Sure, It Sounds Good, But What Does It Mean?

I was reading the blog “Why People Don’t Like Poetry” by Business in Rhyme. And I was struck by the main topic of the blog: people don’t like poetry because they don’t understand what the poet is trying to say. You can read the blog at:

But saying, I don’t like poetry because I don’t know what it means is like saying, I don’t like essays because I can’t hear music in the words. it is helpful to realize that poetry is not a riddle. The poem is to be read and understood as it is and not a mystery to be solved. While some poems can be difficult to understand, difficulty and ambiguity are not prerequisites of the form. Poetry is a painting in words, a photograph of language in action. Poetry is beauty and not a complicated math problem waiting for a solution.

While poetry is not meant as practice of deductive reasoning, there is reasoning behind traditional poetic form. In fact, you recognize poetry on the page by intentional line-breaks and spaces between stanzas. Each line-break denotes a short metric break, and a stanza-break denotes a longer metric break. And the natural rhythm of the words with the breaks together create music for the reader. So poetry is just a rudimentary form of music. And if you are missing the music of poetry in your readings all you need to do is read the poetry aloud.

I have never heard anyone complain that they didn’t listen to music because they could not figure out what it means. And most people that I know have songs that have meanings to them that go far beyond the actual meaning behind the lyrics. People have happy songs that remind them of times of sadness, sad songs that remind them of times of happiness, and all combinations in between (actual song meanings be damned). Poetry is the same way. There is (usually) meaning behind the words, but that is secondary to the music of the language. So just like you do with music, listen to poetry for the beauty of the music and the way it makes you feel, and only worry about the meaning of the words when you and your friends are standing in a circle passing around a joint of your favorite strain of marijuana.

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