An Introduction to Poetry Learning to read poetry well and to savor its pleasures involves learning to ask questions about how we experience poems, how we interpret them, and how we evaluate them. Such questions include the following: What feelings does the poem evoke? What sensations, associations and memories does it give rise to? 2. What idea does the poem express, either directly or indirectly? 3. What view of the world does the poet present? What do you think of the poet’s view? 1. Interpreting Poetry When we interpret a poem, we concern ourselves less with how it affects us than with what it means or suggests Interpretation relies on our intellectual comprehension and rational understanding rather than on our emotional apprehension and response. Consider… Read the first stanza of Robert Frost’s “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”. Based on your prior knowledge and experiences reflect on what thoughts and questions come to mind. Whose woods these are I think I know. His house is in the village though; He will not see me stopping here To watch his woods fill up with snow. What ideas or questions came to mind? Whose woods these are I think I know. His house is in the village though; He will not see me stopping here To watch his woods fill up with snow. Frost’s poem opens with a speaker who seems concerned momentarily about who owns the woods. The speaker seems reassured that the owner can’t see him. One might wonder why the speaker should be concerned and why he bothers to mention it. Does he feel he is doing something wrong? The poem also paints a picture of a man, of woods, and of snow. It raises the questions: Why does he stop? What attracts him? Elements of Poetry: Tone When we read a poem we hear the speaker’s voice. It’s the voice that conveys the poem’s tone. Tone is the author’s implied attitude towards its subject. Tone is an abstraction we make from the details of a poem’s language: the use of meter and rhyme, the inclusion or exclusion of certain details; particular choices of words or sentence pattern, of imagery or figurative language. Elements of Poetry: Tone An author’s tone is describe by adjectives. For example you might say “The author of this novel sounds…” cynical, depressed, cheerful, sympathetic, outraged, positive, angry, sarcastic, ironic, solemn, vindictive, intense or excited. Tone is not an action, it’s an attitude. Some examples of authors’ tone… Elements of Poetry: Diction Like all good writers, poets are keenly aware of diction, their choice of words In reading a poem it is necessary to know what the words mean, but it is equally important to understand what the words imply or suggest. Denotation is the literal, dictionary meaning of a word. Connotation is the associations and implications that go beyond a word’s literal meaning. Elements of Poetry: Diction For example, with the word BIRD Denotation: A feathered animal with wings Connotation: Fragility, vulnerability, sky, freedom. What about if we used the name of a specific bird? Its denotation would remain essentially the same but how would its connotation change? Hawk Dove Elements of Poetry: Diction Other forms of diction include: Informal diction (personal writing) Ex. I am going to tell Kathy I’m sorry that I forgot to ask her to come to my birthday party. VS. Formal diction (academic or literary writing) Ex. I will inform Kathy that I apologize for forgetting to request her presence at my birthday party. Elements of Poetry: Diction Colloquial words – conversational language such as: Hey, hiya, watcha, gonna, ya, ya’ll, wanna, doin’ Slang – words or phrases that are not considered standard in a speaker’s language but are acceptable in certain social settings. Elements of Poetry: Diction Jargon – the special language of a profession or group. Cacophonous words – harsh sounding words Ex. maggot, detest, disgusted, moan, slime Euphonious words - pleasant sounding words Ex. butterfly, puppy, luxurious, shimmer, trickle Elements of Poetry: Syntax Meanings in poems are also conveyed through an author’s arrangement of words into phrases, clauses and sentences in order to achieve a particular effect. The ordering of words into meaningful verbal patterns is called syntax. In Emily Dickinson’s “A Narrow Fellow in the Grass”, the speaker says about a snake “His notice sudden is.” By placing the verb is unexpectedly at the end of the line, Dickinson creates the sense of surprise we feel when we suddenly come upon a snake. Elements of Poetry: Syntax Let’s go back to Frost’s poem “Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening”. He begins this poem with Whose woods these are I think I know. In normal word order one would write: I think I know whose woods these are. • To make the emphasis fall on “whose woods” , Why do you changed thewhat syntax ofspeaker this line? which are think more Frost important than the thinks he knows as he looks at them. • Changes the tone as this inverted syntax provides the line with a more even rhythm and slows it down slightly. Elements of Poetry: Rhyme, Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered Alliteration, weak and weary,Assonance & Consonance