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Poetry is written or spoken language where the sounds and rhythm of the words that make it up is important, as well as its meaning. It is this attention to phonological factors that distinguishes it from prose, where only the meaning is important. Many of the earliest written texts are in poetry, including the works of Homer, and parts of the Old Testament, such as the song of Deborah in Judges 5. In oral tradition, poetry was often used because devices such as rhythm made the words easier to remember than blank, unadorned prose.

Traditionally, poetry is written in lines of a set number of syllables (or a pattern of different numbers of syllables). These may be arranged into groups called stanzas or verses, or may run on indefinitely; many works of poetry are hundreds or thousands of lines long. Modern poetry (from the late nineteenth or early twentieth century onwards) may use a less structured approach.

Rhyme is another device strongly associated with poetry, although it is actually a relatively recent innovation compared to the rhythm provided by syllable patterns. Classical poets such as Homer and Virgil did not use rhyme; in the English language, rhyme was considered something of a novelty when Chaucer used it, and indeed his facility with it was a great contributing factor to his popularity. In Europe, rhyme was used by the troubadours during the Medieval period, leading to its becoming a standard in lyric poetry; it was taken to new heights by Dante in his Divine Comedy.

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