Poetry, and especially lyrical poetry, seems to be a rather useless form of communication. Nevertheless, it is a universal in human cultures and thus there could be an evolutionary basis to it. In my paper I suggest that poems may be useless, but not the poetic form. Parallelisms, i.e. linguistic structures of repetition with variation, not only facilitate language acquisition but also help to memorize information and are thus advantageous in oral cultures. The inherently favorable human response to poetic utterances would then result from an adaptive process, with poetry as we know it today as a cultural epiphenomenon.
Rhymes without Reason? or: The Improbable Evolution of Poetry
In Frans Bengtsson’s historical novel The Long Ships from 1945 a short vignette tells an amusing tale about a bit of courtship in the Viking era. In the course of a great christening feast, a young man called Grisle, who is “shy of women, although he was often observed to cast by no means hostile glances in the direction of one or the other of them” (Bengtsson, 269) finds himself at the table opposite “a girl called Rannvi, a comely virgin with a snub nose and a dimple in her cheek, such a woman as might easily cause a young man to cease his chatter” (ibid.). During the meal “he had cast stealthy glances towards her, but had not dared to address her and had become stiff with terror whenever it had so happened that their eyes had met” (ibid.). However, after maybe just a little too much strong ale, he musters his courage and suddenly bursts out with a poem about the humiliation of an enemy. That changes everything: “‘He is a poet! He has written a whole poem!’ cried those about him, and none cried with so loud a voice as Rannvi” (270). Shortly later, the young man seems to have disappeared from the table, “but since Rannvi’s place was also empty, their parents thought it most likely that they both had become drowsy and, as befitting well brought up children, had retired to rest without disturbing their parents” (272). On the following morning, the two youngsters appear to be in “a state of extreme bliss” and “well content with each other” (274) and suggest that their wedding should be arranged as soon as possible.
This little story seems to presuppose one of the hypotheses frequently proposed by scholars pursuing the evolutionary origins of literature, i.e. that literary talent may have contributed to the attraction of potential mates and thus increased reproductive success. Favored in the process of sexual selection, pleasure in poetry became a human trait, hard-wired into our brains, and the poets flourished and spread their genes wherever they went. The importance of successful courtship in this context is quite obvious, as the recitation of poetry around the campfires of prehistoric cave dwellers was surely in itself not particularly useful for survival under hostile conditions, except perhaps as a means of keeping sane and keeping their spirits up. In consequence, Wolfgang Steinig suggests a model based on mating rituals and argues that men who were able to tell exciting stories and impress by brilliant rhetoric were prone to find more attractive sexual partners (cf. Steinig, 36). The framework for this concept is Geoffrey Miller’s The Mating Mind and the seemingly counter-intuitive idea that literature, music and the arts were selected precisely because they had no survival value and indicated a high-cost male display. Miller admits that “Our capacities for music, art, creativity, humor, and poetry do not look like ordinary adaptations are supposed to look”, but then uses this very aspect for his argument, suggesting that: “these are precisely the features we should expect of fitness indicators” (Miller, 132). The arts would then be the human equivalent to the excessively long tail of the bird of paradise or the unwieldy antlers of the Irish Elk, used for ritual display to favor increased reproduction: “Large antlers confer high status and access to females. Since there can be no evolutionary advantage more potent than a guarantee of successful reproduction, selective pressures for large antlers must often be intense” (Gould, 1977, 89). In his wonderfully acerbic novel Galapagos, Kurt Vonnegut treated the huge human brain as a case of run-away evolution, ultimately leading to the destruction of mankind. Now art as one of the more refined elements of our mental toolbox is treated as the product of a sexual selection that favors impractical features because they ultimately show that the male endowed with them has energy and power to spare. At first sight, the argument looks convincing. Linguistic ability is, of course, an evolutionary advantage, and once sexual selection had hooked onto it, more and more complex and refined utterances were needed and thus produced to impress prospective female partners.
