Terse Is By No Means Worse

Disclaimer: many of my own poems could be construed as falling into the category of short verse. It could therefore be argued, with some justification, that I have an axe to grind here.

Sometimes, on reading a long poem, I feel that had it been shorter its words would have exerted a greater impact on me as a reader. Yet, as pointed out in this article on Magma Poetry, it is rare for short poems to win poetry competitions, https://magmapoetry.com/writing-short-poems/.

In my opinion, Ernest Dowson’s “Vitae summa brevis spem nos vetat incohare longam” is one of the finest examples in English of a short poem, which conveys a powerful message in only a few lines of verse:

“They are not long, the weeping and the laughter,
Love and desire and hate;
I think they have no portion in us after
We pass the gate.

They are not long, the days of wine and roses,
Out of a misty dream
Our path emerges for a while, then closes
Within a dream”.

In only 8 lines, Dowson powerfully expresses sentiments that other poets have expended whole ink wells in expressing.

As pointed out in the above mentioned article, there is a view (albeit subconscious in many instances of its manifestation), that for a poem to be great it must be long. In point of fact great skill is frequently required to convey a message in only a few lines of verse and terse is by no means invariably worse.

Of course there are many great long poems, for example “Kubla Khan”. It is not, therefore a case of substituting the prejudice that “short is inferior while long is superior” for “short best conveys while long oft overstays”. There are great short (and long) poems but greater recognition should be accorded to the former than is often the case.

As always I would be interested in the views of my readers.


8 thoughts on “Terse Is By No Means Worse

  1. blindzanygirl

    Kevin, I have thought about this a lot. I tended mostly to write short poems because it is the most natural way that my mind works. Then, I saw the much longer poems that the good folks on Wirdpress write, and felt I ought to try and write longer ones. I did that, then pondered. Which is best? I don’t know the answer, but I tend to think that something short and punchy keaves its mark much more. I still prefer to write short. Sometimes very terse. But feeling I should work on writing longer stuff. Hmmm. Thoughts.

    1. drewdog2060drewdog2060 Post author

      Many thanks for your comments Lorraine. I think that you should write whatever comes naturally to you. So, if a short poem is the best way of getting across your message (because you have something punchy to say and would be waffling where you to write a longer poem) then, in that situation a short poem is best. If, however you feel (on a given occasion that what you want to convey requires more than a few lines, then a longer poem may be appropriate. I have sometimes looked at a longer piece of my own writing and felt that it was overly verbose and that the message was lost in a profusion of words. In these situations I’ve trimmed the poem down to a state where, I believe it says what I want it to say. At other times I write longer poems which are, I feel appropriate to the given situation/the matter I am attempting to convey. Poetry is, ultimately very personal and its up to the individual poet to decide what works for him (or herself). Kind regards – Kevin

      1. blindzanygirl

        I think you are absolutely right Kevin. I suppise that I felt sometimes that to develop as a piet I should try all kinds. I do actually like form rather than free verse, but that is becayse I never quite know how to do free verse. Plus I live the challenge lol. I am a,wats ine for a chalkenge. Goid duscussion Kevin. Many thanks. Best.

      2. drewdog2060drewdog2060 Post author

        Most of my poetry also tends to be written in rhyme/in a traditional manner. Its good to experiment but, ultimately it boils down to writing what you feel and expressing that in the best way you can. Best – Kevin

      3. blindzanygirl

        I totally agree with you Kevin. What comes naturally is always best lol. That covers a muktitude of sins lol

  2. Victoria Zigler (@VictoriaZigler)

    Most of my poems are short, but a couple are on the longer side (though not nearly as long as some can get).

    Personally, I think a poem should be as long as it needs to be. I have the same view when it comes to stories. Whether something should be long or short depends on how many words the poet – or author of another form of creative writing – needs to say what they want to say in the way that best suits their writing style. In other words, there is no standard right or wrong length, but only the length that is right for the piece in question.


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