Poetry essay: Clear vs. mixed clear and obscure vs. obscure poetry

Sometimes when a reader reads a poem, the meaning can seem very clear.  For example, look at the following poem:

The death of Rollie the cat

Sometime in the night,
beneath the blue chair,
her eyes closed.

This poem should be very clear to the reader.  The title describes exactly what it is about and the poem itself, in some sense, fulfills the title.  From the title, a reader should be expecting to read about the death of Rollie the cat, and then they do.

Although the poem is clear, it does have some symbolism.  The death occurred at night (a time of darkness), in a hidden place, and beneath something.  The chair is blue, symbolizing sadness, and the death is described peacefully.  These symbols though, don’t take away from the clarity of the poem.  This poem doesn’t require any explanation to make sense.

Now consider the following poem:

Starlight

Through the canyons,
with bounds and flight,
starlight faded,
during the night.

This poem is a mixture of clarity and obscurity.  In a literal sense, the poem seems to be talking about starlight.  It seems to describe it moving about and then fading.  Although the imagery and sound is a bit flowery, a literal meaning does come through.

On another level though, this poem is obscure.  How can starlight bound and fly?  How does it move through canyons?  Why would it fade during the night?  The poem, in some sense, doesn’t make sense.

Underneath, this poem is about the same subject as the first poem.  It is about the death of Rollie the cat.  Rollie, in the poem, is symbolized by starlight.  This symbolism shows the positive emotions toward Rollie.

When Rollie was alive, she was very active and in some sense light in her movements.  This is described in the first two lines.  Rollie died though.  Her death is described in the last two lines.

The imagery, symbolism, syllable count and rhyme increased the obscurity of this poem.  While a reader might understand that it is about something active and bright ending, they might not know the real meaning unless they were told.

If they were told, however, for example, if someone said that this poem was about Rollie the cat, the ideas and meaning become much clearer.  The poem does not have many levels to its symbolism.  Once a reader knows it is about Rollie, the starlight fading, takes on the proper meaning.  The reader does not have to be told Rollie died, to understand that she did.

Now consider this poem:

Flowers,
snowflakes,
and a summer breeze,
  the sand crystals shined,
  while the melody played.

What is this poem about?  From the meanings of the poems above, a reader might understand that it too is about the death of Rollie the cat, but taken alone, the meaning isn’t so clear.

The poem has no title, and it mentions nothing about death, cats or the idea of ending in any overt ways.

The poem is full of symbolism.  Rollie the cat is seen as something good, but something that only lasted for a short time.  In the poem, this concept is symbolized by the first three lines.  Flowers are nice, but fade quickly.  Snowflakes are nice, but hardly last in their flake form.  A summer breeze blows in and then is gone.  All of these things symbolize the temporariness of Rollie’s life.

The sand crystals is in reference to an hourglass.  An hourglass is made partially of glass and glass is made from silica and silica is in sand.  The shining part combined with the sand crystals, is saying that time shined.  This time shined, while the melody played.  The melody played, while Rollie was alive.

The underlying meaning of this poem is obscure.  By itself, the poem doesn’t let the reader know what it is about.  Even if someone said that the poem was about Rollie the cat, a reader might not understand it was about her death.  They might think it was just talking about the happiness of her life.

 

A question that a poet can encounter as they write poetry, is should their poetry be clear, a mixture of clarity and obscurity or obscure?  The examples above illustrate one of each type of poetry applied to the same subject.

Clear poetry has the advantage that it makes sense.  A reader should be able to easily understand what the poem is about.  The message comes through.

On the downside, clear poetry might lack the nuances, depth and subtly that obscurity can provide.  Also, it means the poet has to be overt with their subject.  Additionally, some may view it as simplistic.

Poetry that is a mixture of clarity and obscurity has the advantage that readers understand it, but it also has enough symbolism and metaphor that readers can understand more if they pause to think about the poem.  It can be a style of poetry, such that one brief explanation, causes the whole poem to make sense.  Also, this style gives the poet the advantage that they can write overtly where they want, but kept things more hidden where they choose.