However, a caveat needs to be added to this model. The antlers of a deer or the plumage of a bird demonstrate the ability of their bearers to survive under difficult conditions and thus indicate an uncommonly good genetic material. A less endowed competitor cannot produce this visual resource for sexual display, and he cannot fake it, steal it or in any other way gain access to it. Poetic ability, on the other hand, is not safe from linguistic buccaneering, and many are the ways in which an ungifted suitor can dress up in a plumage of usurped feathers. A poem recited before any kind of public is no longer the property of the poet and can be used by every listener with a memory sufficient to repeat it under suitable conditions. The case study for this is the play Cyrano de Bergerac, in which the woman falls in love with a good looking youngster of no particular merit, and Cyrano, convinced that his oversized nose will forever ban him from the graces of his beloved, supplies the poetry with the help of which the lady can be courted and won. Cyrano, of course, voluntarily helps Neuvillette to win Roxane, but it has to be noted that she falls for the looks of her beau, probably before he first opens his mouth, and to her the famed but less handsome poet does not appear to be a potential competitor. Only far later –we may assume that the characters are past the romantic follies of youth, but also their procreative prime – does Roxane realize that it was Cyrano she had indirectly loved, rather than the visually attractive but far less eloquent Neuvillette (Miller also draws on the story of Cyrano but completely misses the point that the poet does not get the belle and that the well-turned line can easily be transferred, voluntarily or involuntarily, from the gifted man to the dunce).
Despite its illustrative power, Cyrano de Bergerac is fiction and thus not valid as evidence, but it is striking that in literature as in mythology singers are usually not famed for their amorous conquests. One might have expected that the poets would have presented their own image and interests in a slightly better light, but they regularly remain in the background, invisible, while the spotlight is on the heroes who are not particularly sensitive or linguistically gifted. Sexual success is not with the bards but with the bullies, and ever so often refined courting is replaced by sexual coercion if not downright violence. When in the Song of the Nibelungs Gunther fails to impress Brunhild by his appearance or rank, Siegfried does not help his liege lord by supplying amorous verses or eloquent songs but by defeating the valkyrie with the help of his invisibility cloak, first in the required athletic contest and later, in the king’s bed chamber, by rape.
It is not particularly difficult to supply arguments against the evolutionary origin of poetry, and the various attempts to claim an advantage of the poetically gifted either for survival or in the mating rituals of prehistoric times usually have a touch of just-so-stories, i. e. we know the result and so we have to construct some plausible story how it was reached. One of the problems of this approach is that it focuses on poetry as we know it. To account for this, requires a setting that is also familiar to us, and Miller suggests that “a romantic psychodrama is just what we need to envision how sexual choice may have worked during human evolution” (Miller, 179). In addition, he also introduces aspects of life that seem to be Victorian rather than Pleistocene. In discussing mating behavior and “short-term liaisons and adulterous affairs“, he suggests that “there were probably social pressures against such dalliances from jealous partners and their families” (Miller, 187), even though the term ‘families’ makes no sense in the primordial horde, and the existence of ‘jealousy’ is purely speculative.
Miller also claims that “[o]nce language evolved, sexual gossip would have been a deterrent against illicit affairs, sexual harassment, and reputation-destroying rape accusations”. This assumption projects decidedly modern moral standards and a concept of ‘illicitness’ onto an era of human development in which the causal relationship between sex and pregnancy was in all probability still unknown. We should also keep in mind that throughout the course of history and, in literature, at least up to the era of Arthurian romances rapists were frequently punished by no more than a slap on the hand – in the tale of Chaucer’s “Wife of Bath”, a rapist is sentenced to death, but strangely enough it is the women who come to his aid, for “the queene and other ladys mo / So longe preyeden thay the kyng of grace, / Til he his lif hath graunted in the place” (Chaucer, Wyf, ll. 38-40) – and it would take a very long time indeed until sexual harassment became socially ostracized. It has been argued that our ideas of love and romance are the byproduct of Renaissance concepts of individuality and the subsequent rise of bourgeois values and morals, and a search for their equivalent on the African savannahs at the dawn of mankind would be highly imaginative. Of course, some poetry is rather old, and the beautiful language of the Song of Solomon indicates that poetic courtship has a long pedigree, but the old Oriental culture is still far away from the prehistoric setting we have to account for when we explore the evolution of mankind.
Be that as it may, the problem that poetry is a universal and of crucial significance in all cultures remains and needs to be accounted for, and if the reproductive advantage for the bard is not particularly convincing, a more comprehensive model is required.
