How Wise Reader’s Interpret Poetry
We are moving a bit from the biographies of great poets and authors to the interpretation of their works, although the stories of today’s great authors have yet to be fully written and yet to come. Today we are going to look at the basics of the interpretation of poetry from a simple checklist that I have found on Google, which I will expound upon of course from my own experience reading poetry. Then we will take a look at a poem by our very own Alexis Karpouzos for a brief interpretation following this outline.
1. Read the poem over in it’s entirety to get the feel and overall meaning of the poem. Often to get the full “feel” and meaning of a poem, you must read it two times silently and once out loud to hear the sound of it.
2. Look for the imagery and give some thought the meaning of it to get the full meaning of the poem. And that’s the thing about poetry, it requires some thought (and you may even want to look up a term or two to get understanding), but although you don’t have to be a genus to understand, it does takes a little work to “suck that marrow from the bone” (Walt Whitman).
3. Look for the symbols. A symbol is a person, place or thing that stands for something bigger than itself. For instance, an egg could be a symbol fertility, but I personally use it as a symbol of the self, or more specifically a fragile boundary of self, with the self being closed in and not free inside the egg.
4. Look at the poets choice of words. Look at not only their on the surface definitions, but look in depth at what the particular word is associated with, IT’S CONNOTATIONS. For instance I ran across a rather humorous poem once that highlighted the difference between the two interchangeable words of “naked” and “nude”. In other words, “naked” is more to be ashamed while nude is itself quite bold! Keep in mind though that some post-modern poets selfishly use their own private vocabularies and don’t give a flip if you understand it or not, so you just have to read into it your own thoughts just as you would look ar an abstract painting.
- Determine the voice, and how does it make you feel on an emotional level. Are you happy, sad, inspired or angry when you read it? Is the poem a narrative story with conflict and a plot line? Then just read it as you would a good novel and enjoy.
- Determine the poem’s type. Is it wild and crazy free verse such as an e e cummings, then you are probably reading a poet who is more liberal in his or her views, or is it a more traditional form with meter and rhyme such as a real Shakespeare fan, then perhaps you have a more traditional writer behind the pen. However, all poetry writing and reading is entirely subjective to the individual.
Using the above outline, I will interpret the following poem by alexis karpouzos.
The Shuddering of the Heavens
Listen, if stars are still lit it means there is someone who needs them. It means someone wants to love,
Why then do we feel so much pain and heaviness of heart?
are we waiting for something, regretting anything?
To whom I can strech out my hand in the somber desert ? Who will accompany me on the empty night?
Who will give me a fiery day?
Who will bring back the sea that left?
No hope here. Torment is certain.
Without sacredness in the emptiness of this world of ours, the heart of man fades like a flower.
Suddenly, the shuddering of the heavens penetrating my soul, Oh never let the parting sun, no star is ever lost we once have seen. the long rains will continue to fall.
This is a poem about the destruction and desecration of nature by mankind and a man’s own soul and his regrets about the things he’s lost. So the overall feel of this poem is one of sadness and foreboding. I know this poet and the respect that he has for nature and the repeated warnings he has given us in his writings regarding mankind’s poor stewardship of the planet that even heaven shudders at the sight of it, In his imagery and his specific choice of words he likens the world to “a somber desert” and life on earth to “an empty night” in the wake of mankind’s failure to hold nature sacred in a world where man’s hope “fades like a flower”.
I think this particular images denotes the relative temporary estate of the human race in creation compared with the stars that are never lost and the “long rains that continue to fall”. However, I think the poet is also saying that although there are people like himself in the world who still desire to love, he does not hold out much hope to see another “fiery day” or that the sea that has left is ever coming back. In short, mankind has pushed his own creation on earth to the point of no return and that he has basically lost not only his hope, but his spirituality as well, he has lost all sense of sacredness.