I don’t think that, prior to the wide use of the printing press, there was any distinction between poetry and song. It was only when a person could buy an edition of someone’s poems, and read them – not knowing at all how the writer had meant them to sound aloud – that a branch of poetry that consisted of interesting mind pictures could exist.
And that explains my preference over the poetry of Yeats to that of Eliot. (I’m using old poets because it’s more likely people will understand my references.) When Yeats went to excess, and he did frequently, he sounded, well, ridiculous. Silly. When Eliot went to excess, he became didactic. Preachy.
I’ll take ridiculous over preachy ten times out of ten.
That may also explain the difference between Walt Whitman and Emily Dickenson, although I criticize neither. Whitman was very out-going, and if his poetry was a barbaric yawp, at least it yawped in tune. Dickenson had no one to sing for, as she lived in a strange solitude, so her poetry was the perfect succession of imagery, broken by lots of long dashes.
Now, of course, we have poetry which is not either song nor pictures. It is conceptual, and goes on and on. I guess I am showing a prejudice, here. But as I’m not a critic by occupation, and in fact I avoid the role whenever I can, I can admit to my prejudices. I like my poetry to sing.
I can’t dance with elegance, but in my head I do. And I like to have words to dance to.