As a downside, mixing clarity and obscurity can be hard.  If there is an imbalance, such that the poem is very clear with little moments of obscurity, the obscure moments can seem out of place and confusing.  Alternatively, if the poem is mainly obscure, with little moments of clarity, the clear moments can be swallowed in a sense by the obscure ones and seem part of the obscurity.  The reader might not know those moments were more literal.  With either imbalance, when a reader is told the main meaning of the poem, it might not match well with the poem.

Poetry that is obscure has the advantage that a poet can explore many areas of depth, symbolism and metaphor.  A poet can frame what they want to talk about in many ways.  Also, a poet can keep the underlying meaning of their poem hidden.

On the downside, obscure poetry can be hard for some to understand.  Some readers might not get it, even if they were given a brief explanation.  Also, some may view the obscurity as lack of skill.  They might think that the poet was obscure because they did not know how to express their ideas in a way that made sense.

When choosing between the styles, a poet should consider their intent and the situation.  Each style lends itself to a different goal.  A poet should consider the reader’s perspective and decide which style will help them achieve what they want.

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Poem with an explanation: among the sands

The stars,
did not align,
as forests grew,
and cardinals cried,
among blue jays.

Aimlessly,
the camels wandered,
among the sands,
as blind men spoke,
of what they could,
no longer see.

The flock of birds,
among the trees,
saw in the sand,
haphazard paths,
but none did call,
with words or songs.

Mirages shimmered,
in the sun,
during the night,
that would not end.

The camels wandered,
among the sands,
and over the hills,
they disappeared.

 

This poem is about a man experiencing sadness after the death of his young daughter.  His daughter died, some weeks before, and the man is struggling with everything.

In his sorrow, the man has lost track of time (The stars, did not align), he has stopped shaving (as forests grew), and often his clothes don’t match (and cardinals cried, among blue jays).

The man symbolically, and at times literally, stumbles as he moves forward in his life (Aimlessly, the camels wandered, among the sands).  He keeps thinking of his daughter and can see her in his thoughts (as blind men spoke, of what they could, no longer see).

People who know the man (The flock of birds, among the trees), see his condition (saw in the sand, haphazard paths), but they don’t have the words to say to him (but none did call, with words or songs).

The man keeps thinking of his daughter, but her image in his mind is blurry (Mirages shimmered, in the sun) as it is overwhelmed with his sadness (during the night, that would not end).

The man aimlessly moves on with his life (The camels wandered, among the sands) and the condition he is in, seems unending (and over the hills, they disappeared).

Poem with an explanation: the deaths of silence and regret

Numbers in a row,
a transposition,
a travel down the lane,
and the mountain appears.

The fire stops burning,
a descent,
the drawbridge lowers,
and the rocks are piled.

From within the cave,
the eyes open,
the sound of bells,
awakens.

Traveling on,
looking out,
seeing the sight,
and the meter rises.

Still by the bridge,
the rocks move on,
unaware,
of the storm.

Something is taken,
and steps run,
it all flashes,
and then a stop.

Roaring and roaring,
the lion yells,
its teeth are shown,
and an order given.

Still by the bridge,
the rocks move on,
unaware,
of the storm.

The roar again,
the clocks are off,
the lion bites,
and silence falls.

Silence sees,
and asks,
the lion roars,
and speaks.

Silence tries,
but can’t,
silence tries,
but dies.

The lion heaves,
and pants,
its teeth glare,
as it calls out.

Seasons pass.

Regret stands still,
hearing the words,
asking the questions,
then led away.

 

This poem tells a story.  It is the story of two people who die.

In the poem, a deaf person is driving to a house to pick up items that were left outside.  He has arranged with someone to get somethings.  He is going to pick up furniture and other items.

In the first stanza, he is driving along.  He has an address (Numbers in a row).  There is a mistake though, and two of the numbers were mixed up (a transposition).  Because of this, he goes to the wrong house.  He drives down a one lane road (a travel down the lane) and when he sees a house with items outside (and the mountain appears) that matches the address he has, he thinks he has the right place.

