Understanding and Analyzing Poetry 2
Sometimes poems are like puzzles: you have to look closely to get their meaning.
At the same time you must let your imagination flow to go along with the mood the poem is creating by means of the poet’s choice of words and rhythm.
When you are analyzing poetry the thing is to find the balance between what the poem says and what you come to think of when reading it. Be careful that you are not carried away in your own associations and read all kinds of things into the poem.
Two warm up exercises:
Note the rhythm and vocabulary in the following two stanzas [strofer] taken from two different poems by the English poet Wordsworth:
1. She dwelt among th’untrodden ways
Beside the springs of Dove,
A Maid whom there were none to praise
And very few to love.
Are you in any doubt as to the meaning of the stanza? A simple country girl to whom nobody pays much attention. The simple rhythm, the rhymes and the quiet diction (vocabulary) underline the meaning
2. A slumber did my spirit seal,
I had no human fears;
She seem’d a thing that could not feel
The touch of earthly years.
This stanza may be a little more difficult to understand as it deals with the contrast
between heaven and earth: the dead and the living. Since this is the first stanza only,
you cannot know that the “she” is a person (actually the one in the first poem).
What does the poet think about the girl. Will she die? The rhythm and diction may give you the answer.
Here’s a third poem, one which may be a little harder to understand, but it is not impossible to crack:
3. Dead Guerilla Displayed To School Children
by Dambudzo Marechera (Harare, Zimbabwe)
The black-beaten body
On pedestal for sale and study
The child in wonder gapes
At mother and her whoring shapes.
The black-bruised father
On cruel display as guerilla;
The child in terror watches
Father bullet-riddled against all touch.
All around the police grinning
The army smacking their sides in delight;
The child in wonder without thinking
Knows the targets his trigger finger will fight.
Consider the meaning of the poem and the outer form.
Explain how the meaning is emphasized by the outer form.