Tag Archives: short poems

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.