Nancy Gish wrote:
>I don't know where it comes from, but my students seem to start out with this idea, that a poem (unlike anything else, apparently), is "about" whatever one thinks it is. I point out that if you think TWL is about the joys of rural life in a pastoral landscape with cows and shows that nature will teach you about god, you are, in fact, just wrong.
>The words on the page are also involved in what a poem is about; they are not just a point of departure for anything on one's mind
Why not (except in an advanced English lit class, of course,
where one is in a state of potential existential crisis if one
disagrees with the "teacher" and expresses it)?
Eliot, T.S. "The Music of Poetry." ON POETRY AND POETS. NY:Noonday,1961.
(originally Faber, 1947).
... when I learn that a difficult sonnet was inspired by seeing a
painting on the ceiling reflected on the polished top of a table, or
by seeing the light reflected from the foam on a glass of beer, I can
only say that this may be a correct embryology, but it is not the
meaning. If we are moved by a poem, it has meant something, perhaps
something important, to us; if we are not moved, then it is, as poetry,
meaningless. We can be deeply stirred by hearing the recitation of a
poem in a language of which we understand no word; but if we are then
told that the poem is gibberish and has no meaning, we shall consider
that we have been deluded -- this was no poem, it was merely an
imitation of instrumental music. If, as we are aware, only a part of the
meaning can be conveyed by paraphrase, that is because the poet is
occupied with frontiers of consciousness beyond which words fail,
though meanings still exist. A poem may appear to mean very
different things to different readers, and all of these meanings may be
different from what the author thought he meant. For instance, the
author may have been writing some peculiar personal experience, which
he saw quite unrelated to anything outside; yet for the reader the
poem may become the expression of a general situation, as well as
of some private experience of his own. The reader's interpretation may
differ from the author's and be equally valid -- it may even be better.
There may be much more in a poem than the author was aware of. The
different interpretations may all be partial formulations of one thing;
the ambiguities may be due to the fact that the poem means more, not
less, than ordinary speech can communicate. So, while poetry
attempts to convey something beyond what can be conveyed in prose
rhythms, it remains, all the same, one person talking to another; and
this is just as true if you sing it, for singing is another way of
talking. The immediacy of poetry to conversation is not a matter on
which we can lay down exact laws. Every revolution in poetry is apt to
be, and sometimes to announce itself to be, a return to common speech.
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