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19 Quotes from Poets on Poetry 

Throughout history, some of the best writers across literary styles and movements have commented on what they think poetry is and should be. 

Quotes by Poets on Poetry Visual Representation

Below, readers can explore nineteen of the best quotes by poets on poetry. These include the opinion of authors like Oscar Wilde, Dylan Thomas, and Rita Dove. No matter one’s experience with or opinion of poetry, there is a quote on this list that should strike one as accurate and perhaps even illuminating. 

Poetry Quotes

William Wordsworth

Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquillity.

William Wordsworth

This famous quote was included in the Preface of Lyrical Ballads, the landmark collection of poetry published by Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge. It is commonly cited as initiating the beginning of the Romantic Period in English writing. 

Here, Wordsworth suggests that poetry should come from a place of deep, powerful emotion. Specifically, the memory of emotion when seen from a “tranquil” state of mind. 

Explore William Wordsworth’s poetry.

Robert Frost

A poem begins as a lump in the throat, a sense of wrong, a homesickness, a lovesickness.

Robert Frost

Frost’s quote asks readers to imagine poetry as a physical sensation, something that bubbles up in positive or negative ways. 

Read Robert Frost’s poetry.

Allen Ginsberg

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

Within this well-known quote, Ginsberg describes poetry as what “you really think.” He believes it is all about “making the private world public.” 

Discover Allen Ginsberg’s poetry.

Thomas Hardy

Poetry is emotion put into measure. The emotion must come by nature, but the measure can be acquired by art.

Thomas Hardy

Thomas Hardy suggests that poetry comes from an emotional place. The “measure,” or what one creates, can be practiced, but the emotion is “nature” or comes about naturally and in very human ways. 

Read Thomas Hardy’s poetry.

John Keats

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

In John Keats’ words, poetry is the wording of someone’s “highest thoughts” and a “remembrance.” This is not unlike Wordsworth’s assertion that poetry should be recollected in “tranquility.” 

Discover John Keats’ poetry.

Percy Bysshe Shelley

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 

Shelley believed that poetry allowed readers to see into a “hidden…world” that makes mundane, everyday things feel “not familiar.” It elevates that which one takes for granted and makes it feel special. 

Explore Percy Bysshe Shelley’s poetry.

Oscar Wilde

A poet can survive everything but a misprint.

Oscar Wilde 

This classically Wilde-sounding humorous assertion describes poetry as something very specific and enduring. 

Read Oscar Wilde’s poetry.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge

I wish our clever young poets would remember my homely definitions of prose and poetry; that is prose; words in their best order; – poetry; the best words in the best order.

—Samuel Taylor Coleridge 

Here, Coleridge crafts a somewhat humorous depiction of what “poetry” and “prose” are. The latter is “words in their best order,” while poetry is “the best words in the best order.” He suggests that poetry is something that requires writers to take their time in both their selection of words and their arrangement. 

Discover Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poems.

Ezra Pound

Use no superfluous word, no adjective, which does not reveal something. Don’t use such an expression as ‘dim land of peace’. It dulls the image. It mixes an abstraction with the concrete. It comes from the writer’s not realising that the natural object is always the adequate symbol. Go in fear of abstractions.

Ezra Pound 

This quote could only come from one writer—Ezra Pound. It was part of his A Few Don’ts by an Imagiste, his famous manifesto for the Imagism movement. It was published in Poetry magazine in 1913. He suggests that poetry should not contain anything “extra.” There should be no “superfluous words” that do not reveal something.  The natural object is more than enough, and “abstractions” should be avoided. 

Explore Ezra Pound’s poetry.

Dylan Thomas

Poetry is what in a poem makes you laugh, cry, prickle, be silent, makes your toe nails twinkle, makes you want to do this or that or nothing, makes you know that you are alone in the unknown world, that your bliss and suffering is forever shared and forever all your own. 

Dylan Thomas 

Thomas, who is best known for poems like Do not go gentle into that good night,’ suggests that poetry is that which makes you feel everything from sorrow to joy. It is both uniting and individualizing. 

Read Dylan Thomas’ poems

Emily Dickinson

If I read a book [and] it makes my whole body so cold no fire can ever warm me, I know that is poetry. If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry. These are the only way I know it. Is there any other way.

