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 Est. 1998

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Quotations about Poetic License

Grammar is a piano I play by ear... ~Joan Didion, "Why I Write," 1976

Poets are soldiers that liberate words from the steadfast possession of definition. ~Eli Khamarov  [a pseudonym, this philosopher's own nomenclative poetic license —tg]

Oh, of course I know that “ate” ain’t good etiquette in that place. It should be “eat.” But “eat” don’t rhyme, and “ate” does. So I’m going to use it. And I can, anyhow. It’s poem license, and that’ll let you do anything. ~Eleanor H. Porter, Dawn, 1918  [a little altered —tg]
         [“Supper’s ready, supper’s ready,
         Hurry up, or you’ll be late,
         Then you’ll sure be cross and heady
         If there’s nothin’ left to ate.”]

A novelist has a specific poetic license which also applies to his own life. ~Jerzy Kosinski (1933–1991), interview, Czesław Czapliński, Kosinski's Passions, translated from the Polish by Peter Obst, published in English by BIGnews, 2004

Memory takes a lot of poetic license. It omits some details; others are exaggerated, according to the emotional value of the articles it touches, for memory is seated predominantly in the heart. The interior is therefore rather dim and poetic. ~Tennessee Williams, The Glass Menagerie, 1945

      "That's a very nice War Song — it's so peaceful and soothing," spake the Queen. "And now call the Poets from Freeland. This is the time for them to renew their licences, though I greatly fear that they have been taking so many liberties of late that any licence I can give them will prove superfluous."
      "Superfluous! Superfluous! That is a good word," muttered the Zankiwank. "I wonder what it means?" Whereupon he went and asked Robin Goodfellow and all the other Fairies, but as nobody knew, it did not matter, and the Poets arriving at that moment he thought of a number and sat on a toadstool.
      Maude recognised several of the Poets who came to have their licences renewed — she had heard of "poetic licence" before, but never dreamed that one had to get the unwritten freedom from Fairyland. But so it was. Several of the Poets seemed to be exorbitant in their demands, and wanted to make their poems all licence, but this Titania would not consent to, so they went away singing, all in tune... ~S. J. Adair Fitz-Gerald, The Zankiwank & The Bletherwitch, 1896

I lied about my weight on my poetic license. ~Terri Guillemets, "Abridged," 1989

Thou think'st, I lie, perhaps thou think'st most true:
Yet to so gentle lies, pardon is due.
A lie, well told to some, tastes ill restoritie;
Besides, we Poets lie by good authoritie.
~John Harington (1561–1612)

[A]ccording to that old verse...
Astronomers, Painters, and Poets may lie by authority.
~John Harington (1561–1612)

Painters and poets have liberty to lie. ~Scottish proverb

There has ever been an equal license to painters and poets of daring anything... but not of uniting things incoherent: the merciless with the mild, serpents with doves, lambs with tygers. ~Horace (65–8 BCE), Ars Poetica

Poets and painters, as all artists know,
May shoot a little with a lengthen'd bow;
We claim this mutual mercy for our task,
And grant in turn the pardon which we ask;
But make not monsters spring from gentle dams—
Birds breed not vipers, tigers nurse not lambs.
~Lord Byron (1788–1824), Hints from Horace

Verse, which disdains the Laws of History,
Speaks things not as they are but ought to be:
Whoever will in Poetry excel,
Must learn, and use his hidden secret well,
'Tis next to be observ'd, that Care is due,
And Sparingness in framing Words anew:
You shew your Mast'ry if you have the Knack
So to make use of what known Word you take,
To give't a newer Sense: If there be need
For some uncommon Matter to be said;
Pow'r of inventing Terms may be allow'd...
This the just Right of Poets ever was,
And will be still, to coin what Words they please,
Well fitted to the present Age and Place.
Words with the Leaves of Trees a semblance hold
In this respect, where every Year the old
Fall off, and new ones in their places grow:
Death is the Fate of all things here below:
Nature herself by Art has Changes felt...
~John Oldham (1653–1683), Horace: His Art of Poetry, Imitated in English  [I like to think of Oldham as the "Weird Al" Yankovic of his time. —tg]

The poet's creative licence embraces everything,
nor are his words obliged to be true to history.
~Ovid (43 BCE–17 CE), Amores, translated by A. S. Kline (b.1947),

Nothing is to be called a fault in poetry, says Aristotle, but what is against the art: therefore a man may be an admirable poet, without being an exact chronologer. ~John Dryden (1631–1700)

But now, t' observe Romantick Method...
Some force whole Regions, in despight
Of Geography, to change their site:
Make former Times shake Hands with latter,
And that which was before, come after.
But those that write in Rhyme, still make
The one Verse for the others sake,
For, one for Sense, and one for Rhyme,
I think 's sufficient at one time.
~Samuel Butler (1612–1680), Hudibras

Two most important things in a writer's wallet:  library card and poetic license. ~Terri Guillemets

There are three qualities in a simple word, which the orator may employ to illustrate and adorn his language: he may choose an unusual word, or one that is new, or metaphorical. Unusual words are generally of ancient date and fashion, and such as have been long out of use in daily conversation; these are allowed more freely to poetical license than to ours. A poetical word gives occasionally dignity and an air of greater grandeur to oratory. New words may be formed or invented by the speaker. Metaphors are a type of borrowing, and bring some accession of splendor to language. ~Cicero (106–43 BCE)

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published 2009 May 14
revised Dec 2017, May 2021
last saved 2023 Aug 30