Poetry essay: Does the meaning of a poem change over time?

If you’ve ever read a poem that was written years ago you may have wondered about this question.  Are you seeing the poem in the same way as readers did when it was written?  Are you seeing the poem the same as the author intended?  Does the meaning of a poem change over time?

From one perspective, the answer to this question is no.  There is the idea that when a poet writes a poem they impart meaning to it.  There is meaning in the symbolism, the word choice, and the form.

In some sense, this meaning is fixed.  The poem means what the poet wanted it to mean.  Whether people later (or even at the time) interpret it differently doesn’t change that.  The original meaning is still there.

In another sense though, it could be argued that the meaning of a poem does change over time.  There is the idea that a poem changes with history, the audience, and with language.

Think about a poem about a current event.  When the poem was written, the event was current.  Readers would see the poem from the perspective of the present.  In the future though, readers have the perspective of looking back on the past.  They, in some sense, know what happens later and so have a different perspective on what happened before.

Think about reading a poem about some event in the 1960s.  An example might be an election taking place.  If you look up the election, and know who won, the poem might seem different to you than it would to a person who was reading it at the time who didn’t know who was going to win.

In addition to this idea, readers of poems can change.  Society can change.  Attitudes and preferences can change.  A poem written in the past might seem very different to a present audience and by extension would seem different to a future one.

Think about gender roles in history.  These can change over time.  A poem portraying the status of a woman in the 1800s might seem very different to today’s audience.  A poem that was meant to be very progressive at the time, might seem just the opposite to someone reading it today.

In addition to this, language can change.  Over time people don’t use the same words and they might not use the words they use in the same way.  Readers of poems might get a very different meaning if they understand the language differently.

Think about dialing a phone.  In the past, if used a rotary telephone, you actually dialed a number.  You physically turned a dial to input each number.  Now the word simply means to input a number to make a phone call.

If a person was reading a poem from the past, and it talked about the physical act of dialing a phone and related it to other things, the meaning might not be clear to them if they don’t understand the word in the same way.

There are implications to these ideas.

First, if you are reading a poem from the past, you might be concerned that you aren’t getting from it what was intended.  You might feel you are missing something or are seeing it in the wrong way.  This same concern applies to any poetry interpretation, whether a poem from the past or a new one.

Second, if you are writing poetry, you might wonder how readers of your work will perceive it over time.  Will they see the same things you intended?  Will history change the tone of your work?  Will they read the words in the same way?

This might be a concern if you want your work to be lasting.  You might worry that time will change your work.

If you are concerned about the first issue, you might try to place poems in context.  Learn about the author and the time period of the poem.  Read their other work.  This can help you place the poem in perspective.

If are worried about the second issue, you could first try to write poetry that is clearer in meaning.  Leaving out the issue of obscurity will help the meaning of the poem get through.  You could also consider writing explanations of some your poems, as M. Sakran does for some poems on this blog.  That way readers would know your meaning even after time changes.

Does the meaning of a poem change over time?

In some sense the answer is both yes and no.  A poem has a fixed meaning, but the meaning that people get from it can change.  As a reader and a writer of poetry you should consider this.  It can help you try to see poems from the past from the intended perspective, and it can help you to impart more lasting meaning to your work.

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Poetry topic idea: nostalgia

Today’s poetry topic idea is nostalgia.  A poet could use this idea in different ways.  A poet could:

  • Write about something nostalgic. It could be a food, a television show, a song, a tradition or something else.
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  • Write about the moment something becomes nostalgic. Given certain qualities, there is a certain amount of time that must past before something becomes nostalgic.  This amount of time varies depending on circumstances.  Whatever it is for a particular thing, a poet could write about the moment something makes a transition and becomes nostalgic.
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  • The change in view of something nostalgic. When things are looked back upon nostalgically, they can look better than they were at the time they happened.  A poet could write about this idea.  They might write about how something is viewed when it occurs and contrast that with how it is viewed years later.
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  • Write about the qualities of something nostalgic. Rather than write about something that is nostalgic, a poet could explore the qualities that something nostalgic has.  A poet could apply these qualities to different ideas.

Here is an example poem using the idea nostalgia:

Watching the show,
from thirty years ago,
wait, wait, he’s going to say …

Poem: tears of regret

There’s a moment,
where you think someone may die,
and as you sit by their bed,
holding their hand,
you are filled with regret.

