There was a poet who said this:

Poetry is the art of giving different names to the same thing.

They are copied all over the internet. But is this true? In the comments of that post @Randal'Thor and @JoshuaEngel say that this is a poor description of poetry. Why is that?

- Skeptics: Was there a person made the quote about poetry that Poincaré responded to?
- Mathematics: How correct is the quote that "mathematics is the art of giving the same name to different things"?

  • 3
    Whether the statement "Poetry is the art of giving different names to the same thing" is true is an interesting question, but a completely different question from "what is poetry". It may be accurate to say that "poetry is words", but that doesnt mean that "poetry is words" is a definition of poetry.
    – user111
    Commented Dec 28, 2017 at 13:12
  • It's a poor description because it's very reductive. There's more to poetry than that.
    – Tsundoku
    Commented Jan 14, 2018 at 22:42
  • @ChristopheStrobbe can you give some counterexample?
    – Ooker
    Commented Jan 15, 2018 at 2:35

2 Answers 2


If you define poetry as

[a] variable literary genre characterized by rhythmical patterns of language

(from L. Kip Wheeler's glossary of literary terms), you get a very broad definition that also covers epic poetry, e.g. Derek Walcott's Omeros (1990, the most recent example I'm aware of) and verse drama, e.g. Mike Barlett's King Charles III (2014). (I mention these recent examples to show that these genres are not really dead or can be revived at any moment.)

Epic poetry and verse drama cannot simply be reduced to "giving different names to the same thing". Since they are examples of poetry, poetry in general cannot be reduced to "giving different names to the same thing".

  • is it possible that the genre that poet meant is more about expressing one's own emotions, rather than narrating a story?
    – Ooker
    Commented Jan 15, 2018 at 13:33
  • 1
    @Ooker It is certainly possible, but I understand that we have the story only from hearsay, so I can only speculate about what he or she meant. So I can only base my answer on available definitions and examples.
    – Tsundoku
    Commented Jan 15, 2018 at 13:35
  • in that case, what are the other possibilities?
    – Ooker
    Commented Jan 15, 2018 at 13:39
  • @Ooker What do you mean by "other possibilities"?
    – Tsundoku
    Commented Jan 15, 2018 at 14:34
  • 1
    @Ooker Who is "the poet" supposed to be? Remember that the quote is just a "bon mot", not a formal definition.
    – Tsundoku
    Commented Jan 15, 2018 at 16:01

Hollander, in Rhymes Reason, an amusing book in which the he writes in a series of forms (sonnet, sestina, etc.) about what a poem written in that form should be like, says that poetry is essentially metaphorical.

I don't know of the best presentation of that idea (it is surely not Hollander's), but it is not uncommon; IMHO if a poem lacks any figures of speech it needs something else. Anyway, a metaphor is a comparison in which you call e.g. Juliet the sun.

I definitely don't think that poetry is essentially the art of renaming one thing very many times in the same poem. Poetry does not "describe" (thanks Gertrude Stein), and naming things takes us away from the art of poetry

A noun is a name of anything, why after a thing is named write about it

Saving the sentence

  • can you elaborate more on the last sentence? I don't quite get it
    – Ooker
    Commented Dec 8, 2021 at 15:29

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