Poetry, poem, and poet feel like such basic words, and Old English had such a great poetic tradition. Therefore, it’s a little sad to realise that we borrowed these words.
The word poetry ultimately comes from the Greek root ποιεω poieō meaning ‘I make’. In Old English, we had the words metergeweorc “meter-work” meaning ‘verse’ and metercræft “meter-craft” meaning ‘art of versification’.
Some senses of the word meter are ultimately from Greek, but some senses are from Old English. The homeborn, Germanic word is mete + er, mete meaning to measure (as in “mete out justice”). Thus meter is also Saxon word.
Poetry isn’t really about riming, but about the metre, that is, the rhythm and stresses. Therefore, meterwork and metercraft work really well for the word poem and poetry respectively.
A poet is clearly a meterworker or meterwright and/or a metercrafter/metercraftsman.
We also have the word skald which refers to a Scandinavian poet or singer of the Middle Ages — but we can easily take this word and update it for modern use (after all, “electric” comes from the Ancient Greek word meaning “amber”!) We might wish to spell this “scald” to show we have made the word English (and yes, the English word “scald” is indeed the same word as the Norse word skald! The link? Think how poets (and rappers) scald their opponents in verse).
Unlike in many languages, there is no deedword (verb) in English such as “poetrise”; that is, to do poetry. But with our Saxon forms about, we have no issue: both work and craft can be deedwords as well as namewords (nouns). So “I write poetry/I poetrise” could be “I meterwork/metercraft”.
© 2017 Bryan A. J. Parry
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