Lyric Thinking: Poetry in the World
When we speak of “poetry” we often refer to that distinctive, almost undefinable lyrical quality of language that captures an encounter with the world in a striking image, an unforgettable phrase, a resonant line. Snatches of popular songs, nuggets of quotable wisdom, evocations of beauty, reflections on emotional intimacy or meditative thought—the subjects of the lyric poem run the gamut of human experience and appear in every language and culture across the globe. As an aesthetic object, the lyric is paradoxical in scope. Unique and particular, lyric speaks in the first-person voice and it is deeply rooted in personal contexts; often difficult to translate, its nuances are sometimes near-impossible to grasp across deep cultural divides. And yet, at the same time, lyric also makes claims to the universal, speaking of timeless themes that defy historical contingencies as it seeks, repeatedly, to engage our most fundamental human feelings. The word “lyric” itself derives from the Greek lyrikos, a term referring to songs sung with a lyre, but in modern English, it has come to be associated more generally with the words of songs (“lyrics”), and with modes of emotionally-charged writing. Scholars still heatedly debate how to define the “lyric” and whether this word, which emerges in a European context, can even be usefully applied to poetic forms from other parts of the world. One approach is to take a multi-dimensional of lyric—as a kind of short poem, or a style of language or art, but also—most importantly—as a distinctive, first-person point of view on the world.
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