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Poetry (from Greek: ποίησις through the Latin cognate poeta, creating) is a form of literary work which uses rhythm, metre, and sound elements (such as assonance or dissonance) to structure, amplify, and in some instances supplant the literal meanings of words. There is considerable evidence that poetry predates prose, since the earliest poetic productions date from a long era of oral tradition that extends thousands of years prior to the invention of written forms of language.


The earliest poetic productions of the ancient world, such as the Iliad of Homer, the Mahabharata, or the Elder Edda all had their origins in the period of pre-literate oral poetry, though they also owe their survival to having been eventually transcribed as written texts. Like many early poems, they are primarily narrative in form, and the longer narratives and sagas are considered epics. There are also some very early poems of the shorter or lyric tradition, such as the Song of Solomon or the fragments of Sappho; these poems are more symbolic, more rooted in affective and metaphorical language, and possess both brevity and intensity. In the oral period, both epic and lyric poetry was recited aloud in public performance, usually with the accompaniment of some simple plucked instrument (lyric poetry takes its name from the lyre). The Roman poet Virgil created a masterwork epic poem with the Aeneid which was written in a specific rule-bound style of verse called dactylic hexameter in Latin which took advantage of the word endings for full tonal effect.

Later, the Nordic tradition, including Anglo-Saxon and Icelandic poetry also had strict rules for its alliterative verse. In this tradition the ability to extemporise while keeping within the rules was greatly valued.