Why in the World Do We Need Poetry?



Every April we celebrate National Poetry Month, a time when verse-loving educators, media specialists, booksellers, and publishers introduce novel ways to promote poetry. Teachers plan special units on the Romantics, poetry lovers attend readings and symposiums, and we all expect to see releases of new and old titles.

It’s a month that prompts me to search my shelves for works by my favorite American poets—Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson, Langston Hughes and Robert Frost, Gary Snyder and Richard Wilbur.

I also turn to my beloved world poets: Tang masters Tu Fu and Li Po, the Persians Hafiz and Khayyam, the medieval giants Chaucer and Dante.

This annual ritual got me wondering about the value of reading world poetry. Are we drawn to these works solely for aesthetic pleasure? Or do we need to read them to achieve a deep and genuine understanding of the world?

For instance, can we form judgments about contemporary Iran without learning about its Persian past? Surely a passing knowledge of 11th-century polymath Omar Khayyam and his contributions to Iranian poetry and culture can give us a richer picture of that Middle Eastern power.

Teachers looking to build their students’ understanding of ancient and medieval cultures will find our World Literature Series invaluable. Students explore great literature from five early civilizations by reading and listening to text excerpts, viewing images, and using interpretive aids to identify literary themes and stylistic elements.

In World Literature: Islamic Voices, for example, students read these great works:

  • A ghazal by the Persian master Hafiz
  • Excerpts from Ibn Hazm’s The Dove’s Necklace, Nizami’s The Story of Layla and Majnūn, and the Arabic ode The Mu’allah of Imru’ al-Qays
  • Excerpts from works by two Sufi poets: The Conference of the Birds, by Farid ud-din Attar, and a story written in the masnavi form by Jalal al-Din Rumi

The Response Writer allows students to answer questions about images and literary passages.

Here’s a quick look at additional readings available in the series.

World Literature: Mesopotamian Myths

  • Two excerpts from The Epic of Gilgamesh
  • Four excerpts from The Epic of Creation

World Literature: Greek Vision

  • Excerpts from Homer’s epics, The Iliad and The Odyssey
  • Excerpts from the ancient Greek tragedies Oedipus Rex, by Sophocles, and The Bacchae, by Euripides
  • Excerpts from Plato’s dialogues The Republic and The Apology

World Literature: Indian Epics

  • Three excerpts from the epic Ramayana
  • Three excerpts from the epic Mahabharata, two of which are from the Bhagavad Gita, the famous sixth book

World Literature: Norse Sagas

  • Two excerpts from each of three medieval Icelandic prose histories: Volsunga Saga, Njal’s Saga, and Laxdaela Saga

Be sure to check out some of the other Curriculum Pathways resources focusing on early world literature.

Characteristics of the Ghazal, a Persian Poetic Form
Mythological Sources in Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring
Birth Myths: Krishna and Other Divinities
Epithets and Apostrophes in Egyptian Pharaoh Akhenaten’s “The Great Hymn to the Aten”
Li Po and the Chinese Shih Poetic Form
Exploring Homer’s Odyssey 

And don't miss the social studies resources related to the study of Islamic religion and history! Here are just a few examples.

Islam: The Five Pillars
Early Islamic Civilizations
African Kingdoms: The Kingdom of Mali
Medieval Europe: The Crusades
Islam: The Qur'an
Islam: Medieval Muslim Scholars



About Author

Terry Hardison

Terry Hardison oversees the development of English language arts resources for Curriculum Pathways. Prior to joining SAS, Terry worked for 21 years as a teacher and as a district-level English language arts supervisor.

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