He stops his truck (The fire stops burning), gets out (a descent), opens the back (the drawbridge lowers), and starts loading the truck (and the rocks are piled).

Inside the house (From within the cave), the owner of the house wakes up (the eyes open and awakens) when he hears the noise (the sound of bells).

The man inside the house, goes to the window (Traveling on), looks outside (looking out), sees the other man loading things in a truck (seeing the sight) (the things were outside because the man in the house was doing some work on his house.  He needed the items out of the house so he could change his floors.), and he gets very angry (and the meter rises).

The deaf man is still by his truck (Still by the bridge) loading items (the rocks move on).  He is unaware (unaware) that the man inside is angry (of the storm).

The man inside gets a gun (Something is taken), he runs outside (and steps run), everything is a blur (it all flashes) and he stops some feet away from the man loading the truck (and then a stop).

The man with the gun yells for the other man to stop loading the truck (Roaring and roaring, the lion yells), he points his gun (its teeth are shown), and he tells the other man to stop or he’ll shoot (and an order given).

The deaf man doesn’t see the man with the gun because the man with the gun is behind him and to one side, and he doesn’t hear him because he is deaf.  He keeps on loading the truck (Still by the bridge, the rocks move on, unaware, of the storm).

The man with the gun yells again (The roar again).  He doesn’t pause or stop afterward (the clocks are off), but rather, in his anger, fires his gun (the lion bites).  The bullet hits the deaf man and he falls (and silence falls).

The deaf man rolls over and looks up at the man with the gun (Silence sees).  With his eyes he asks “Why?”, as in why was he shot (and asks).  The man with the gun yells some more (the lion roars) and he tells the man on the ground that he is a thief and that he should have stopped when he was told (and speaks).

The deaf man, tries to understand what happened (Silence tries), but can’t (but can’t).  He tries to stay alive (silence tries), but he dies (but dies).

The man with the gun is spent and out of breath (The lion heaves and pants), he holds his gun tightly (its teeth glare) and he calls out to someone else in the house to call the police (as it calls out).

Time passes (Seasons pass).  The police come, they investigate and they arrest the man who shot.  Time passes and the man goes on trial.

At the trial, the man who shot stands up (Regret stands still).  The jury says he is guilty of murder and the judge sentences him to death (hearing the words).  He asks with regretful confusion how was he to know it was a mistake and the man was deaf (asking the questions) and then they lead him away (then led away).

 

This poem examines how a mistake, a misunderstanding, an overreaction and a lack of communication lead to the death of two people.

 

P. S. Tomorrow is the one year anniversary of the self-publication of M. Sakran’s eBook Understanding: poems with explanations. If you like poems with explanations, then consider purchasing a copy of the eBook.

Poem with an explanation: Sitting down

Sitting down,
on the tomb like stone,
all is blurry,
in the singularity,
after a moment,
the summer solstice,
appearing in March,
a tornado,
from the hurricane,
to those in the stands,
it either makes sense,
or is foolishness,
but there,
on the tomb like stone,
all is blurry,
in the singularity.

Above is a poem.  Below is its explanation.  Before you read the explanation though, take a moment, and think about what you think the poem means.  Then, as you read the explanation, you can see how your interpretation of the poem compares with the intended meaning of the poem.

Did you think it meant something different?

Did you think it meant the same thing?

Were you surprised?

Was it what you expected?

If you find this exercise to be insightful in some way, the idea of comparing what you thought a poem meant compared to what the poet intended it to mean, you might consider writing a post for your blog about it.  You can link to this post if you want.  Please let M. Sakran know if you do, by using the Contact page.  Maybe you found some insight about how you read poems, or about the idea of intended meaning vs. interpreted meaning, or something else, that you thought might be good to share with your readers.  If so, consider sharing it with your readers.

If you like poems with explanations in general, you might consider purchasing a copy of M. Sakran’s self-published eBook, Understanding: poems with explanations, which contains twenty poems and explanations of those poems.

