Historically, poetry has been the predominant form of literature around the world. It wasn’t until the late 1800s that society saw the rise of the novel.
Today, the novel is the most popular form of modern literature, leaving poetry and drama—like the works of Homer or Shakespeare—in the dust. Ultimately, this shift towards the novel and away from poetry and drama suggests a change in the types of entertainment we find enjoyable within our culture.
For this reason, trying to read poetry after having read only novels is really weird. A writer is not able to express the same amount of detail and information within a 14 line sonnet as they could in a 700 page novel.
How are you supposed to get any information in so few lines? When you have hundreds of pages and thousands of words to unravel the inner workings of a great story, it gives you the time to think about what the story means. By the end of the book, you should have a pretty good idea of the themes and the main ideas of the work.
Sure, you’ll always find more information if you decide to read a book for a second or third time, but most people happily put a book down after reading it through just once.
On the other hand, if you were to look up “how to read a poem” on the Internet, one of the first things you would realize is that is takes multiple readings of a single poem for its meaning to really sink in.
How could the writer of the poem be sure that the message they were trying to inscribe would actually get through to the audience? How am I, as a reader, supposed to know if my interpretation of the poem is completely different from the author’s? Why does it have to be so unclear?
I don’t write this to bash people who enjoy reading poetry. The form has inadvertently died off in popular literature. You are far less likely to find a best selling book of poetry out there than you are to find a best selling novel.
Novels are flooding the market, and poetry just can’t keep up. It makes sense when compared to the changes in popular culture. People don’t want to have to guess and reread something that they want to do for fun. Poetry also doesn’t give readers the same satisfaction that a long novel does.
Readers want a book they can take on and enjoy for face value. The ability to analyze a piece of literature on a more critical level should be an option, not a must.
It’s not my idea of a fun time to look up the historical meaning of words, and count and identify the meter and rhyme of each line of a poem. I do that enough in my studies.
But why is it that the novel rose up to take the place left by poetry? If people no longer wanted to read poetry in their free time, why did they want to pick up a novel instead?
I don’t think I could give you a straight answer to those questions. We can only assume the answer might be based on what we enjoy about reading novels, and from different trends in literature.
Reading is a fun way for many people to escape their everyday lives and lose themselves in the words of a book.
A poem, and the story that it may or may not be trying to tell, is far less explicit than a novel. The meaning of the words is implied, rather than explicated. In the society we live in, people want simple entertainment, not something they have to work for.
With the busy lives we lead today, people want activities that are as far away from the monotony of work as possible. People not longer want entertainment they have to continuously reread and try to decipher.