Robert Frost identified poetry as "a momentary stay against confusion" (Frost, 1995, p. 777).
Some students ;) might claim that instead of a cure for confusion, poetry perpetrate it!
Readers who don't like poetry might join Plato who said that poets should be thrown out of the ideal republic. He declared that poets imitate reality, which imitates the ideal, which in turn leaves poets too far removed from truth.
But Plato's pupil, Aristotle, recognized that imitation was a key source of human understanding and pleasure. Aristotle said, "Imitation is natural to us, and also melody and rhythm."
The Roman poet Lucretius writes that prehistoric humans used "varying sounds to suit varying feelings."
In 1844, Emerson in "The Poet" calls the poets "the sayer, the namer." For Emerson, poetry represents an eternal existent, ideal state. "For poetry was all written before time was, whenever we are so finely organized that we can penetrate into that region where the air is music, we hear those primal warblings, and attempt to write them down" (Emerson, 1950, p. 322).
I believe that poetry offers us knowledge, clarity, comfort, and truth.
Sir Philip Sidney, a Renaissance poet and scholar, wrote in "Apology for Poetry" that "The poet furnishes the world with fresh knowledge...creating figures on the page that become substance themselves, interpreting reality as much as reflecting it."
Jay Parini writes, "Poets articulate thoughts and feelings in ways that clarify both; they hold a mirror of sorts up to the mind if not the world, and their poems reflect our deepest imaginings."
The comfort of great poetry is redemptive. In "The Fall of Hyperion" John Keats writes of the poet that he is "The one who pours out a balm upon the world."
In a tribute to the poet Amy Lowell, Frost writes, "The right reader of a good poem can tell the moment it strikes him that he has taken an immortal wound that he will never get over it."
Jay Parini suggests that poetry find words "that connect past to present, thereby transforming the present reality from something intolerable to something one can live with, even love."
In "A Defense of Poetry" Shelley compared human beings to chimes. According to him, wind blows over the "human" chime and people "harmonize the various winds, unifying them, creating wholes from disparate elements."
Parini concludes that the important work of the poem is "to unify otherwise fragmented experience."
Frost's poetry unifies fragmented experience that others have rigidly united. His poetry is indeed full of gifts to its readers.