e a m harris

Roaming the byways of literature

What is a poem?

What is a poem?

… each stanza is but the unclosing of a door whose last swings out upon the eternal quest. Through the glimpse vouchsafed to us we ourselves become visionaries.

From time to time I’ve given some thought to the question in my title without coming to any definite conclusion. In between the times I assume I know the answer and cease thinking about it.

Then the other day I came across the quote above. I love the idea of a door swinging open to ‘the eternal quest’ (whatever that may be).

I came across it in a little book I inherited from my mother: A Feast of Lanterns Rendered with an Introduction by L. Cranmer-Byng and published originally in 1916. There were several editions and the copy I have once belonged to someone I’ve never heard of who bought it or was given it in 1946. I hope he enjoyed it as much as I do.

The ‘rendering’ is of a number of well known Chinese poems into English, and the introduction contains a Feast of Lanterns coverbrief history of Chinese poetry and some information on traditional themes and motifs.

Mr Cranmer-Byng doesn’t give us the name of the person who made the quote. He refers to him/her as ‘a Chinese commentator’. Whoever they were they knew and understood on a deep level.

Browsing around for cover art for this post I came across a number of mentions of the author, including one about A Feast of Lanterns being set to music. A lovely idea; the poems are short and delicate and made for music.

Picture from Library Thing.


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2 thoughts on “What is a poem?

  1. Chris Mills on said:

    Amongst my all-time favourites!


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