Poetry essay: Interpreting poetry

As a reader of poetry, you may from time to time try to interpret the poetry you read.  There are a number of reasons you might do this.

First, a poem might not be clear with a first reading.  You might read a poem and not fully understand what it is talking about.  This could motivate you to try to go through the poem to decipher the meaning.

Second, some poetry might appear clear in meaning, but could have hidden symbolism.  As a reader, you might be interested in trying to discover what this is.

Third, poetry sometimes has context.  For example, it could be related to a specific place or a specific time.  Looking into the poem with the context in mind, could enhance your understanding of it.

Fourth, interpreting poetry can help you write poetry.  By figuring out what poems mean you can learn how incorporate different meanings into your own work.

It’s a little difficult to describe how to interpret a poem.  In some sense, you simply read it and try to figure out what it means.  In some cases you might do research (for example, looking up a proper noun mentioned in a poem), but in other cases you might just be reading.

Rather than listing a methodology for interpreting a poem, it seemed like it would be better to simply show the process.  With that in mind, below is poem that will be interpreted.

The poem to be interpreted is Among the planets.  It appeared in the November 6, 2017 blog post on this blog.  It was written by M. Sakran.

While it may seem odd for a person to interpret a poem they wrote, this poem was chosen partially because of that.

This poem was a poem with an explanation.  The explanation of the poem is below it in the post.  As this is being written, the explanation has not be read since it was posted.  M. Sakran is not clear at this time what the poem means.

The idea was to interpret a poem for which the right answer was known.  This way, the effectiveness of the interpretation could be gauged.  If a poem by another poet was chosen (or one without an explanation) there would be no way to know if the interpretation was right.

This poem was written long enough ago, that at this moment, M. Sakran is not clear on its meaning.  This makes it a good candidate for interpretation.

Here is the poem:

Among the planets

There’s a counting,
is it a fortnight?
There’s a counting,
every other Mars.
But one is missed –
what is that,
a cycle of the Moon?

The sandy beaches,
of a moon of Jupiter,
an imagined place,
of forgetfulness.

Alone,
in the silence of a cave,
of Pluto,
as if transported,
from place and time,
watching the Sun,
go in circles and circles,
as night approaches.

 

Here’s an attempt to interpret its meaning:

The title is “Among the planets” presumably this has something to do with the sky.  It might have to do with patterns, as planets follow orbits.  It could have to do with time, as the sky is used to tell time.  It might have to do with large things.

There’s a counting, is it a fortnight?

This is the first sentence of the poem.  It asks a question.  Someone in the poem is gauging time, but is not sure how long that time is.  They are trying to figure it out, and think it might be a fortnight.  A fortnight is two weeks which is fourteen days.  The number fourteen might mean something or it could simply be that roughly that amount of time has passed.

There’s a counting, every other Mars.

This is the second sentence of the poem.  It repeats the idea from the first sentence.  Someone in the poem is trying to gauge time.  In this line, they seem to be gauging time by the orbit of Mars.  Mars might relate to Tuesday.  Tuesday in Spanish is Martes, which derives its name from the planet Mars.  This ties back into the idea of two weeks.  The person in the poem is noting something that happens every other Tuesday.  One Tuesday, to the one after the next, is one day over two weeks.

But one is missed – what is that, a cycle of the Moon?

This is the third sentence of the poem.  Again, there seems to be some idea that the person in the poem is having trouble gauging time.  They think it has been two weeks, or every other Tuesday, but something does not add up.  They might be missing a Tuesday.  Something in their time calculation is not working.

The poem says, a cycle of the Moon.  A cycle of the Moon would refer to a month, which is approximately one cycle of the Moon.  Maybe the person in the poem thinks two weeks have passed, but since the month changed, they are not sure.  They don’t seem to be sure how many days have passed because they can’t just subtract the current date number from the previous one.  This is because the days started over when the month changed.

The sandy beaches, of a moon of Jupiter, an imagined place, of forgetfulness.

