"Poetry is something more philosophic and of graver important than history". Discuss.

Expert Answers
cathibee eNotes educator| Certified Educator

To determine the importance of poetry as opposed to history, the two genres should be considered in terms of their content.  The good poet uses his or her art to provide the reader with a view of the inner heart and soul of the individual poet.

History, in turn, is more collective. It is an apparently concrete depiction of events that occurred, as provided by eye witnesses or historical documents. Hence, its focus on realism is more concrete and less philosophic than that of poetry.

Poetry, however, could also be collective. This is clear when different epochs of poetry are considered.  In ancient times, for example, the epic poem was the norm, with its focus on the morality of the hero. Currently, the free form is more common, having started with the poetry of Walt Whitman and his focus on the celebration of self.

What makes poetry more important than history is its honesty. Too often, history tends to favor the perspective of its writers.  For centuries, for example, South African colonialists have favored the white perspective of the country’s history, all but burying the contribution of black South Africans to what the country has become. It has been more difficult, however, to bury the poetry of the oppressed.

Poetry is raw emotion in response to the events of any given time.  The emotional content and subsequent basic honesty of emotion in poetry creates in it a genre that is a far more accurate indication of the human experience than formal history can ever be.


preetkanwar | Student

According to Aristotle, history gives a true record of actual happening  in the lives of actual men in gives period of time. On the other hand, a poet is not concerned with the represent of the actual and possible; instead, he deals with what has happened and poetry with what may happen. Unlike a historian, the poet goes into the question how and why things happen. Now it is true the pattern of necessity and probability, which a poet creates, doesn’t exists in life because human experience in general is shapeless and chaotic. Events in life are not always cover by causation; even in the life of a single individual, many things happen without having any causality or probability.A historian, who truthfully records events, must present y them as they actually happened. But a poet, even when he dramatizes historical event, imposes a pattern of causality so that all the events in his work come as a logical chain of cause and effect. Of course, this means deviation from the historical truth but Aristotle doesn’t consider it a fault because, by imposing a pattern of causality, a poet tries to make sense of human experience and makes it intelligible. He universalizes a particular event so that it no longer remains actual and possible, but becomes probable and general, the historical truth is applicable to one person or  event; a poetic truth, on the other hand, is true at all times.

The essential distinction that Aristotle makes between poetry and history is further supported by his attack on ‘Ars Mitrica’ launched as early as the first chapter of the ‘Poetics’. Poetry is a creative activity where as history is concerned with the truthful recording of facts and events.

Thus, Aristotle’s statement that poetry is more philosophical than history is a part of Aristotle’s basic concept of imitation and his attack on ‘Ars Mitrica’.

For just as a philosopher imposes a system of causality to explain human experience, a poet creates an imaginative pattern of probability to comment on the formulas and chaotic human experience. In the process, he does what a philosopher does & it is for this reason that Aristotle considers poetry more serious and philosophical than history.