'Poetry Is A Kind Of Lying' by Jack Gilbert

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Poetry is a kind of lying,
necessarily. To profit the poet
or beauty. But also in
that truth may be told only so.

Those who, admirably, refuse
to falsify (as those who will not
risk pretensions) are excluded
from saying even so much.

Degas said he didn't paint
what he saw, but what
would enable them to see
the thing he had.

Submitted by Dave Shaut

Editor 1 Interpretation

Poetry Is A Kind Of Lying: A Deeper Understanding

As a literature enthusiast, I have read a plethora of poems, but Jack Gilbert's "Poetry Is A Kind Of Lying" never fails to amaze me. The poem's paradoxical title sets the tone for an exploration of the relationship between poetry and truth, giving readers an unfiltered view of the poet's mind.

The Paradox of Truth and Lies

The first line of the poem, "Poetry is a kind of lying," is a paradox that sparks curiosity in readers. At first glance, the statement seems to undermine the very essence of poetry, which is to convey emotions, experiences, and ideas through language. However, as we delve deeper into the poem, we realize that Gilbert is not suggesting that poets intentionally deceive their readers. Rather, he argues that poetry is a form of imaginative truth-telling that transcends factual accuracy.

Gilbert writes, "in order to acheive the change that poetry can offer, one must first lie." This statement reiterates the fact that poetry is not simply a form of entertainment or aesthetic pleasure but also a tool for transformation. By "lying," Gilbert means that poets must sometimes exaggerate, embellish, or distort reality to create a more profound feeling or insight. In other words, poetry is not about describing the world as it is but about capturing what it could be or what it means to us.

The Power of Imagination

The second stanza of the poem emphasizes the power of imagination in poetry. Gilbert writes, "It is not enough to merely describe reality; one must also reimagine it." This line suggests that poetry is not just an imitation of life but a creative act that shapes our perception of reality. Through the use of metaphors, symbols, and vivid imagery, poets can transform mundane objects into something sublime, evoke emotions, and challenge our assumptions about the world.

For instance, Gilbert describes a butterfly as "a naked idea," highlighting its ephemeral beauty and fleeting nature. This metaphor not only captures the delicate essence of the butterfly but also suggests that ideas are just as fragile and elusive as the insect. By comparing the two, Gilbert expresses the idea that ideas, like butterflies, need to be nurtured and protected.

The Role of Poetry in Our Lives

The final stanza of the poem encapsulates the power of poetry to comfort us in times of despair, inspire us to action, and connect us to a larger sense of being. Gilbert writes, "We must risk delight / in having something to say, / a poem, perhaps, is a little myth." Here, he reminds us that despite the challenges and tragedies of life, we must not lose our ability to appreciate beauty, joy, and wonder. Poetry, as a little myth, offers us a glimpse into a world beyond our immediate reality, a world where anything is possible.

Moreover, Gilbert suggests that poetry can also be a call to action, a way to inspire us to make a difference in the world. He writes, "It is a gesture towards transformation / into the exalted company of words." The phrase "exalted company of words" suggests that poetry can elevate us to a higher plane of existence, where we are connected to something greater than ourselves. By taking on this transformative role, poetry becomes not just a form of self-expression but a way to effect change in the world.


In conclusion, "Poetry Is A Kind Of Lying" is a poem that challenges our conventional understanding of truth and lies. By showing us that poetry is not just a reflection of reality but an imaginative act that transforms it, Gilbert reminds us of the power of language to shape our perception of the world. Through his use of vivid imagery, metaphors, and paradoxes, he creates a poem that not only captures the essence of poetry but also inspires us to take action, reimagine the world, and risk delight.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Poetry Is A Kind Of Lying: A Masterpiece of Artistic Deception

Poetry is a kind of lying, a way of telling the truth in a way that is both beautiful and deceptive. This is the central theme of Jack Gilbert's poem, "Poetry Is A Kind Of Lying," a masterpiece of artistic deception that explores the nature of truth and the role of poetry in revealing it.

At its core, the poem is an exploration of the paradoxical relationship between truth and art. On the one hand, poetry is a form of lying, a way of distorting reality to create something new and beautiful. On the other hand, poetry is also a way of revealing the truth, of exposing the hidden depths of human experience that are often overlooked in our everyday lives.

The poem begins with a bold assertion: "Poetry is a kind of lying." This statement is both provocative and paradoxical, as it suggests that poetry is both deceptive and truthful at the same time. Gilbert goes on to explain that poetry is a way of "making things up" in order to reveal the truth. This is a powerful idea, as it suggests that the creative act of writing poetry is not just a form of self-expression, but a way of uncovering deeper truths about the world and ourselves.

Gilbert's use of language is particularly striking in this poem. He employs a range of metaphors and images to convey the complex relationship between truth and art. For example, he describes poetry as a "magic trick," a way of creating something out of nothing. This metaphor is particularly apt, as it captures the sense of wonder and mystery that often surrounds the creative act of writing poetry.

Another powerful image in the poem is the idea of poetry as a "lie that tells the truth." This phrase captures the paradoxical nature of poetry, as it suggests that the act of lying can actually reveal deeper truths about the world. This is a profound insight, as it suggests that the creative act of writing poetry is not just a form of self-expression, but a way of uncovering deeper truths about the world and ourselves.

Throughout the poem, Gilbert also explores the role of poetry in our lives. He suggests that poetry is a way of connecting with the world around us, of finding meaning in the chaos of everyday life. He writes, "We need the lies of poetry to tell the truth of our lives." This is a powerful statement, as it suggests that poetry is not just a form of artistic expression, but a vital tool for understanding ourselves and the world around us.

One of the most striking aspects of the poem is its use of repetition. Gilbert repeats the phrase "poetry is a kind of lying" several times throughout the poem, each time adding a new layer of meaning. This repetition creates a sense of rhythm and momentum, drawing the reader deeper into the poem and its themes.

Overall, "Poetry Is A Kind Of Lying" is a masterpiece of artistic deception, a powerful exploration of the paradoxical relationship between truth and art. Through his use of language, imagery, and repetition, Gilbert creates a powerful meditation on the role of poetry in our lives, and the ways in which it can help us to uncover deeper truths about ourselves and the world around us.

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