Discussing poetry, we usually follow the modern view according to which form and content are merged for a linguistically complex and rewarding poetic statement. In consequence, the argument for sexual selection as a decisive factor favoring genteel courtship and linguistic eloquence implicitly focuses on genre rather than on poetic properties, stressing the display in front of females, the entertainment value and the expectation that the prospective mate might be a pleasant rather than merely a functional partner (cf. Miller’s subchapter “Pleistocene Flirting Versus Modern Dating”, in which he actually suggests that prehistoric humans needed more face to face entertainment because “there was no television to keep your sexual partner amused after the first blush of romance faded”, 189). This model projects modern forms of partnership onto prehistoric times, favoring the formation of couples over polygamous relationships in the primordial horde. After all, it is hardly to be expected that in some Pleistocene equivalent to Wagner’s Sängerkrieg the poets presented their songs in front of an all-female audience to be democratically elected as the romantic interest of all members of the harem. But as of now there is no indication that monogamy or serial monogamy was the dominant form of reproductive relationship when homo sapiens was struggling for survival in the African savannah, and in later human cultures this was certainly not a universal. Neither is it in the communities of our closest biological relatives, and thus it may be fallacious to simply assume that partnerships ran along the lines established in some regions of the world after the significance of fathers for reproduction was discovered.
But do we actually need the imagery of romance to defend the evolutionary origin of poetry? In a very different context, Roger Penrose argues that it might be fallacious to search for the direct advantage of modern human traits instead of more generic abilities that later could develop into the forms we encounter today. He pointed out that “[f]or our remote ancestors, a specific ability to do sophisticated mathematics can hardly have been a selective advantage, but a general ability to understand could well have” (Penrose, 114). Quite similarly, the search for modern behavior as the root for selection in prehistoric times may well lead us away from more relevant processes and thus also from a convincing reconstruction of the evolutionary origins of literature.
If we discard the notion of courtship as the basis of poetic language and instead focus on other possible advantages of well-turned phrases, we may probe deeper into the origins of artful speech than by simply projecting present mores and conventions on our first ancestors. For this I want to dismiss momentarily all speculations about the content of prehistoric speech and instead focus on the form as described by Roman Jakobson in his seminal essay “Linguistics and Poetics”. Jakobson distinguishes poetry from the poetic function of language: “Any attempt to reduce the sphere of poetic function to poetry or to confine poetry to poetic function would be a delusive oversimplification” (Jakobson, 356). He then defines the poetic function as those self-reflexive aspects of language in which the focus of the message is on its own form. The decisive feature of this self-reflexivity is the principle of equivalence or parallelism:
Equivalence is promoted to the constitutive device of the sequence. In poetry one syllable is equalized with any other syllable of the same sequence; word stress is assumed to equal word stress, as unstress equals unstress; prosodic long is matched with long, and short with short; word boundary equals word boundary, no boundary equals no boundary; syntactic pause equals syntactic pause, no pause equals no pause. Syllables are converted into units of measure, and so are morae or stresses. (Jakobson, 358)
As one of the functions of language, the poetic function can appear in any kind of statement, and Jakobson offers examples from political slogans or simple sentences in which the specific phrasing is intuitively chosen because it “sounds smoother” (359). And it is this aspect, that the form is felt to be more suitable, smoother, more pleasant to the speaker as well as to the audience, that is of interest here.
If we accept the suggestions of a situation of courtship and male display, the delight we take in poetically formed statements is the cause of female sexual selection. However, it is this delight that we have to explain if we want to account for an evolutionary origin first of the poetic function and then of poetry as such.
The ubiquity of linguistic items that employ one or the other form of the poetic function is a certain indication of the response it triggers in the audience. For example, alliterative names of actors and singers, TV-shows, brand names, logos etc. demonstrate that we fall for the suggestive name of the product from Marilyn Monroe and Doris Day, Roger Rabbit and Donald Duck to Coca Cola, Firefox and Paypal, from Peter Parker, Bruce Banner, the Silver Surfer, the Fantastic Four, Clark Kent and Lois Lane to the Blues Brothers, Waynes World and Mad Max, from the Teletubbies and Sesame Street to Bob the Builder and Spongebob Squarepants. In his book on rhyme theory, agar agar zaur zaurim, the German poet Peter Rühmkorf argued that parallelisms of all kinds resonate in our minds, and in a highly alliterative statement suggested “das Vorhandensein gewisser nervöser Verbindungsfäden zwischen früher Kinderreduplikation und einer lebenslangen Lust an geklonten Lauten“ (Rühmkorf, 60; “the presence of particular nerval connecting strings between early reduplication by children and a life-long lust for cloned sounds”).
