Reading a Poem • A poem differs from most prose in that it is to be read slowly, carefully, and attentively. Most poems can be understood and enjoyed after second or more reading.
In paraphrasing, we generally work through a poem or a passage line by line. We put into our own words what we understand the poem to say, restating ideas that seem essential, and stating what the poem may only suggest.
Making a paraphrase can help you see the central thought of the poem, its theme. Theme isn’t the same as subject, the main topic, whatever the poem is “about.”
In Yeat’s poem, the subject is the lake isle of Innisfree, or a wish to retreat to it. But the theme is, “I yearn for an ideal place where I will find perfect peace and happiness”.
Lyric poetry is a short poem expressing the thoughts and feelings of a single speaker. Often a poet will write a lyric in the first person, but not always. A lyric might describe an object or recall an experience without the speaker’s ever bringing himself into it.
A narrative poetry’s main purpose is to tell a story. A lyric sometimes relates an incident, it does not usually relate a series of events.
A dramatic poetry presents the voice of an imaginary character (or characters) speaking directly, without any additional narration by the author.
Listening to a Voice • Tone in literature often conveys an attitude toward the person addressed. Like the tone of voice, the tone of a poem may tell us how the speaker feels about himself. When we ask, “What is the tone of a poem?” we mean, “What attitude does the poet take toward a theme or a subject?.” Is the poet being affectionate, hostile, earnest, etc.
We may never be able to know the poet’s personal feelings but all we need to know is how to feel when we read a poem. Strictly speaking, tone isn’t an attitude; it is whatever in the poem makes an attitude clear to us: the choice of certain words instead of others, the picking out of certain details.
Glossary of Selected Terms • Irony is a manner of speaking that implies a discrepancy. • Subject : the main topic; whatever the poem is “about.” • Carpe diem : “seize the day”; seizing the joys of the present moment. • A lyric : a short poem expressing the thoughts and feelings of a single speaker, often in the first person. • Persona : fictitious character; not the poet, but the poet’s creation.
Words • Literal Meaning: What a Poem Says First Poems state ideas. Ideas are made up of carefully selected words and arranged with loving art. Some poets take great pains to find the right word, which has to be exact and memorable. Words possess not only dictionary meanings (denotations) but also many associations and suggestions (connotations).
Saying and Suggesting The tendency of a word to have multiplicity of meaning rather than plainness opens broad avenues to poetry. Every word has at least one denotation (a meaning as defined in a dictionary) and also connotations (overtones or suggestions of additional meaning).
Glossary of Selected Terms • Denotations : dictionary meaning(s) of words. • Connotations : words with many associations and suggestions.
Imagery Though the term image suggests a thing seen, when speaking of images in poetry we generally mean a word or sequence of words that refers to any sensory experience. Often this experience is a sight (visual imagery), sound (auditory imagery), or a touch (tactile imagery, as a perception of roughness or smoothness). It may be an odor or a taste or perhaps the quenching of thirst. An image may occur in a single word, a phrase, a sentence, or an entire poem.
Speech • Why Speak Figuratively? Reading poetry, we often meet comparisons between two things whose similarity we have never noticed before. In its broadest definition, a figure of speech may be said to occur whenever a speaker or writer, for the sake of freshness or emphasis, departs from the usual denotations of words. Figures of speech are not devices to state what is demonstrably untrue. They call attention to truths and lend them emphasis.
Metaphor and Simile • A simile is a comparison of two things, indicated by some connective, usually like, as, than, or a verb such as resembles. A simile expresses a similarity, the things compared have to be dissimilar in kind (e.g. as blind as a bat; as cunning as a fox; as black as coal).
A metaphor is a statement that one thing is something else, which in a literal sense, it is not. Often you can tell a metaphor from a simile by much more than just the presence or absence of a connective.
In general, a simile refers to only one characteristic that two things have in common, while a metaphor is not plainly limited in the number of resemblances it may indicate. To use a simile “He eats like a pig” is to compare man and animal in one respect: eating habits. But to say “He’s a pig” is to use a metaphor that might involve comparisons of appearance and morality as well.