This is the fourth sentence of the poem.  The first part The sandy beaches, seems again to go back to time.  Sand is in an hourglass and that could be the reference.  Maybe it means there is a lot of time because there is a lot of sand on a beach.

Of a moon of Jupiter, an imagined place, of forgetfulness seems to go back to the idea that the person is not sure of the time.  A moon of Jupiter is familiar, in that it is a moon like the Moon, but it is unknown.  The person in the poem seems to referring to the idea that they are confused.  The person’s thoughts might be somewhere else, which is why they are unsure of the time.

Alone, in the silence of a cave, of Pluto, as if transported, from place and time, watching the Sun, go in circles and circles, as night approaches.

This is the last sentence of the poem.  Alone, in the silence of a cave, of Pluto, as if transported, from place and time might refer to the idea that the person in the poem is lost in their thoughts.  They mind is on something far away (like Pluto) and this has caused them some isolation (Along, in the silence of a cave).  They are separated from where they are (as if transported, from place and time).  The person seems to have something occupying their thoughts.

The next part says, watching the Sun, go in circles and circles, as night approaches.  This again refers to the idea of time.  On the Earth, it appears that the Sun circles overhead.  This is how days are measured.  The person in the poem, who is lost in their thoughts, is watching the days go by.  The poem ends with as night approaches, which may refer to the idea that the person ends in darkness.  The person ends in confusion.

The main theme of the poem seems to be that a person is having trouble gauging how much time has passed because they have something on their mind.

So, the above is one interpretation of the poem.  Again, it was written before the actual explanation of the poem was read.  Below is the actual explanation of the poem form the original blog post:

This poem is about an elderly person in a nursing home.  The person is supposed to be visited by their family every other Tuesday, but their family missed the last visit.

In the poem, it is the fifth Tuesday.  The person’s family came on the first Tuesday.  They were supposed to come on the third Tuesday, but did not.  Now it is the fifth Tuesday, which is the next scheduled visit day.

The poem starts with a question, There’s a counting, is it a fortnight?  The elderly person is trying to think about how often their family visits.  They wonder what a time period name for every other Tuesday might be.  They have trouble counting the days, but think that it might be called a fortnight, which is fourteen days.  They are somewhat upset and aren’t able to focus and know how many days it really is.

The elderly person continues to think about the time between visits.  They describe “every other Tuesday” as “every other Mars.”  Tuesday, in Spanish is called Martes, which is a reference to Mars.  The idea of astronomy as a background idea continues in the poem.

They then describe the idea that one of the visits was missed (But one is missed).  Again, they are having trouble counting and wonder if that is a month between visits (what is that, a cycle of the Moon?).  This again is an astronomy idea in the background.

The poem then partially shifts perspectives.  In the next stanza, there is a blurring of the point of view of the elderly person and that of their family.

The elderly person imagines their family being somewhere fun and far away (The sandy beaches, of a moon of Jupiter).  Their thoughts are imaginary though (an imagined place).  Their family is just out living their lives as normal.  The place though, and this is a blending of the viewpoints, is one of forgetfulness.  The elderly person imagines their family forgetting them, and, for the most part, at least at times, their family does.

The perspective then shifts back to the elderly person.  They think of their reality as, “Alone, in the silence of a cave, of Pluto“.  The person is alone, as in the sense that they have no company.  They have no one to talk to (in the silence), and they feel hidden (of a cave).  The place the person is at is described as being of Pluto.  Pluto, at one time, was the farthest planet from the Sun.  This describes the person’s separation from their family.  Also, Pluto is no longer a planet.  This idea describes the sense of demotion the person feels in their sense of abandonment.  The detachment and separation the person feels is further described as if transported, from place and time.

The elderly person is in their room and they feel the days pass.  This is described as “watching the Sun go in circles and circles“.  The person has a sense that they will die soon (as night approaches).  There’s a sense of dejection.

 

This poem, in some sense, is about neglect by apathy.  The person’s family sees the elderly person as an obligation.  They see them as something that takes up time.  They feel the visits are a burden.  This is demonstrated in part by the fact that the visits are scheduled and sparse.