Here is the explanation of the poem:

This is a poem about a person whose pet has died in front of them.  The pet died of some illness.

The poem starts after the pet’s death.  The person is sitting down on the concrete (on the tomb like stone) beside their pet.  The concrete is tomb like because of the pet’s death.

The person is crying (all is blurry) and the moment they are having is intensely focused (in the singularity).  The person pauses (after a moment) and certain thoughts come to their mind.

The first idea is two expressions of the notion that death is completely expected, but still hits like a surprise.  Two metaphors for this are given.  The first is the summer solstice, appearing in March.  The summer solstice is a completely predictable event.  Even down to the minute for a given location.  Yet, in the poem, it comes early, at an unexpected time.  The summer solstice was used as a metaphor for death, because it is the longest day of the year.  Each day after that, until the winter solstice, gets darker and darker.  It is a metaphor for how the person feels.

The second metaphor shows the idea of something unpredictable, a tornado, from something predicable, a hurricane.  The idea here is that a hurricane is big and ominous, but can be tracked with some predictability.  This is like the general idea of death.  A tornado though is often a complete surprise.  This is like the idea of a specific death.  There is a difference between the general idea of something, and the specific instance of it happening.

After this, the person feels a moment of self-consciousness.  They imagine people seeing them on the ground crying (to those in the stands).  They either think that these people will understand the sadness and significance of their emotions (it either makes sense) or that the people will look at them like they are foolish for crying about a dog (or is foolishness).

This brief moment of self-consciousness ends though as the person comes back to their situation.  They stop thinking and just feel where they are.  They go back to how they started, on the concrete (on the tomb like stone), crying (all is blurry) and in an intensely focused moment (in the singularity).

In terms of form, some elements are:

Lines two, three and four are repeated as lines fourteen, fifteen and sixteen.

All lines are between two and five words long.

Seven of the sixteen lines, end in a word, starting with ‘s’.

 

Hopefully you enjoyed this poem with an explanation.

Post Series: Poems with Explanations: The play

Hey, the play’s beginning.

What do you mean you won’t be there for the start?

What else do you have to do?

Alright, fine, when the lead actor calls for audience involvement, you show up.

Hey, the play’s a third of the way through, the lead actor’s calling for audience involvement.  What you’re supposed to do first, is make a lot of noise.

Now watch the play.

What do you mean?  What’s wrong with the lead actor saying their lines behind that wall most of the time?  It’s for dramatic effect.  Don’t you know about theater?

How many times are you going to go to the concession stand?  You’ve missed some really important parts.

What’s that?  Oh, the lead actor’s speaking in Dutch.  You do know Dutch, right?

What’s that?  You have to go make a phone call?  Alright, but this is a good part coming up.

Hey, you’ve missed about a quarter of the play with that call.  What?  Oh, what happened?  Well, that guy there, well, he used to be married to her over there, but now he’s married to her over there.

Hold on.  What’s that?  Hey, do you hear that?  They are saying the lead actor has to leave the play.  They need someone to take his place and finish it for him.  Hey, you’ve been watching the play right?  Hey, over there, this person here can take over.

Don’t worry.  You’ll be fine.  How hard can it be to finish an actor’s role in a play you’ve only seen part of?  Here, here’s the program from the play.  It should be enough to help you.  You’ll do fine.

 

This poem is about an adult child settling a recently deceased parent’s estate as well as closing out their life.  It uses a person watching a lead actor in a play as a metaphor.

In the poem, there are three main people: the lead actor (representing the parent), the person watching the play referred to as “you” (the adult child) and a third person who is also watching this play.  This third person is the one speaking in the poem.  Their words are the only one the reader directly reads.

The idea of the poem is to express the difficulty involved in settling a parent’s estate and closing out their life.  The idea is that a parent has lived a whole life that the adult child was only part of.  Now that adult child has to figure out aspects of their parent’s life from incomplete sources and close things out.  The child has to figure out all sorts of things: bank accounts, property, vehicles, a will, bills, debt, credit cards, mortgages, insurance, etc.  There are also things like: email accounts, social media accounts, personal items, etc. to deal with.  Information about these things may be unorganized and limited.  The idea is one of dealing with uncertainty.

