Poetic, Poetical, Poetically: What’s the Difference?

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By definition, poetry is writing that works to combine both sound and meaning in a way that gives them each new life.

“Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.”

From the poem “In Memoriam A. H. H.” by Alfred Lord Tennyson (freedictionary.com).

Poetry creates feelings and ideas with its own distinctive style and rhythm.

It might tell a story or describe a scene. Famous poets in history include Robert Frost, William Shakespeare, T.S. Eliot, Sylvia Plath and William Butler Yeats.

Poetic vs. Poetical

Poetic and poetical are both adjectives. They refer to something that is related, similar to or concerned with poetry. Poetical is the earlier adjective of poetic, used around the late fourteenth century.

There is some confusion around which is correct to use in a sentence: poetic or poetical. The truth is that poetic and poetical are used largely interchangeably, poetic being the more popular one of the two.

Poetic (adjective):

The root of the word “poetic” is poietikos, a term from Ancient Greek. In its adjectival form, it means “of or pertaining to poetry,” but it can also describe something as having a poetic quality.

  • Related to, like, or suggestive of poetry.

– “The new band is quite poetic.”

  • A characteristic of poets.

– “He is a charming, poetic young man.”

  • Expressing heightened and often more than ordinary emotion; sensitive or moving in feeling or expression.

– “Your eyes are so poetic.”       

  • A form of literature characterised by the use of rhythmical, metaphorical language and often expressing an imaginative interpretation of experience.

– “She gives poetic speeches.”

You might also hear the term “poetic devices,” which is the deliberate use of the language to convey meaning. For example, alliteration, metaphors, irony, repetition and rhetorical questions are all examples of poetic devices.     

Poetical (adjective):

Poetical is an alternative form of the word poetic; suitable for poetry, poetry writing or pertaining to poetry.

As mentioned previously, poetical is an earlier adjective for “poetic”; however, it is still used today.

“Poetical speeches are always moving.”

“The love song was filled with poetical phrases.”

“His poetical works were published in 1965.”

Please note that we could also use “poetic” here and still be grammatically correct:

“Poetic speeches are always moving.”

“The love song was filled with poetic phrases.”

“His poetic works were publish in 1965.”

Poetically (adverb):

We use “poetically” as an adverb, which is used to modify the sentence in some way.

  • In a way similar to poetry.

– “The stars twinkled poetically.”

  • In a poetic manner:

– “She talked poetically about the benefits of nature”

– Did you see how he talked? He was being poetically descriptive.

– He spoke poetically against the injustices in our system.

– The moon shone beautifully poetically last night.

One might say that someone is “poetically inclined” when they are creative and imaginative. This last sense is similar to how someone might be “artistic” or “musically gifted.”

In Conclusion

I hope I have been able to clear up some of the confusion around the terms “poetic,” “poetical,” and “poetically.” You might choose to use “poetic” and “poetical” interchangeably and still be grammatically correct.

What is your own opinion on this? Let me know in the comments!

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