The person’s family isn’t mean in a sense.  They just feel detached from the elderly person.  They don’t feel a strong connection.  Seeing the person is almost viewed like completing community service to them.

The poem focuses on the perspective of the elderly person.  There is the idea, that a missed visit is very important to them, but not important to their family.

Astronomy was used in the poem as a descriptive tool.  The idea was to make the feelings of the person seem larger in a way.

 

As can be seen, the interpretation of the poem written for this post, wasn’t entirely accurate.  It did get a sense of the passage of time, but it missed the underlying meaning of the poem.  It was close in the sense that the person in the poem is concerned about time and they have something on their mind, but it missed the main idea of the poem.

This exercise is a good illustration in poetry interpretation.  It shows how some symbolism can be deciphered, but also how it can be difficult to sometimes truly understand the meaning.

While it might seem like the interpretation was unsuccessful, it should not be viewed as such.  The interpretation was an exercise.  It was an attempt at understanding.  Part of worked, part of it did not.  That being said, it still was a good learning tool.

In trying to interpret poems, a reader might have to accept that they will never know if they are right, and, they might have to accept that in some instances, they will be wrong.

This does not detract from the value of the interpretation though.  The exercise has value in itself, but also, as long as a person gains something from a poem, it was worthwhile.  Although they might not have interpreted what the poet intended, as long as the reader learns in some way, it had value.

M. Sakran recommends that readers spend some time trying to interpret poems. It can be a very good learning experience and it can improve a person’s ability to read and write poetry. If you are interested in practicing with poems that have detailed explanations provided, check out Understanding: poems with explanations.  It has twenty poems along with detailed explanations.  It can be a useful tool in learning how to interpret poetry.

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Post Series: Seven Apples: Stage Four

Seven Apples Acrylic

Above is the fourth stage of the artwork of the Seven Apples post series.  It is the last stage of the artwork.  It was made by painting over stage three of the artwork using acrylic paint.

Here is a poem inspired by the artwork:

Looking up:

Jupiter, Saturn, Neptune, Uranus,
Mercury, Venus, Mars,

seen in the order,
as thought by the mind,
colors, shapes, and shadows,

a sense of patterns,
a sense of flow,
seeing the orbs,
in the distance

 

One inspiration that can come from the artwork is the idea of seven objects.  In the poem above, the seven objects chosen were the seven planets in the solar system that could be observed from Earth (under the assumption that Pluto isn’t a planet).  The idea was to blend the artwork of the apples with the idea of the planets.

This idea, of focusing on the seven objects in the artwork, could be used with other things as well.  One example would be the seven days of the week.  Alternatively, rather than focusing on something that was already seven in number, a poet could pick something and simply set the number of them to seven, such as selecting seven people.  The idea could be extended to many things.

This post is the last in the Seven Apples post series.  The four stages of the artwork can be seen on the Photographs and Artwork page of this blog.

Artwork to inspire poetry: Night sky

Night sky

The above artwork is entitled Night sky.  It can be clicked on to see it larger.  The artwork can inspire poetry in a variety of ways.

One way it can inspire poetry, is by inspiring a poet to go and look at the actual night sky.  The night sky is filled with many things that could inspire poetry.

Secondly, a poet could look at the artwork and see shapes in the patterns of the stars.  These shapes could inspire poetry.

Additionally, this artwork could inspire general poetry about space, stars, ideas of vastness and the universe.

A poet looking closely at the artwork (in a larger size), may notice four planets depicted.  Seeing them, a poet could, for example, be inspired to write a poem about the relationship between the planets and the stars.

Also, a poet might notice the relative brightness of different stars and use this as a poetry inspiration.

A poet could, seeing the artwork, be inspired to write a poem comparing the ideas of emptiness and being filled, as different portions of the artwork have objects and some do not.

In addition to these ideas, there are many other poetry inspirations that could be inspired by this artwork.

