classical Quotations, the book she pulled all of Mrs Who's quotes from. While transcribing the Euripides quote by hand she must have omitted a letter by accident. The quote was further removed from the original when the typesetter chose the Greek characters from her manuscript.

Even after hearing about the mistake, L'Engle didn't make fixing it her top priority. Instead she invested her energy into tackling other copyediting issues for the 1993 reprint, like removing all the periods from Mrs Who's, Mrs Which's, and Mrs Whatsit's names. When L'Engle died in 2007, the mangled quote was still standard in new copies of A Wrinkle in Time.

To date, only one English-language edition of the book contains the corrected quotation: the 1994 audiobook narrated by L'Engle herself. But the publishers of A Wrinkle in Time at Macmillan are apparently aware of the error, so the next printing may finally be the one that gets it right.

[h/t Daily Beast]


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