Literature is a subject matter that everyone has been exposed to at some point of time. It is an expression of the written word that comes in front of us in the form of the written word. Quite literally, literature means just that - made from letters! Words, sentences, poems, stories and essays, are all part of literature in a way that we love and enjoy. Whether reading books or poems or, now, reading something over the Internet, everything around us is a part of literature!
Now, there is nothing that states exactly what comprises of literature and what falls under that category. Almost anything that is written out is placed under that category and this includes factual or non-fictional works as well as original fictional content. There is no limitation based on the genre and anyone writing anything, at any point of time, comes under the umbrella of literature. That said, there is a tendency for the older forms of writing to be taught under the literature banner, but that kind of thought can be quite misleading.
The Origins of Literature
Since the invention of the written word, there have been lot of things that have been written and even more things that have been passed down through the generations. However, the first piece of literature, widely accepted around the world as the first piece of literature, is the Epic of Gilgamesh, a story written in the words of the Sumerians, older than 2100 BC. The story was just like the modern tales of heroism and friendship in the face of death and in the quest for eternal life.
Literature has always been written to tell the story of a period to the people of the next. There have been accounts of sagas by various tribes and even more about what they thought was the story behind the origin of the world or the environment around them. Homer's Iliad and Odyssey go all the way back to the Iron Age while the Indian mythological stories have reached divine proportions and are considered by many to be real tales of real people, and not mythology.
As urban culture came into the society, education became a major part of people's lives and one of those major aspects was the introduction of literature. In schools or through private tutors, children would study literature and learn about morals and heroes, learning to think like righteous citizens. Stories like the Panchatantra have long been considered as literature that has taught the lessons of life, and in the olden times, these were the only means for people to gain knowledge.
Different Forms of Literature
The entire world of literature is too vast to classify into any single segment and when we make generalizations like poetry or essays, which are extremely broad categories, we are effectively looking at literature from an enormous top-view. Taking something as simple as poems, you can find thousands of different varieties and even though there are certain rules to the kinds of poems we are likely to encounter in our study of literature.
Every single poem has its own structure and formation. Despite various attempts to create rules for this format of writing, society has failed to impose any forms of restrictions on the creativity of people who are interested in this art form. The emphasis, though, is always on imagery and metaphor although the physical structure may vastly differ. Poetry has always found it harder to define and if you are a student of literature or are just reading some poems because you like them, you are in for a treat - no two things will ever be the same!
Essays are similar and head down the same line although the format and point of focus, as well as the style is different. These are more topic-related and speak of the author' point of view about the subject matter. Essays, too, are a generalization that may include everything from memoirs to an epistle or even short stories or some prose.
Prose literature has always dwelled in the areas of philosophy or history or journalism, and science even. These are not just platforms of learning but also platforms for disseminating information to people who are interested in those topics. You can even dwell into the world of oral literature, which is all about folktales or ballads that have been written and passed around the world just like the traditional forms of written literature.
Technology has enabled us to access all these forms of literature quite easily and also added a few in thanks to computers and the Internet coming into our lives. Blogs are a new edition to the world of literature that has the Internet to thank for its birth. However, what you need to remember is that the study of literature is not restricted to schools or colleges - you can sit at home, with a book, and you would be as much a part of the world of literature as any student in any university. So give your life something more by adding literature as to the list of ways you spend your time.