Unquestionably, the response to repetitive and rhythmic verbal structures is present at a very early age, and in fact the delight in particular forms of linguistic parallelism can already be detected when infants first encounter language and possibly even before understanding becomes an issue. In a study of babytalk focusing on the mother’s side of the exchange, Miall and Dissanayake suggest that the ‘poetic’ nature of the remarkable and systematic features of babytalk “deserves consideration as a foundational (or ‘proto-aesthetic’) phase of temporal arts, such as literary language and music, that we create and experience as adults” (Miall and Dissanayake, 338). In a rather short sequence of about one minute of verbal interaction between a mother and her child they identify parallelisms and hyperbole, alliteration and assonance, rhyme and vowel matching (cf. ibid., 343), and with particular reference to the Russian formalist school they affirm that “the ability to respond to poetic features of language is present as early as the first few weeks of life and that this ability attunes cognitive and affective capacities in ways that provide a foundation for the skills at work in later aesthetic production and response” (ibid., 353).
Pre-verbal infant babbling itself is a form of rehearsal by repetition, and the fun in repetitive sound patterns possibly serves as a transition phase on the way to structured language. Small children then love duplications, rhymes, alliterations and repetitions of any kind, and the joy in such sound patterns quite obviously takes priority over the content of the message, as nonsensical utterances are certainly relished if only they offer some interesting auditory stimulus. Nursery rhymes and infant poetry can in this respect be regarded as pure poetic form, as the content of the ‘poems’ is of little relevance while the excitement is focused on the recurrence of sounds and linguistic patterns.
Repetition is one of the most important methods for learning, and language acquisition is thus favoured by the fun that sound patterns and repetitive structures bring to the infant. The importance of a good command of language can, of course, hardly be overestimated, and thus any adaptation that helps to improve on that process would be advantageous to the individual and ultimately to the group. An inherent predisposition for pleasure in linguistic structures that employ the poetic function could thus be selected for its own merit, not as a secondary feature favoured in spite of its apparent utter uselessness in the course of courtship and male sexual display.
By its very nature of repetition and recurrence the poetic function favours learning, but this is not restricted to language acquisition. In addition, the poetic function also supports the learning of a particular text and thus helps to memorize information. We may distinguish here between two aspects of the poetic function: equivalence by meter and equivalence of sound.
Meter is, of course, one of the major aspects of poetry, and Ernst Pöppel has demonstrated that the length of poetic lines is once more a universal with an average of 3 seconds in all cultures studied (cf. Pöppel, ch. 7-9 passim). This is the duration of our “acoustic present”, as “we remember echoically and completely three seconds’ worth of acoustic information before it is passed on to a longer-term memory system, where it is drastically edited, organized for significant content, and pushed down to a less immediate level of consciousness” (Turner, 122). In addition, the mental state created by metrical language can later be recovered and thus serves as a mnemotechnical device:
The rhythm of the words is remembered even when the words themselves are lost to us; but the rhythm helps us to recover the mental state in which we first heard or read the poem, and then the gates of memory are opened and the words come to us at once” (Turner and Pöppel, n.p.).
The affective response to poetically formed metrical utterances is once more stressed by the observation that not only the mind but also the body responds to simple rhythms, that the perception of poetic patterns “is a physical as well as an intellectual act” (Carper and Attridge, x) and thus also emotionally rewarding.
Similar arguments support the significance of equivalence in sound for the mental storage and recovery of poetically coded information. Aleida and Jan Assmann have pointed out with reference to Jakobson’s model that repetition and parallelism are among the most important mnemotechnical devices (cf. Aleida and Jan Assmann, 270). On the one hand they improve our ability to memorize texts, on the other hand they add stress and thus significance to a message, making it special (cf. ibid. and Eibl, 287-8).
Of course, equivalence in sound patterns as in rhythm does not mean exact similarity, as repetition in itself would not serve any purpose for the transmission of information and, as we probably all have experienced on long afternoons with elderly and slightly senile relatives, quickly brings boredom. Repetition with variation, in meter as in parallel sound structures, produces tension and interest, if not excitement (cf. Turner, 122), and the very difference between the expected utterance and the actual phrase serves as a powerful tool to captivate an audience.
