Before this continues, I would like to point out that I was not being "strictly literal," whatever that means.  That is an interpretation but not what I said.  So please leave my name off this line.
Words clearly depend on context, but there are limits to transpositions of parts of speech.  One would not, I think, read a word like, say, "apple" and read it as "appling" and say that a line containing "the apple is red" can be interpreted as "the act of going to pick apples is communist."
It is precisely the intersection of a range of significations and their syntactical position that constrains meaning; poems or any texts are not without some such constraints.

>>> Marcia Karp <[log in to unmask]> 02/22/10 7:47 PM >>>
Thank you, Carrol, for this.

Carrol Cox wrote:
> Diana Manister wrote:
>> Dear Nancy,
>> I think it's counterproductive to be strictly literal about meanings
>> in poetry.
> Probably not possible. And if one wants to try to be literal, the place
> to start is with "literal," which if understood literally means
> focusingon the letters, their sounds, the progression of those sounds,
> etc etc. It would be the equivalent of geting so close to Picaso's
> Gurnica that all the lines and shapes disappeared and all one was
> examing were the brush strokes. As soon as you go by that 'level,'
> youcan no longer be literal, for words literally focused on are
> literally unitelligible. Look at "strokes" above. Does it refer to
> strokes of an oar, a medical condition, parts of love-making, parts of a
> lashing abut the fleet in the Royal Navy of the early 19th-c, instances
> (as in "strokes of luck"), a misprint for "sokes" as in "stoes the
> fireplace") or for "spokes" (as in a wheel), and so forth. (These are
> the kinds of difficulties, incidentally, that those who cry for a
> "literal" interpretation of the Constituion purposely ignore, for to
> take them into consideration is to show their hypocrisy.) To escape the
> trap of literalism means putting the letters, and thus the word, in some
> context, that is to identify the genre of the sentence, or larger unit,
> in which the word appears. (This is one version of what is called the
> hermeneutic circle: one must understand the whole to understand the
> parts but the whole can only be understood by understandin the words. It
> can be either a vicious or benevolent circle. And at that point it
> really becomes complicated.)
> Carrol