Traditional Poetry vs. Modern Poetry


Recently I did a blog post on the changes in writing throughout history. That is, how books changed from classical novel to modern day books.

As I was writing that, however, I could not help thinking that I could easily devote an entire essay to simply one type of writing: poetry. Honestly, I have never been a huge fan of poetry, though in collage I took several classes which forced me to write it. Not only have I endured reading a lot of poetry, I even attempted to complete Poetry Month by writing one poem every day (I made it though only sixteen days). So while I am not an expert on poetry as I am on novels, it is certainly a genre I am interested in.

Poetry honestly used to be a big thing back in the day. And by the day, I mean before the fifteen hundreds. Poetry was the medium of most classic stories (look at all of Shakespeare’s plays or the classic epic poem of Beowulf). The reason why most storytellers used poetry over prose during these times was that poetry is easier to remember. Bards would memorize entire stories and recite them to an audience, and let me tell you poetry is a whole lot easier to memorize than novels. It has rhythm and rhyme (at least, it did, but we will be getting to that later).

Currently, poetry is not half as big as it used to be. Many poets struggle to make any money out of their work, much less a career. There are certain authors, of course, who publish books as well as the rare collection of poetry (like Neil Gaiman), and there are also those poets who have a different full-time job and work on their poetry on the side. However, to have famous poets such that we saw in the Victorian Era or Elizabethan era are gone. Poetry anthologies sell very poorly in the modern day unless it is a reprinting of some classic poet (like Robert Frost).

I am not saying it is impossible to be a poet in the modern day; it is just not as popular a literary medium as it was once. Why is that? Have people changed their interest? Or is it poetry itself which has changed? This brings me to the topic at hand. That is, how has poetry changed from the poems of a century or more ago to now?


I was homeschooled growing up, so the only poetry I read in my younger years were the classics (Edgar Allen Poe, Robert Frost, Emily Barrett Browning). I was not exposed to any modern poetry until I entered college. And I noticed several massive differences. The first being: form.

If you read a lot of older poetry, you will see patterns of form. You have rhyming patterns, like AB AB AB, or ABC ABC, or A A A. Every line can rhyme with the one before it, or every other line, or even every third line. Poets used things like iambic pentameter to give even more rhythm. In a sense, classic poetry is like a talking song.

That is not the case in modern poetry. The emphasis is much more on emotions, feelings, and messages the poet wishes to get across. Let’s look at two examples to contrast. The first is “The Raven” by Edgar Allan Poe, published in 1845. I will just give the first stanza.

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,

Over a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore—

While I nodded nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,

As if someone gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.

You will notice he used both interior rhyming (dreary, weary and napping, tapping) and ending rhyming (lore, door). It gives a haunting aura and uses formal language. It also uses techniques such as alliteration (repeating the same starting letter several times like “weak and weary” or “rapping, rapping”). Even if it follows rules, however, Poe uses this constriction to his advantage by making this poem beautiful.

Now let’s look at a more modern poem. That is, William Carlos William’s poem “This is Just to Say”, published in 1934. Keep in mind, this is still a rather old poem, but there is a century separating it from my previous entry. Let’s look at the entire poem this time, as it is quite short.

I have eaten

the plums

that were in

the icebox


and which

you were probably


for breakfast


Forgive me

they were delicious

so sweet

and so cold

It is an interesting piece, I agree, and a funny story. Williams has ridden his poem of rhyming, capitalization, and even punctuation. His language is simply clear. While I smile at this poem every time I read it, I cannot in my right mind say it is beautiful. I could write this poem easily (and I am not anywhere near to being a poet). It does not have any depth into the human soul. It is simple. The line breaks are random. This is a sentence one might say in real life. In sense, there is no beauty about it.

Which poem do you prefer? And which one do you find more appealing/beautiful?


It is probably the biggest issue I have with modern poetry. I wrote a poet back in college that I absolutely loved. I thought it was great, and I was emulating classic poets when I wrote it. However, the biggest criticism I got from several of my teachers was: simplify your wording.

I was floored. For me, literature is about expanding one’s vocabulary. That is not the case anymore, apparently. Instead of helping raise people in the literacy rate, many authors are choosing to lower their writing standards. It is truly disturbing to me, as someone who is always trying to learn something. You do not know how often I do not recognize a word in classical novels and rush to the computer to look up its definition. In doing so, I learn a new word. While this problem is not merely in poetry, I notice it by far more in this medium than I do in books and short stories (which are more informal in themselves).

Poetry is supposed to be beautiful. In my opinion, it is no longer. That is not to say all modern poets are bad. In fact, some of them are quite good. However, because they have rejected form, confined themselves to certain topics, and left out beautiful words, what is left to them?

Perhaps I am being too hard of modern poetry. It has so merit, some deep meanings. But if it is not in its words or form, is meaning all that is left to “beauty”?

What do you guys think? What’s your favorite poem? Why is it your favorite poem? And, as always,

Best wishes in your life full of adventure,

Madame Writer

8 thoughts on “Traditional Poetry vs. Modern Poetry

  1. Hi. I am not a native English speaker. Urdu is my first language and I use English as second language. I agree with your post and let me tell you I see the same trend with Urdu poetry as well.

