Generally considered the greatest of the major arts, poetry is characterized by a very special use of language, in which verse, sound and imagery play an essential role. It is a very ancient form of expression, and it was originally used to transmit cultural information or tell stories and myths: poetic forms, with its rhythm and repetition, helped memorization, which is the basis of the oral tradition. Moreover, the earliest poems seems to have been recited or sung, thus emphasizing the link between poetry and music. Poems were meant to be performed, and sometimes they were composed during the performance. They were thus prone to a certain degree of change, and it was only with the introduction of writing that the words of a poetic composition became fixed. At the same time, written poems – and even more so printed poems – began to appeal to the eye, and the role of layout was born.
Layout is the first feature that impresses the reader and distinguishes a poem from a prose passage: a poem is set out in lines, each line starting with a capital letter and lines are grouped into stanzas.
Poetry has been defined by Ezra Pound as a composition of words set to music. This points to another essential feature distinguishes it from prose: the reliance on sound.