 

Poem series: Space: Blank verse poem

To float among the planets and the moons,
in such a way as if they were condensed,
and with a pushing of the arms and hands,
as if to swim within a silent lake,
travel among the orbs that spin around,
and move from gas to red to ice to blue,
and stop and float and then descend within,
a sphere of blue that seems to glow and swirl,
and see colors and shapes of size and form,
that seem like art or as imagined things,
and fly around and see what feels like wind,
that blows within a breeze through shaded trees,
and move with speed and with agility,
around mountains and streams of flowing blue,
and land and walk upon a field ice,
and yet to feel no sense of any cold,
and then to walk into a cave of stone,
and see crystals that shine as light flows through,
and then to fly up high within the clouds,
through mists of gas that seem as if clear air,
over oceans that flow from south to north,
that have islands that seem like stepping stones,
to continents with shores of crystal sands,
with plains and hills and fields that go within,
and then to pause and take a time to breathe,
and wait some time before the push to fly,
that leads into the silence of the dark,
and see an orb of orange flowing gas,
and fly through dark toward what seems so nearby,
is a bright dream that seeing stars can cause.

A poem with an explanation: Illuminate the darkness

Poems are generally like art in that each viewer (or reader) can interpret the poem in different ways.  Often no explanation of the poem is provided by the poet.  While this is beneficial, it can also be beneficial to understand the poet’s perspective of a poem.

The following has two sections.  The first section has a poem with no explanation.  Please read the poem a few times to develop a personal perspective.  After the poem, an explanation is given. Please read the explanation to understand the poet’s intention.

The poem:

Illuminate the darkness

Darkness fills like a cloud that has no form.

At the point,
lights shine,

but in a way,
do not illuminate the darkness.

Nearby,
lights shine,

but in a way,
do not illuminate the darkness.

In the distance,
lights shine,

but in a way,
do not illuminate the darkness.

Closely,
a light shines,

and it,

illuminates the darkness.

The explanation:

This poem is a dual-level poem.  The first level is the literal level – what the poem is actually describing.  The second level is the metaphorical level – what the poem is conveying.  The poem is meant to be read at the second level.

The first level of this poem is a very simple idea: the Earth in space.  It references the Earth in space with the Sun, stars and planets.  In a literal sense, this is what the poem is describing.  The poem, however, is not meant to be read at this level.  In fact, reading the poem at this level, may make the poem seem less impactful.  This level though is used as a tool to implement the second level of the metaphor – in this case, a person overcoming a problem.  The idea of light illuminating darkness is the main metaphor used.  This is the level that the poem is meant to be read at.

Poem title: Illuminate the darkness

This title was chosen for three reasons.  First, it has an interesting symbolism.  The idea of illuminating darkness can be very symbolic, as well as literal.  Second, it has a “poetic” sound.  Having a certain sound in poems often makes an important difference.  Third, because of this poetic sound, the title was repeated in the poem.  In writing the poem, the repeat of the phrase in the poem inspired the title, rather than the title inspiring the repeat of the phrase.

First line: Darkness fills like a cloud that has no form.

The first line of the poem is set apart from the rest.  It is written as a single line.  This first line is meant to have a certain “darkness” of tone that is represented by the actual darkness being described.  In the literal sense, this line is describing the dark space that is around the Earth.  The darkness fills the space, but at the same time, has no form.  This line is in a sense describing the place.  In the metaphorical sense, this line introduces the problem that is being faced.  No specific problem is mentioned, but the problem is represented by darkness that fills.  It is meant to represent a significant problem.

From this point the four stanzas follow a similar four line form.  The first line describes a location.  Four locations are used: at the point, nearby, in the distance and closely.  The second line is the same for three of the stanzas: lights shine.  In the last stanza it reads “a light shines”.  The third line also takes two forms.  It reads “but in a way” in the first three stanzas and reads “and it” in the last stanza.

First stanza:

At the point,
lights shine,

but in a way,
do not illuminate the darkness.