You regret the time,
you didn’t spend with them.

You regret the anger,
that you showed them.

You regret all the meaningless things,
that you put before them.

In that moment,
as you watch them breathe,
and pray that it will not stop,
the days and years pass by in your mind,
and all those moments that should not have been,
are reminded to you.

You say kind words,
and express your love,
and say from within your depth,
that you are sorry.

In this moment,
whatever happens,
learn from this.

Learn from the regret,
learn from the sorrow,
learn from all that you believe you lost.

In time,
either good or bad,
the time will pass,
and when it does,
do not forget.

Do not forget,
the feelings you had.

Do not forget,
the sorrow you felt.

Do not forget,
your regret.

Do not,
let things,
become normal again.

Do not,
let things,
be as they were.

Although the effort may strain,
and the logic may strain,
and the petty things may strain,
do not forget.

The day will come,
again,
when you sit by a bed,
and hold a hand,
and all those words,
and all those logics,
of why you should not have changed,
will shatter like glass.

Don’t let that happen.

Don’t be in that place.

Learn from the tears,
and go a new path,
so that by the bed,
in the future,
while there may be tears of sorrow,
there will not be,
tears of regret.

A photograph to inspire poetry: plants with yellow and orange flowers

plants with yellow and orange flowers

Above is a photograph of plants with yellow and orange flowers.  It can inspire poetry.  Some ideas include poems about:

  • The sun. The flowers look like the sun with a central part with yellow radiating out.  A poet could write poetry about the sun.  They might write science fiction poetry about multiple suns.
  •  

  • These flowers look happy.  They are bright and open.  A poet could write poetry related to bright, open happiness.
  •  

  • The flowers are in a group.  A poet could write about a group of people and relate them to the flowers.

 

Here is a poem inspired by the photograph:

There is one sun,
but really two.

In the north,
the summer ends,
and fall is near.

In the south,
the winter ends,
and spring is near.

Up in the sky,
there is but one,
but upon the earth,
two circle above.

Though time is the same,
as the two suns circle,
time goes,
in opposite paths.

Poem Series: Time: the time is over

The time started,
the time passed,
the time is over.

You can look back,
and see what was.

You can look here,
and see what is.

You can’t look forward though,
because it hasn’t happened.

The time was spent,
and words of time were written,
the time was spent,
and words of time were read.

The time started,
with some direction,
but if the journey led,
to any particular place,
is something that can be known,
only after some time.

Thank you,
for your time.

Poem Series: Time: As time goes

As time goes,
there’s an understanding,
that despite the appearance,
little changes,
as time goes.

As time goes,
having seen more time,
there’s a clarity,
that time repeats,
as time goes.

As time goes,
little impresses,
for though ‘everything changes’,
it doesn’t really,
as time goes.

As time goes,
there’s a realization,
that time goes,
despite the path,
as time goes.

Poem Series: Time: First Try anniversary

Four years ago,
yesterday,
M. Sakran’s collection of poetry,
First Try,
was published.

M. Sakran,
would like to take this time,
to thank all,
who have purchased a copy.

If,
you haven’t purchased a copy,
this anniversary,
would be a good time.

If,
you have the time,
you can read,
the first six poems,
of the book,
on this blog,
(scroll past,
the first post,
on that page,
to read,
the poems).

Thank you,
for your time.

Poem Series: Time: the melodramatic agony of being late for doughnuts in the breakroom

A desert
a wasteland
a place of bareness

a town of ghosts does dwell
the scent of a mirage does linger

standing
alone
with no respite
as emptiness grows inside

the time was wasted
the chance was wasted
the starkness speaks
with silent words

alone
with what could have been
there hollowness
in the desert

 

P. S. If you like poems with melodramatic agony, there is another one on the blog. It was from March 14, 2018.

Poem Series: Time: Please take some time and read the words

It is Independence Day.
Please take some time,
and,
read the words that were declared
all those years ago this day
and think of what they mean.

Note: This poem uses the experimental poetry form American Independence Day.

P. S. There is a new set of photography, artwork, poetry and fiction on MSakran.com.

P. S. S. Happy Independence Day.