The poetic format of a text may be then seen as a specific kind of ‘dual coding’ by which the content and the form constitute two specific sets of information which interact to reinforce each other. In a different context, an essay on “Psychological processes in metaphor comprehension and memory”, Allan Paivo and Mary Walsh suggest that dual coding serves as a mnemonic device because “two independent, but interconnected sources of information in long-term memory increase the probability of finding a connection between topic and vehicle. The mechanism is simply additivity of independent systems” (Paivo und Walsh, 320). As the title of the essay indicates, the focus is primarily on the role of metaphors in dual coding – and once more the connection to poetry and its frequently intense metaphorization comes into focus – but then the poetic function similarly indicates the use of a code that serves to retain and recall particular verbal sequences and thus to store and process the coded information.
I expect that it will not be necessary to elaborate further on the mnemonic potential of poetic language. After all, this was well known at the latest when Plato in Phaedrus suggested that the Parian Evenus, “wrote indirect censures, composing them in verse as an aid to memory” (Plato, 267a).
Of course, it is hard to imagine that an adaptation such as the one described above would merely serve to increase the male ability to sing sweet nothings into the ears of choosy female partners. Moreover, the simple fact that poetic utterances can be remembered better would favor the fraudulent borrowing of plumage and thus counteract the original purpose of a unique male display of superiority over the competitors. There is a certain probability that the affective bond between mother and child, favored by the proto-poetic utterances of babytalk, will later also find some equivalence in social bonds within a particular group and in partnerships, even though it need not be “a strong feeling of universal and particular love, and communal solidarity”, as Turner and Pöppel (n.p.) phrase it with a modicum of hyperbole. To regard this as the most significant aspect does, however, disregard some more pressing problems in pre-literate communities and cultures.
Prehistoric peoples had more important things to communicate and more vital information to store than merely the poetic cooing of testosterone-loaded males or the equivalents of modern day lyrical poetry, no matter how beautiful it may ever be. If we look closely at the myths that have been transmitted to us from prehistoric times – and there is simply no older verbal information we have access to – we have to realize that they are not merely fantastic tales about imaginary heroes and their immortal deeds, but repositories of encoded knowledge. Myths explain why the world is as it is and how it is possible to survive in it, accommodate the powers that be, achieve their sympathy or support, evade their wrath, or escape their notice. In this respect, for pre-historic people mythos equaled logos, and the immensely important information had to be preserved and passed on over successive generations.
It is hardly to be imagined that the tales that ultimately reached us in a written version of extreme poetic density were conceived in this form by some pre-historic genius. Famously, myths have no real origin but are constantly told and retold, woven into new tales and unraveled for shorter narrations. In the course of this process, the tales change with the teller, but also preserve and stabilize those forms that are more easily memorized and, as I have argued, in consequence also more enjoyable for the audience and for future tellers. The long history of Israelite scripture with the incorporation of local myths and legends in the course of consecutive redactions may serve as an example here. The poetic density of the Torah is enormous and suggests the successive improvement in an “accretive evolution through several eras of Israelite history” (Alter, 24), lasting from pre-literate times way into the period of the Babylonian exile and possibly even beyond.
It is, however, not necessary to focus on the grand narratives of world creation and literally canonical literatures. In the nomadic world that is relevant for the processes of adaptation outlined above, various other ‘genres’ of information are of crucial importance. High on the list would be accounts of previous travels; water holes need to be located, safe places for shorter or longer pauses must be found at certain intervals, previously dangerous routes have to be avoided. Among the most ancient poetic oral traditions that are still accessible are probably the Songlines or Dreaming tracks of the Australian aborigines which map the routes of the indigenous peoples and ultimately the whole continent, and, without falling into the trap of identifying modern day nomad peoples with our prehistoric ancestors, one can assume that an easily memorizable description of safe paths and passages must have been an imperative need for any group of migrating hunters and gatherers. A considerable number of the myths that have reached us from the earliest ages are quests or voyages, and quite possibly poetic narration is one of the most durable forms of preserving information about journeys in pre-literate times (cf. Eibl, 257).
Indeed, ever since Simonides managed to identify the bodies of the crushed guests at Scopas’ banquet by recalling their position at the table before the roof collapsed, memory systems have used imaginary locations as a mnemonic tool, as a ‘memory theatre’ or ‘memory palace’, through which the memorizing subject passes, attributing a specific space to each item from whence it could later be retrieved when it had to be recalled. Given that the mapping of space must have been of immense importance among nomadic peoples at the dawn of mankind, it is well possible that the ‘method of loci’ is drawing on precisely those mnemonic tools that the human mind developed in the process of its evolution.