The idea of the poem is a simple one: How does a person close out another person’s life, when they only know so much about it?

Now, as a point, there is obviously more to dealing with a parent’s death besides the practical matters addressed by the poem.  Those things are obviously very important, they are just not the focus of this poem.

Here are what the different paragraphs mean:

First paragraph: The third person (not the parent or the adult child) announces that that parent has been born.  This is the start of the play.

Second paragraph: The third person is questioning the fact that the adult child won’t be there for the start of the play (i.e. the start of their parent’s life).  The idea here is somewhat metaphysical in that the third person is questioning someone who is nonexistent at the time they are being questioned.  The idea in the poem though is simply to say that the adult child missed the start of their parent’s life (and therefore begins the idea of lacking information).

Third paragraph: This continues the idea of the second paragraph and is meant to be a little humorous.  The thing that prevents the adult child from seeing the start of the play, is their nonexistence at the time it starts.  The third person in some way questions what could be so important that they miss the start of the play.

Fourth paragraph: The third person is telling the adult child that they can basically start watching the play when they are born.  The idea here, is that that is the moment when the adult child can start to see their parent’s life.

Fifth paragraph: When the play is a third of the way through, the parent’s life is a third of the way through.  At this moment, the adult child is born.  The third person says humorously that the first thing they are to do is make noise.

Sixth paragraph: Here the third person is telling the adult child to watch their parent’s life.

Seventh paragraph: The idea here is that while a child is watching their parent’s life as they grow up, they are actually missing most of it.  For example, the child does not see their parent at work.  The unheard words of the adult child at this point are basically saying that they are having trouble understanding the play because they can’t hear or see parts of it.  The idea here is to stress that the adult child will have limited information later.

Eighth paragraph: The idea here is that the third person is criticizing the adult child for missing parts of the play.  The idea is that the child grew up and had a life.  They missed parts of their parent’s life.

Ninth paragraph: The point here is that the adult child, because they lack certain knowledge about their parent, has a hard time understanding certain things about their life.

Tenth paragraph: In this part, the adult child grew up and left home.  That is represented by the phone call.

Eleventh paragraph: Here, the third person is saying that the adult child missed a lot of their parent’s life when they left.  They try to summarize what happened while they were gone.

Twelfth paragraph: This is where the parent dies.  The adult child at this point has to take over, settle their parent’s estate and close out their life.

Thirteenth paragraph: The third person states the main idea of the poem, that it is difficult to settle someone’s life when you only know part of what has happened in it.

In terms of form, this poem is presented as a one-sided conversation.  Only one voice is heard: that of the mysterious third person.  The adult child and the parent are not heard from directly.

*****

Do you like poems with explanations?

M. Sakran’s self-published book of poems with explanations called Understanding: poems with explanations is available for purchase as an eBook for an available price of $0.99. Buy your copy today!

To help celebrate the self-publication of this book, there is a post series of poems with explanations on the blog.  Above is a poem with an explanation for the series.  This poem with an explanation (as well as the rest in the series) is not from the book.  It is a different one that is part of this post series for readers to read and enjoy.

Post Series: Poems with Explanations: The burial of Sarah

In the cold ground the form did lay,
so still and calm as snow did fall,
and there one said some words that night,

          as stars did shine above so bright.

And words did roam to find a place,
and one was said that fit the sight,

          as stars did shine above so bright.

And in the cold as darkness came,
some tears did fall for one now known,
and there one stood and felt the plight,

          as stars did shine above so bright.

 

This poem is about the burial of a homeless woman.  The woman died of illness, and a homeless man, who was near her when she died, is burying her.

In the first stanza, the woman is in the ground before she is covered with dirt.  It is quiet and cold and snow is falling.  By the grave, a man is standing and saying some type of words.  It is night.  There is a refrain after this that mentions the stars in the sky above.