Rhyme matching final vowel or consonant Over manyisathe quaint andofcurious volume of sounds lore in two--or more words. forgotten While I nodded nearly napping, suddenly their When corresponding sounds occur at the end of lines came a tapping, we have end rhyme; when they occur within lines we As of some onerhyme. gently rapping, rapping at my have internal chamber door. “ ‘Tis some visitor,” I muttered, “tapping at my Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Raven” illustrates both: chamber door ---Only this and nothing more.” Elements of Poetry: Rhyme, Alliteration, Assonance & Consonance Alliteration is the repetition of consonant sounds, especially at the beginning of words. Ex. Ah what a delicious day! Assonance is the repetition of vowel sounds in successive or close words. Ex. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid. Consonance is the repetition of consonant sounds but not at the beginning of words. Ex. Sweet silent thought Elements of Poetry: Rhyme, Alliteration, Assonance & Consonance Going back to Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Raven”, what evidence do you see of alliteration, assonance or consonance? Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered weak and weary, Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore --While I nodded nearly napping, suddenly their came a tapping, As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door. “ ‘Tis some visitor,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door --Only this and nothing more.” Elements of Poetry: Rhyme, Alliteration, Assonance & Consonance Why would a poet use rhyme, alliteration, assonance and consonance in their writing? To affect the pace at which the reader reads the poem which in turn may effect its tone and mood. To emphasize particular words or phrases. To create a structure and focus for their poem. Elements of Poetry: Imagery Poets take in the world and give us impressions of what they experience through images. Imagery is language that addresses the senses (sight, smell, taste, touch and sound). Imagery is not only used to create a mental picture for the reader but to also help convey tone, mood and theme. Elements of Poetry: Imagery Consider the first stanza of Li Ho’s poem “A Beautiful Girl Combs Her Hair” Awake at dawn she’s dreaming by cool silk curtains What images do these lines convey? How does this affect the tone and mood of the poem? Elements of Poetry: Figures of Speech A simile makes an explicit comparison between two things using the words like or as. For example, “A sip of Mrs. Cook’s coffee is like a punch in the stomach.” This simile suggests that Mrs. Cook’s coffee is very potent. “Mrs. Cook’s coffee is as strong as the cafeteria’s coffee” is not a simile because the comparison is literal. Mrs. Cook’s coffee is compared to something like it, another kind of coffee. Elements of Poetry: Figures of Speech A metaphor, like a simile, makes a comparison between two unlike things, but it does so implicitly, without the words like or as. “Mrs. Cook’s coffee is a punch in the stomach.” Or, as Macbeth tells us, “Life is a brief candle.” Practice: Is it a simile or metaphor? She is as cute as a kitten. I am as busy as a bee. Sea of grief It broke my heart when my dog died. Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get. Other Figures of Speech Pun – A play on words that relies on a word having more than one meaning or sounding like another word. Ex. Vacuuming sucks; Corduroy pillows are making headlines. Synecdoche – A figure of speech in which part of something is used to represent the whole. Ex. A person in prison is “behind bars”; Germany invaded Poland. Metonymy – When something closely associated a subject is substituted for it. Ex. Lend me your ears; That was a delicious dish. Other Figures of Speech Personification – The attribution of human characteristics to nonhuman things. Ex. The trees screamed in the raging wind; The mice conspired in the cupboard. Apostrophe – An address to either someone who is absent or dead and therefore cannot hear the speaker or to something nonhuman that cannot comprehend. Ex. “ O Life” Other Figures of Speech Paradox – A statement that initially appears to be self- contradictory but that, on closer inspection, turns out to make sense. Ex. “The pen is mightier than the sword” Oxymoron – A condensed form of a paradox in which two contradictory words are used together. Ex. Cold fire; jumbo shrimp Other Figures of Speech Understatement - deliberately expressing an idea as less important than it actually is either for ironic emphasis or for politeness and tact Ex. "The grave's a fine and private place, But none, I think, do there embrace.“ Hyperbole – A figure of speech, exaggeration in order to add emphasis without intending to be literally true. Ex. Teenagers eat everything in the house. Practice: Is it a pun, synecdoche, metonymy, personification, apostrophe, paradox, oxymoron, understatement or hyperbole? The temperature rose to 55 degrees today. It was a little warm. Lend me a hand. You’re clearly confused. I just bought a new set of wheels. The stars danced playfully in the moonlit sky. Any questions?