The Social Function of Poetry

The Orange Folder

“Poetry is a constant reminder of all the things that can only be said in one language, and are untranslatable.”

T.S. Eliot

Seeing as this is the blog’s first post, it seems appropriate to begin with a look at why poetry matters to people and peoples, to societies as well as individuals. And who better to tackle the subject than one of the Twentieth Century’s great literary innovators and pontificators, Mr. Thomas Stearns Eliot OM?

Nearly 70 years ago, in 1943, Eliot delivered an address entitled “The Social Function of Poetry” at the British-Norwegian Institute. He began with a brief mention of the “obvious” functions of good poetry. These are as follows:

  •  to give pleasure
  • to communicate “some new experience, or some fresh understanding of the familiar, or the expression of something we have experienced but have no words for, which enlarges our consciousness or refines our sensibility”

As to how poetry benefits societies, Eliot’s asserts that…

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