Emily Dickinson

In a letter to T.W. Higginson in August 1870, Emily Dickinson wrote these words. She suggests that a deep, near-indescribable sensation within the body is what lets her know the difference between what is and isn’t poetry. 

Discover Emily Dickinson’s poems

Anne Sexton

One of my secret instructions to myself as a poet is: ‘Whatever you do, don’t be boring.’

Anne Sexton

Sexton, known for poems like Rowing,’ suggests that all good poetry avoids being “boring.” This quote indicates that she wanted to ensure readers walked away from her work feeling as though it was worth taking the time to read it. 

Explore Anne Sexton’s poems

Friedrich Nietzsche

Poets are shameless with their experiences: they exploit them.

—Friedrich Nietzsche 

This interesting quote from Friedrich Nietzsche suggests that poets intentionally tap into their emotions and most important experiences to make good poetry. This is similar to some of the other suggestions regarding the source of poetry above. 

Khalil Gibran

Poetry is a deal of joy and pain and wonder, with a dash of the dictionary.  

Khalil Gibran

Gibran, one of the best-loved poets of all time, uses this quote to suggest that poetry is pain, joy, and wonder, but it is also composed of handwork and creativity. It requires authors tap into their emotions and use their skills as writers. 

Read Khalil Gibran’s poems

W.H. Auden

A poet is, before anything else, a person who is passionately in love with language.

W.H. Auden 

Auden believes that poets are in love with language. This means that poetry is an expression of that love.

Explore W.H. Auden’s poetry

T.S. Eliot

 Poetry is not a turning loose of emotion, but an escape from emotion; it is not the expression of personality, but an escape from personality. But, of course, only those who have personality and emotions know what it means to want to escape from these things.

T.S. Eliot 

This quote features at the end of section two of Eliot’s Tradition and the Individual Talent, published in 1919. Here, he describes poetry (contrary to what some other authors suggest) as an “escape from emotion.” In a humorous turn, he adds that only those with “personality and emotions know what it means to want to escape from these things.” 

Discover T.S. Eliot’s poems

Audre Lorde

Poetry is not only dream and vision; it is the skeleton architecture of our lives. It lays the foundations for a future of change, a bridge across our fears of what has never been before.

Audre Lorde 

Audre Lorde’s quote describes poetry as something fundamental. It is the “foundations” in which one lays their future. Through poetry, one can cross their fears as if on a bridge. 

Read Audre Lorde’s poems.

Rita Dove

Poetry is language at its most distilled and most powerful.

— Rita Dove

Dove, who is known for poems like Canary,’ depicts poetry as the language that is distilled and near perfect. As noted by Ezra Pound, one chooses their words wisely and creates something “powerful.” 

Explore Rita Dove’s poetry.

Thomas Gray

Poetry is thoughts that breathe, and words that burn.

— Thomas Gray

Thomas Gray, known for poems like Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard,’ describes poetry as “words that burn.” It is language at its most powerful, he suggests. 

Discover Thomas Gray’s poems


What is the most famous line of poetry?

Throughout history, many notable lines of poetry have been created. For example, “to be or not to be: that is the question” from William Shakespeare’s tragedy Hamlet. Another well-known line from poetry is “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I – I took the road less traveled by” from Robert Frost’s ‘The Road Not Taken.’

What did William Wordsworth say about poetry?

Famously, Wordsworth began Lyrical Ballads by noting that poetry is “the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquillity.”

What’s a quote about poetry?

Some of the best quotes about poetry come from poets. For example, “Poetry is thoughts that breathe, and words that burn” by Thomas Gray and “A poem begins as a lump in the throat, a sense of wrong, a homesickness, a lovesickness” by Robert Frost. 

What is the power of poetry?

Poetry is considered the most powerful form of literature because it seeks to use the most evocative words to depict experiences and feelings that are universal, personal, and life-changing. 

Emma Baldwin Poetry Expert
Emma graduated from East Carolina University with a BA in English, minor in Creative Writing, BFA in Fine Art, and BA in Art Histories. Literature is one of her greatest passions which she pursues through analyzing poetry on Poem Analysis.
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