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Organic Poetry

Organic Poetry

With organic poetry, authors nurture their descriptions and writing 'organically', so they prioritise their intuition and feelings over a standard structure or rhyme scheme.

organic poetry definition

Organic form in poetry is poetry that derives its structure (form) from the author’s subject material(s). This is different from typical standard poetry, which conforms to a set structure and adheres to a set of rules. One of the number one rules of poetry is that you, as a writer, bare yourself in the poetry you create.

This means that you share and express your innermost thoughts without holding back. Organic poetry is one way to do this because it relies more on intuition or spontaneity and the author’s own experience with the subject material(s).

The characteristics of organic poetry

  • Organic poetry has no rules regarding structure.

  • Organic poetry does not need to have a set rhyme scheme.

  • One type of organic poetry is free verse.

  • Organic poetry can have a structure that does not seem logical or regular.

Examples of Organic Poetry

Below are some examples of organic poetry, with structural forms that appear illogical and may not have a rhyme scheme.

Robinson Jeffers’ ‘The Answer’ (1914)

Then what is the answer?- Not to be deluded by dreams.

To know that great civilizations have broken down into violence,

and their tyrants come, many times before.

When open violence appears, to avoid it with honor or choose

the least ugly faction; these evils are essential.

To keep one's own integrity, be merciful and uncorrupted

and not wish for evil; and not be duped

By dreams of universal justice or happiness. These dreams will

not be fulfilled.

To know this, and know that however ugly the parts appear

the whole remains beautiful. A severed hand

Is an ugly thing and man dissevered from the earth and stars

and his history… for contemplation or in fact…

Often appears atrociously ugly. Integrity is wholeness,

the greatest beauty is

Organic wholeness, the wholeness of life and things, the divine beauty

of the universe. Love that, not man

Apart from that, or else you will share man's pitiful confusions,

or drown in despair when his days darken.

Analysis of 'The Answer'

In this poem, Jeffers discusses themes such as conflict, integrity, and how people relate to each other and to life.

Tone

Have a look at the beginning of the poem – why do you think Jeffers started with a question? What is the tone of the answer that follows? With poetry, reading aloud helps you identify the style or tone of the poem. The beginning of the poem starts with a question.

Its tone makes it sound like it is a continuation of a conversation or a train of thought that occurred just before the poem was written. Jeffers provides a detailed answer to a question that readers do not even know. This makes readers curious about what the question could be and makes them try to decipher it. The overall tone of the poem takes on the characteristics of speech – it sounds like something you would say.

Structure and rhyme scheme

Now look at the structure of the poem – there are no breaks between the lines and the poem is just one stanza. Why do you think the poem is structured like this? Is there any rhyme scheme to the poem? There is no rhyme scheme and it instead reads like a collection of spontaneous thoughts – this is often seen in organic poetry.

You can tell the author is impassioned by the subject matter because of the bold, vivid descriptions such as ‘a severed hand’ (line 13) and ‘atrociously ugly’ (line 17).

Punctuation

Consider the use of punctuation - why does Jeffers use ellipses and full stops where he has used them? The ellipses featured in the poem indicate a buffering in thoughts or a moment where the author is contemplating what they are discussing and where they wish to go next

Poem's Title

Finally, think about the overall meaning of the poem and the relevance the title 'The Answer' (1914) has. The poem provides an answer to a question that readers are not told. The poem discusses themes of conflict, integrity and life. Readers could naturally conclude that Jeffers is trying to provide the answer to how one should deal with conflict as he says 'When open violence appears, to avoid it with honor or choose/ the least ugly faction; these evils are essential' (lines 4-5).

His message is that where violence is necessary, to choose the since you could describe as the 'lesser evil', or to refuse violence entirely when conflict arises. Jeffers' answer to keeping one's integrity in life is to 'be merciful and uncorrupted/ and not wish for evil; and not be duped' (lines 7-8).

Ellipsis: A punctuation tool made up of a set of dots. The purpose of ellipses in poetry is varied. It could be used to signal a pause or hesitation in thought.

Overall, Jeffers’ thoughts are not as formless as you might expect. You can see the gradual progression of ideas and the fleshing out of Jeffers’ feelings about the themes mentioned. What makes this organic poetry is also the feeling of liberation you get when reading it- it does not sound structured to perfection, it does not adhere to a rhyme scheme and overall it feels like Jeffers is allowing the reader into his mind to see the formation of his ideas.