In the first stanza the location is “at the point”.  In the literal sense, this “point” is the Earth itself.  In the metaphorical sense, this location is signifying the turning point in how a person is facing a problem.  It is a turning point, because up to this point the “darkness” of the problem was over the person and not illuminated.  This time period is described in this stanza and the next two.  In a literal sense, the first stanza could read:

On the Earth,
there are electrical lights,
but these lights,
do not diminish the darkness of space around Earth.

In a metaphorical sense, this first stanza is describing an internal type of help, something that the person realizes internally.  At first, it seems to provide some assistance, but it does not overcome the problem.

The first two lines of the stanza are set apart from the second two.  The first two lines provide a situation and some hope, but the second two lines, indented for separation and to cause a pause, are introduced with the word “but” and show that the hope did not solve the problem.

Second stanza:

Nearby,
lights shine,

but in a way,
do not illuminate the darkness.

In the second stanza, the literal meaning could be read:

The planets in the solar system,
give off light,
but this light,
does not diminish the darkness of space around Earth.

In this stanza, the metaphorical meaning to the location “nearby” is that since the person could not solve their problem with an internal discovery, they look “nearby” for help, or in some sense to help that is readily available.  Similarly though, this does not solve the problem.

Third stanza:

In the distance,
lights shine,

but in a way,
do not illuminate the darkness.

In the third stanza, the literal meaning could be read:

The stars,
give off light,
but this light,
does not diminish the darkness of space around Earth.

In this stanza, the metaphorical meaning to the location “in the distance” is that since the person could not find help to their problem by looking near to themselves, they take the opposite end and look far away.  Similarly though, this does not solve the problem.

These first three stanzas describe a time period up to the turning point the person will face.  Up until this point, the person has not found help to their problem.  All of these stanzas, in a literal sense, describe how the light of the lights on Earth, the stars and the planets are unable to illuminate the darkness of space that is around the Earth.

At first glance it may seem that the lights of the lights on Earth, the stars and the planets are unable to illuminate the darkness of space around Earth because they are insufficient.  This is not the case.  They are unable to illuminate the darkness that is around the Earth, not because of their weakness, but because of the strength of something else.

Fourth stanza:

Closely,
a light shines,

and it,

illuminates the darkness.

This stanza could be written literally as:

The Sun,
gives off light,
and it,
does diminish the darkness of space around Earth.

This final stanza is purposely kept with the preceding three.  The change is meant to be surprising.  The reader is not intended to expect it.

The location “closely” at first may seem strange to the reader.  Up until this stanza, the locations have been progressively getting farther away: at the point, then nearby, then in the distance.  This location may seem strange in that it is closer than “in the distance” but it is unclear whether it is closer than “nearby” or not.  This was done intentionally to symbolize that help to the problem was not in a place that was looked for.  It was close and in some sense overlooked.  In a literal sense, closely represents the Sun.  It is closer than the stars and some planets to Earth, but not as close as some other planets to the Earth.

The second line in the stanza is also an abrupt change.  The three preceding stanzas described “lights”.  This stanza describes “a light”.  The intention was to signify that there is something different about it.  In a literal sense, the Sun is one light, while the other lights are many lights.

The third line continues the change.  Rather than having the negative word “but” there is the positive word “and”.  Additionally, the preceding three third lines were vague with the phrase “in a way”.  The literal idea is that the lights have some effect on the darkness, but do not overtake it.  The line in this stanza is not vague: it says “and it”.  The literal idea is that the light of the Sun has a much larger impact than the other lights.

The last line of this stanza is indented more than any other line.  This is done so to signify its importance.  This line literally describes how the light of the Sun illuminates the darkness of space that is around the Earth.  Metaphorically, this line is on the other side of the turning point.  The person has found hope for their problem that will actually solve their problem.

 

This poem takes something literal: the Earth in space with various lights affecting the darkness around it, and uses it to describe something metaphorical, a person overcoming a problem.  The poem follows a path of the person failing to overcome their problem by trying different things, until they look in a new place and find hope to solve their problem.

This blog entry has been an example of a poem with an explanation.  Hopefully learning the poet’s intent of the poem has provided additional meaning to it.