In the stanza after the refrain, the man standing by the grave saying some words, finds a problem.  He does not know the name of the woman he is burying.  He wants to say her name with his words.  As he searches for a name in his mind, he looks at her in the grave, and decides that Sarah fits the way she looks.  He names her this as he says more words.  After this, there is a refrain about the stars in the sky.

After the second refrain, the next stanza starts with the man pushing dirt onto Sarah.  He starts to cry.  He did not know Sarah, but since he has named her, he feels a connection to her and feels a sadness at her death.  He feels a pain at the circumstances that caused Sarah to die the way she did and led to her having to be buried in a field by someone she didn’t know.  After this is a refrain about the stars in the sky above.

This poem is about one person burying another person whom they don’t know.  In the process, they find it necessary to give the person they are burying a name.

This poem uses the experimental poetry form Refrains, that was posted on this blog on July 22, 2016.  The description of the form can be read from the post.

In this poem, there is a certain ambiguity.  What is happening in the scene is referred to in a poetic way, rather than directly (with the exception of the title).  This reflects the situation of the man in the poem.  He is burying someone he does not know.  He decides it is right to give this person a name.  He didn’t feel a person should be buried nameless.  The man is expressing a feeling, emotion and idea, but there is a struggle to it.  This is reflected in the style of the poem.

In the poem, each of the stanzas has a somewhat depressing quality.  Even without knowing what the poem is about, the quality should come through.  The refrains though, are the opposite.  The first stanza, for example, mentions cold ground, a form laying in it, and night.  The refrain then mentions shining bright stars.  This contrast was reflective of the situation.

The poem shows a depressing scene: a homeless woman died outside in the cold night because of illness.  She was alone except for a nearby man who didn’t know her.  There was no one to help her and no one to bury her properly.

Despite this though, there is a goodness in the poem: the man.  The man couldn’t help Sarah before she died, but he did what he could afterwards.  He buries her, says some words that he feels will be respectful of her life and do something for her, and he gives her a name.  The actions of this man are reflected in the bright shining stars.

*****

Do you like poems with explanations?

M. Sakran’s self-published book of poems with explanations called Understanding: poems with explanations is available for purchase as an eBook for an available price of $0.99. Buy your copy today!

To help celebrate the self-publication of this book, there is a post series of poems with explanations on the blog.  Above is a poem with an explanation for the series.  This poem with an explanation (as well as the rest in the series) is not from the book.  It is a different one that is part of this post series for readers to read and enjoy.

Poem with an explanation: Ode to Oro

Ode to Oro

A piece of gold,
within the sea,
found from the shimmer.

Brought out to sky,
carried by the breeze,
to a far off lake.

And there the gold,
did find another,
and both did shine.

But something there,
it was not right,
and the gold began to fade.

The color went,
and flowed away,
until the gold was gone.

Then to the land,
what was there left,
was sent away.

The other left,
it still did shine,
but less brightly.

But through all this,
the gold was bright,
and still brightens the thoughts.

 

This poem is about a goldfish named Oro.  Oro is Spanish for gold.

In the first stanza, Oro is bought from a store.  He was spotted because of his bright color.

In the second stanza, Oro is carried home and brought to a fish tank.

When Oro gets to the tank, in the third stanza, he finds another goldfish there.  Both are happy.

But soon, in the fourth stanza, something is wrong.  Oro begins to get sick, and his color fades.

In the fifth stanza, Oro dies.

In the sixth stanza, Oro is buried in a yard.

In the seventh stanza, the other goldfish, is less happy.

In the last stanza, Oro is remembered.

Shadow Commemoration Day Nineteen

There are moments that pass,
instances of simplicity,
where small thoughts,
and little glimpses,
of the past appear.

In a way,
they are felt,
they are seen in an instant,
but not quickly,
like looking over,
a whole landscape.

There by the slate,
there by the steel,
there by the wood,
the life is missing,
yet somehow is felt.

A thought occurs,
will,
as time flows,
these feelings stop.