Walt Whitman's 'Poem of Remembrance for a Girl or a Boy' in Leaves of Grass (1855)

YOU just maturing youth! You male or female! 
Remember the organic compact of These States, 
Remember the pledge of the Old Thirteen thenceforward to the rights, life, liberty,
 equality of
 man, 
Remember what was promulged by the founders, ratified by The States, signed in black and
 white
 by the Commissioners, and read by Washington at the head of the army, 
Remember the purposes of the founders,—Remember Washington;
Remember the copious humanity streaming from every direction toward America; 
Remember the hospitality that belongs to nations and men; (Cursed be nation, woman, man,
 without hospitality!) 
Remember, government is to subserve individuals, 
Not any, not the President, is to have one jot more than you or me, 
Not any habitan of America is to have one jot less than you or me.


Anticipate when the thirty or fifty millions, are to become the hundred, or two hundred
 millions, of equal freemen and freewomen, amicably joined.
 

Recall ages—One age is but a part—ages are but a part; 
Recall the angers, bickerings, delusions, superstitions, of the idea of caste, 
Recall the bloody cruelties and crimes.
 

Anticipate the best women;
I say an unnumbered new race of hardy and well-defined women are to spread through all
 These
 States, 
I say a girl fit for These States must be free, capable, dauntless, just the same as a
 boy.
 

Anticipate your own life—retract with merciless power, 
Shirk nothing—retract in time—Do you see those errors, diseases, weaknesses,
 lies,
 thefts? 
Do you see that lost character?—Do you see decay, consumption, rum-drinking, dropsy,
 fever, mortal cancer or inflammation?
Do you see death, and the approach of death?

Analysis of 'Poem of Remembrance for a Girl or a Boy'

Walt Whitman (1819-1892) was an American poet considered to be the father of free verse poetry. Organic poetry is a type of free verse, so one of his poems from his most famous body of work, Leaves of Grass (1855) will be analysed. Whitman's works often explored topics related to the body, the soul, beauty and death.

Whitman's Leaves of Grass (1855) was an attempt at creating an American epic that highlighted themes of loss and healing.

Epic poetry: A narrative poem that details the extraordinary actions of extraordinary characters.

Leaves of Grass (1855) was published before the American Civil War (1861-1865) but still explores themes of war. Consider the historical background of the time, the tensions within America and the attitudes towards American principles of liberty and equality in relation to war.

Tone

Read the poem aloud to help you hear the tone of the poem. Think about the emotion Whitman is feeling whilst writing this as the narrator. Is it fury? Is it a call to action or a call for the audience to reflect on the matters mentioned? The tone of the poem makes readers think of Whitman writing down his thoughts without restricting himself to a rigid structure.

Whitman asks the reader to consider how a girl and a boy should conduct themselves during a time he describes as physical and moral decay. He encourages reflection on America's past and principles and on the trajectory of America which had an abundance of migrants coming to seek opportunity at the time.

Punctuation

Consider the effect of punctuation such as dashes, exclamation marks, brackets and question marks in the poem. What begins as a reflection on history and the great principles America founded itself on dissipates to become something different as the poem continues. The last verse speaks explicitly about death in body and soul – the decay of the body and the decay of morals. This verse uses rhetorical questions to implore the audience Whitman is addressing to think about this 'decay'.

Structure and rhyme scheme

Is there a rhyme scheme in the poem? What regular patterns can be seen? There is no regular rhyme scheme in this poem. There is the repetition of the word 'anticipate' at the start of verses 2, 4 and 5. How does this repetition show that Whitman is passionate about making his subject matter think about the themes of this poem?

Whitman asks the reader to prepare themselves for the future and how their character has to change in preparation for it. The title of the poem is 'Poem of Remembrance for a Girl or a Boy'. Poems of remembrance are usually written after a death. What does this imply about Whitman's feelings regarding the fate of boys and girls in the face of decay in American principles? It could possibly imply that the decay in American principles could make the youth become complacent and forget values such as equality, evidenced by line 17: 'Not any habit of an American is to have one jot less than you or me'.

Denise Levertov

Denise Levertov (1923-1997), a British-born naturalised American poet, is a proponent of organic form and wrote an essay called 'Some Notes on Organic Form', published in Poetry (1965). In this essay, organic form is described as 'a method of apperception, i.e., of recognizing what we perceive based on an intuition of an order, a form beyond forms, in which forms partake, and of which man's creative works are analogies, resemblances, natural allegories.'

This highlights how the inspiration comes from man and man's perception. These ideas are formed and developed naturally, so without having a definite structure or form. Levertov compares the standard form of poetry to the organic form. Levertov explains the standard form as fixed and the contents of a poem must be altered to suit this fixed form. Organic form, however, is 'never more than a revelation of content'. This revelation of content implies a natural unfolding of feelings, which is a key feature of organic poetry.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Coleridge (1772-1834) is credited with distinguishing between organic form and mechanic form. Mechanic form is what Levertov explained as 'fixed form' in her own essay, 'Some Notes on Organic Form' in Poetry' (1965). Coleridge was an English poet and one of the pioneers of the Romantic Movement. His approach to organic form was that it explained a poem being shaped from within, and shaped without a set structure that comes from external sources.

