The Need for Beauty and Form in Poetry

As a general rule, I hate poetry. In fact my idea of perfect hell is to spend an evening at a poetry recital. I say that this applies generally because occasionally some do strike a chord and I love the psalms, which I am told are poems. I chant and read them just about every day.

I am talking here about the sort of stuff that people who do English Lit study and feel the need, irritatingly, to talk about at dinner parties. As soon as that happens I feel like running to the nearest television to watch an elevating game of football, or to a laptop to play a computer game (if I knew how to play one).

I was once told that when asked if he had any regrets Woody Allen said that he had one: he wished that he had never read Beowulf. Well I am one up on Mr Allen. I have never read it and have no intention of doing so. Most of the things that people want me to read, rather than revealing truth, seem to hide it behind a veil of long or obscure words and convoluted sentences; or even no sentences at all. If I make the effort to get past this and work out what they are on about or perhaps someone explains the meaning to me, like Mr AllenĀ  I usually regret having made the effort. My reaction is usually, well if that is what you are trying to say why make us wade through your turgid verse in order to do so? Why not just say it in a way we can understand?

Before anyone tries to contact me and tell me that I am a brutish and uncultured so-and-so then let me say that you are probably right. But I am unrepentant. You read poetry if you want to, I’ll look at art, listen to music and go for country walks. I have no sense of obligation to try to understand something that is written to entertain, when I don’t find it entertaining.

No that I’ve got that out of the way, I present an essay on form and beauty in poetry. It is not written by me you won’t be surprised to hear, it is written by Mark Anthony Signorelli (h/t Tom Larson of Goffstown, NH). I present it because despite what I have just written I am prepared to acknowledge that I am an ignorant philistine in this regard and that poetry, or some of it at least, does have something to recommend it, even if usually I can’t see it. I like this essay because the arguments he makes in regard to poetry correspond very closely to what I argue in regard to art. Put simply, he says that the best poetry is the most beautiful poetry because this will communicate truth most eloquently. I would say that this is the poetry that even when read by someone like me, strikes to the spirit and is understood intuitively. Signorelli argues that in order to be beautiful, the poet must take into consideration the form as well as the content. The form, that is, the style, reflects the worldview of the poet as much as the words contained within it. And traditional values are communicated through the medium of traditional form. This corresponds, I would argue, to the principles that apply in art. I have written about this in an article called Make the Form Conform – How the Style of Art Reflects Truth.

You can read Mr Signorelli’s piece here, it is called Form and Transcendance: A Reply to Micah Mattix. Please do read it, even if you don’t like poetry. It is well worth it!

I should say that beyond what it written here I know nothing about the site on which it appears or Mr Signorelli.

David Clayton


David is an Englishman living in New Hampshire, USA. He is an artist, teacher, published writer and broadcaster who holds a permanent post as Artist-in-Residence and Lecturer in Liberal Arts at the Thomas More College of Liberal Arts. The Way of Beauty program, which is offered at TMC, focuses on the link between Catholic culture, with a special emphasis on art, and the liturgy. David was received into the Church in London in 1993. Visit the Way of Beauty blog at

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