    Being a non native English I have limited understanding of English poetry yet I enjoy and connect with classical English poetry more than the modern.

    One of my favourite is Leisure by WH Davies:

    What is this life if, full of care,
    We have no time to stand and stare.

    No time to stand beneath the boughs
    And stare as long as sheep or cows.

    No time to see, when woods we pass,
    Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.

    No time to see, in broad daylight,
    Streams full of stars, like skies at night.

    No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,
    And watch her feet, how they can dance.

    No time to wait till her mouth can
    Enrich that smile her eyes began.

    A poor life this is if, full of care,
    We have no time to stand and stare.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for the comment! I love learning about poetry in other languages, and I’ll have to see if I can find some Urdu poetry now. But that is an absolutely beautiful poem! I haven’t read it before.


  2. Wow you know what? I read the second poem in an optional course! Our teacher used it to talk about the difference between literary words and everyday words.

    I agree with you! Your post really makes me think. And I’d like to talk about something else.

    Two characteristics about modern cuture, in my humble opinion, are about deconstruction and mass culture. And I think those two features have much to do with the changes in poetry.

    First, Classical poetry, with a very long history, has fully developed, and poets who are seeking breakthrough would never make any headway but just repeat if they didn’t break the rules. Therefore, they get rid of rhythm, rhyme and whatnot that traditional poetry rely on, trying to use a free form to challenge the powerful traditional poetry.

    Second, deconstruction is so popular in every fields of Literature and Art. Poetry is no exception. Many central elements which make up a poem have been questioned. And the definition of Poetry are discussed again. The meaning of the second poem, in my humble opinion, is to putting forward the questions what in the world poetry is and what poetry can be. To me, It is more like an experiment and exploration.

    Mass culture and development of other forms of media nowadays might have much to do with the unpopularity of poetry.

    In addition, I think mass culture prefer something more accessible. So poems are becoming more and more clear. Besides, thanks to the free form of modern poetry, a lot of different people could join in writing, thus in turn contributing to modern poetry. Diversity is one of the most remarkable features of modern poetry, I suppose.

    The problem of modern poetry, however, is very obvious. Without rules that makes what traditional poetry is, what should we define the poetry nowaday? Do modern poems have remarkable characteristics? Are they just some sentences divided into different lines? What makes a poem poetic in modern poetry?…… So many problems to be discussed. In that case, It seems, in a sense, writing modern poems is more difficult and challenging because we don’t know what modern Poetry really is, and whether or not the words we write can be considered a poem……

    I know little about poetry. Personally, I like those beautiful and accessible which make people relate to the words and think!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Your thoughts are very interesting to read. I love the idea of taking the rules in poetry (and art and literature) and breaking or twisting them. Creating something new. However, I find deconstruction doesn’t even bother to study the classics before they create something new. Thus, you cannot break what you don’t understand. And some modern poets understand this. Even though, in this essay, I do talk about the worst of modern poetry and the best of traditional poetry, there are exceptions to both. There are so beautiful modern poems, which both break the rules and sound lovely. The same goes for every type of deconstructionism. I don’t like modern art, but some modern art is beautiful. I don’t like experimental literature, but some books written in this style are amazing. I suppose there are good and bad things to every cultural revolution.

      But I love reading your thoughts on the matter, because you are right. Poetry (and writing in general) is so much more accessible to all people than it was even 50 years ago!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I appreciate your article and your perspective on poetry. I myself am a traditionalist, preferring to write poems with rhythm and rhyme over free verse, although I do write my fair share of both. In fact, I like to dabble in every form that I come across. It’s my mental exercise. Sometimes the subject calls for less structure, allowing the ideas to flow more freely. But most of the time the structure is what makes the poem, well, poetic. Like you said of Williams’ poem, anyone could have written it. Writing a traditional poem, however, takes a lot of work. When I write, I like to use paper and pencil for my first drafts, and my tools of the trade are always at my fingertips: a large dictionary, Roget’s Thesaurus, and a rhyming dictionary. What’s my favorite poem? I suppose I have two, both written by Robert Frost: “The Road Not Taken” and “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.” They are both simple, in a sense, and yet thoughtful. They have both been quoted, at least in part, by many people over the years. I myself quote them frequently, which is probably why they were the first to come to mind. I believe a poet has been successful when he can implement rhythm that doesn’t feel sing-songy and create rhyme that doesn’t feel forced. By that standard, I personally have not always been successful, but it is always my aim.


    1. Frost is one of my favorite poets as well. And I agree with you that every poet should at least try modern poetry. I myself wrote some of it in college–hating it all the way, unfortunately. I think colleges should give study to both, and let kids decide. I checked out some of your poetry on your blog “Dark Side of the Moon.” It’s actually really good. I particularly liked “Sensing the Sea.” It really does hearken back to Frost’s style. Thanks for the comment!

      Liked by 1 person

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