Glossary of Selected Terms • Hyperbole : overstatement; not literal truth such as “I’ve told him a thousand times.” • Paradox : occurs in a statement that at first strikes us as self-contradictory but that on reflection makes some sense such as when the blind John Milton tells how one night he dreamed he could see his dead wife.
Sound • Sound as Meaning Most good poetry has meaningful sound as well as musical sound. Certainly the words of a song have an effect different from that of wordless music: they go along with their music and, by making statements, add more meaning. The sounds of consonants and vowels can contribute greatly to a poem’s effect.
Alliteration and Assonance Poems have patterns of sound. Alliteration is a succession of similar sounds and occurs in the repetition of the same consonant sound at the beginning of successive words -- “round and round the rugged rocks the ragged rascal ran”.
Rime A rime occurs when two or more words or phrases contain an identical or similar vowel-sound, usually accented, and the consonant-sounds (if any) that follow the vowel-sound are identical: hay and sleigh. Rime does not depend on spelling but on sound.
Reading and Hearing Poems Aloud • Reading poems aloud is a way to understand them. If you know what the poet is saying and the poet’s attitude toward it, you will be able to find an appropriate tone of voice and to give each part of the poem a proper emphasis.
Closed Form • Form is the design of thing as a whole, the configuration of all its parts. Writing in closed form, a poet follows some sort of pattern and the poems tend to look regular and symmetrical, often falling into stanzas that indicate groups of rimes. Closed form gives some poems a valuable advantage: it makes them more easily memorable.
Open Form • A poet who writes in the open form usually views the writing of a poem as a process, rather than a quest for an absolute. It is to discover a fresh and individual arrangement for words in every poem. Poems in open form generally has neither a rime scheme nor a basic meter informing the whole of it. The poet then relies on other means to engage and to sustain the reader’s attention.
Symbol • A symbol is a visible object or action that suggests some further meaning in addition to itself. This power of suggestion that a symbol contains is its greatest advantage. A symbol will lead us from a visible object to something too vast to be perceived.
In looking for the symbols in a poem, pick out all the references to concrete objects. Consider why the poet emphasizes by detailed description, by repetition, or by placing at the very beginning or end of the poem. Ask: What is the poem about, what does it add to? However, we are unable to say a symbol “stands for” or “represents” a meaning. It evokes, it suggests, it manifests and it demands no single interpretation.
Evaluating a Poem • Telling Good from Bad A poem is bad because it has failed to move us or to engage our sympathies. It has made us doubt that the poet is in control of language and vision. The general faults are due to weakness in a poem’s basic conception or in the poet’s competence.
What could be some of the questions that you could ask yourself in order to get ideas for writing about a poem? • How does this poem communicate the speaker’s state of mind? • Paraphrase the poem. Compare your paraphrase with the original.
What is figurative language? • The importance of figurative language is in the saying of one thing in terms of something else, for example, “My love is a rose.” Figurative language include the following: simile, metaphor, synecdoche, metonymy, personification, apostrophe, etc.
What should you consider as you prepare to write about figurative language? • The areas from which the images are drawn (e.g. religion, science, etc.) • The kinds of images (e.g. similes, metaphors, etc.) • Any shifts from one type of imagery to another (e.g. from similes to metaphors) • The location of the images (beginning, middle or end of the poem)
Reading SchemeWendy Cope Here is Peter. Here is Jane. They like fun.Jane has a big doll. Peter has a ball.Look, Jane, look! Look at the dog! See him run! Here is Mummy. She has baked a bun.Here is the milkman. He has come to call.Here is Peter. Here is Jane. They like fun. Go Peter! Go Jane! Come, milkman, come!The milkman likes Mummy. She likes them all.Look, Jane, look! Look at the dog! See him run! Here are the curtains. They shut out the sun.Let us peep! On tiptoe Jane! You are small!Here is Peter. Here is Jane. They like fun. I hear a car, Jane. The milkman looks glum.Here is Daddy in his car. Daddy is tall.Look, Jane, look! Look at the dog! See him run! Daddy looks very cross. Has he a gun?Up milkman! Up milkman! Over the wall!Here is Peter. Here is Jane. They like fun.Look, Jane, look! Look at the dog! See him run!