NPM: Is Poetry Nonfiction?

My cousin posed that question to me a few days ago. (She’s reading a collection of poems that are interspersed with the editor’s personal feelings about the poem, a sort of anthology-meets-memoir, which sounds like something interesting to write, but tedious to read. On the other hand, it’s John Lithgow’s thing, and he might be able to make the phone book entertaining, so maybe I’m wrong.) My response, not knowing the context of her question, was to say that it depended on the poem. I think generally, though, poetry is more about capturing the truth of an emotion or experience or context than about relating a timeline of events. What do you think?

While you think about it, here is a love poem that is pretty much what we think of when we think of love poems. Lots of hyperbole, elements that now sound like clichés, and some innuendo. Cheers!

What are you, love? A flame from heaven?
A radiant smile are you?
The heaven has not your eyes’ bright gleams,
The heaven has not their blue.

The rose has not your snowy breast;
In the moon’s face we seek
In vain the rosy flush that dyes
Your soft and blushing cheek.

By night you smile upon the stars,
And on the amorous moon,
By day upon the waves, the flowers–
Why not on one alone?

But, though I pray to you with tears,
With tears and bitter sighs,
You will not deign me yet one glance
Cast by your shining eyes.

O love, are you a mortal maid,
Or angel formed of light?
The spring rose and the radiant moon
Envy your beauty bright;

And when your sweet and thrilling voice
Is heard upon the air,
In cypress depths the nightingale
Is silent in despair.

Would I, a zephyr, might caress
Your bright brow’s dreams in sleep,
Breathe gently on your lips, and dry
Your tears, if you should weep!

Or would that in your garden fair
A weeping rose I grew;
And when you came resplendent there
At morning with the dew.

I’d give fresh colour to your cheek
That makes the rose look pale,
Shed on your breast my dew, and there
My latest breath exhale.

Oh, would I were a limpid brook!
If softly you drew night,
And smiled into my mirror clear,
My blue waves would run dry.

Oh, would I were a sunbeam bright,
To make you seem more fair,
Touching your face, and dying soon
Amid your fragrant hair!

But, if you love another,
His gravestone may I be!
Then you would linger near me,
Your tears would fall on me;
Your sighs would wander o’er me,
Sighs for his early doom.
To touch you, O beloved,
I must become a tomb!

Bedros Tourian

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2 thoughts on “NPM: Is Poetry Nonfiction?

  1. I think that poetry, like any other form of communication is in-and-of-itself neither fiction nor non fiction. It depends on the subject of the creator. Certainly Tennysons poem of the charge of the light birgade is as much, and perhaps more, accurate than the 1968 movie by the same title or terry brightons 2004 historical study of the event. Certainly poetry, as do many other art forms like movies, sculpture,and paintings, has a particular strength of reaching the readers emotions in ways that historical renderings often do not.

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