One of the most useful aids for orientation is the observation of the stars, and research over the last fifty years has demonstrated how astronomical knowledge is encoded in ancient myths and a plenitude of artefacts and rituals. Giorgio de Santillana and Hertha von Dechend suggest that various myths from almost all over the world record the precession of the Earth, the ever so slow shift in the orientation of the rotation axis in consequence of the slight tilting of the globe. What is only an irrelevant phenomenon today must have been of immense concern to nomadic people as it ultimately led to an alteration in the most important fixed point in the heavens, the star that marked true North. But to recognize this shift requires not only precise observation over enormous periods of time but also a continuous transmission of this knowledge in a world that necessarily has to rely on oral traditions (cf. Santillana and Dechend, passim). Similarly, Jerome Lettvin suggests that the myth of Perseus not only encodes knowledge about the Mediterranean fauna and especially various species of squid but also about the constellations that bear the name of the protagonists with special focus on Algol, the only star whose brightness changes visibly in the course of one night only, and which was in consequence identified with the evil eye of Medusa, Lilith and other malevolent demons or deities. Lettvin also emphasises the role of myth for memory and the similarity of mythic tales with the memory palaces as explained above (cf. Lettvin, 133-135). One of the points both texts make is that the gods were stars before they became gods, and that the myths, all of which are invariably handed down in one or the other form of poetic language, thus serve as a repository of knowledge about aspects of the universe that either were in fact, or at least considered to be, of vital importance to the pre-literate people who told and retold them over immense stretches of time.
John Eddy concludes his essay on “Medicine Wheels and Plains Indian Astronomy” with the exclamation “How fragile is knowledge without the written word!”, but in the face of the facts he establishes earlier in this text – that American natives used particular astronomical knowledge for 2000 years and only lost it after the arrival of Columbus – one may well suspect that it was the written word of the white man that destroyed the knowledge which had been passed on over millennia in the form of myth. Plato was probably quite correct when he suggested that the art of memory declined with the ascent of written records. In his dialogue Phaedrus he has Thamus answer Theuth’s claim that writing would improve man’s memory:
This invention will produce forgetfulness in the minds of those who learn to use it, because they will not practice their memory. Their trust in writing, produced by external characters which are no part of themselves, will discourage the use of their own memory within them. (Plato, 275a)
The ability to memorize culturally crucial information, be it the coordinates for a safe journey through a hostile environment, the healing powers of particular plants, the strategies for evasive action in the face of superior adversaries or the tactics to succeed in combat, is a valuable part of the mental tool box and certainly offered an advantage for survival in pre-historic times. It would thus have been a successful feature in the process of natural selection, and, as this ability also makes for good leaders who would then by their status attract female partners, it would indirectly also have had an impact on sexual selection.
The appearance of poetry in the modern sense is then a secondary phenomenon which makes use of an already established feature for new purposes. Models that reduce poetic language to this secondary function or to an element in courtship fail to recognize the significance of the poetic function for the storage and transmission of pre-literate knowledge and ultimately in the reconstruction of a convincing scenario for the evolutionary origins of poetry.
To conclude, in the course of human evolution one or several adaptations favoured pleasure in repetitive linguistic structures, first resulting in an improvement in language acquisition and the affective bond between mother and child. This then also allowed for better mental storage and an enhanced processing and sharing of information, which once more must have been a considerable advantage for survival in a hostile environment. The information was in all probability not poetry as we now know it, but vital for the groups and later for the increasingly larger social communities. This does not necessarily indicate that the members of those groups were born as gifted poets, but rather that the messages improved poetically over time – the more memorable form of a message was, of course, remembered and passed on, and so the impact of the poetic function increased. Once the poetic elements of a message found a favourable response within the audience, other kinds of messages could make use of this potential for a variety of purposes among which, in present times, are advertisements, political slogans, lyrical poetry and songs. When an adaptive feature has established itself, the uses to which it can be put are no longer limited by its original practical function. The rest is memetics.
And if in the course of human evolution the odd bard increased his attractiveness to the female sex by lays of love or exciting sagas, the subsequent spreading of his genes would only have supported the tendency in his offspring to enjoy poetic utterances and to memorize complex forms of information in which rhyme and reason are pleasantly merged.
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