Coleridge describes the mechanic form as being when 'on any given material we impress a predetermined form...the organic form ... is innate; it shapes as it develops itself from within, and the fullness of its development is one and the same with the perfection of its outward form.'1 This highlights how the 'structure' of organic poetry comes from within the poet, so how they feel about their subject material influences how they decide to present the poem on the page. It develops organically, so without concern for outward expectations of standard poetic form.

Forms and types of organic poetry

The three main types of poetry are lyric poetry, narrative poetry and dramatic poetry. Lyric poetry focuses on the expression of personal feelings and is usually in the first-person. Narrative poetry tells a story from the perspective of a narrator. Dramatic poetry is written in verse structure, is intended to be acted out and is told from the perspective of the character. These three types of poetry are usually considered traditional poetry.

The difference between traditional and organic poetry is that traditional poetry follows rules such as having a particular rhyme scheme and having a regular meter. Organic poetry does not follow any of these rules. It instead takes on its own structure by the author’s interpretation and spontaneous intuition regarding the subject matter or material(s).

What does 'organic' mean in literature?

In literature, organic means when something that is spontaneous, something that is without a structure dictated by rules of poetry or literature. Inspiration for how a piece of work should be structured comes from the author’s feelings and thoughts about the work they are creating or the subject material they are using in their creative process.

TOP TIP: You can think about ‘organic’ in literature as something that has grown naturally, without being altered to fit set rules.

Organic Poetry, a small green sapling growing out of the ground, StudySmarterFig. 1 - A plant growing organically.

Organic Poetry - Key takeaways

    • Organic poetry refers to poetry that derives its structure from the author’s subject material(s).

    • The difference between traditional and organic poetry is that traditional poetry follows rules such as having a particular rhyme scheme, having a regular rhythm. Organic poetry does not follow any of these rules.

    • One type of organic poetry is free verse.

    • Inspiration for how a piece of organic poetry should be structured comes from the author’s feelings and thoughts about the work they are creating or the subject material they are using in their creative process.


1 M.M Badawi, Coleridge: Critic of Shakespeare (1973).

Frequently Asked Questions about Organic Poetry

Traditional poetry follows rules such as having a particular rhyme scheme, having a regular rhythm. Organic poetry does not follow any of these rules.

In literature, organic means when something spontaneous, something without a structure dictated by rules of poetry or literature.

Organic form poetry refers to poetry that derives its structure from the author’s subject material(s).

The 3 types of poetry are lyric poetry, narrative poetry and dramatic poetry. 

One of the number one rules of poetry is that you, as a writer, bare yourself in the poetry you create.

Final Organic Poetry Quiz

Question

What is the difference between traditional and organic poetry?

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Answer

Traditional poetry follows rules such as having a particular rhyme scheme, having a regular rhythm. Organic poetry does not follow any of these rules.

Show question

Question

What does organic mean in literature?

Show answer

Answer

In literature, organic means when something spontaneous, something without a structure dictated by rules of poetry or literature. 

Show question

Question

What is organic form in poetry?

Show answer

Answer

Organic form poetry refers to poetry that derives its structure from the author’s subject material(s).

Show question

Question

What are the 3 types of poetry?

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Answer

The 3 types of poetry are lyric poetry, narrative poetry and dramatic poetry. 

Show question

Question

What is the number one rule of poetry?

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Answer

One of the number one rules of poetry is that you, as a writer, bare yourself in the poetry you create.

Show question

Question

What are 4 characteristics of organic poetry?


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Answer

1. Organic poetry has no rules in how it should be structured. 

2. Organic poetry does not need to have a rhyme scheme. 

3. One type of organic poetry is free verse. 

4. Organic poetry could have a structure that does not seem logical.

Show question

Question

What is considered to give organic poetry some sort of ‘form’?

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Answer

'Feeling' is thought to give organic poetry some sort of 'form'.

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Question

Where does a writer get their inspiration for the structure of organic poetry?

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Answer

Inspiration of how a piece of work should be structured comes from the author’s feelings and thoughts about the work they are creating or the subject material they are using in their creative process. 

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Question

What can you do to remember what organic poetry in literature is?

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Answer

You can think about ‘organic’ in literature as something that has grown naturally, without being altered to fit set rules. 

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Question

What are some of the themes explored by Jeffers’ organic poem ‘The Answer’? 

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Answer

Jeffers discusses themes such as conflict, integrity, and how man relates to each other and life. 

Show question

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