Most of us are forced to study poetry from a relatively young age. I first encountered the idea of analysing poetry when I was about eleven; in my opinion, this is much too young anyway. Much like introducing children of a similar age to Shakespeare, it teaches them that such work is completely impenetrable and meaningless and that that what constitutes "good work" is completely unpredictable. Those of us who continue to study English realise that this perception is false, but for many it is too late.
This brings me to my own revelation. I know there are many people more highly-qualified to talk about such matters than me, but maybe that will help the mortals among us to follow what I'm saying.
I always assumed when reading poetry that the poet had a particular message intended. I assumed that when I read a piece, my job was to decipher what this single message was and sort it from all the other interpretations which were mistaken. I assumed that universities would be full of English scholars searching for that one true meaning within each poem. I was always on the look out for "The Book" written by Professor Horatio Very Intelligent that would finally end the debate on what Frost was on about.
Then something clicked. It was while reading Philip Larkin's brilliant 'Afternoons', a poem with many layers that are far from obvious. A few thoughts that had been circling in my head for a while all came together, in what alcoholics call a 'moment of clarity'. "Maybe," I thought, "Larkin actually intended all these different parallel meanings! The different connotations of each of these words interlock to give the meaning he really intended. The ambiguities are more than just deliberate; they're essential."
I no longer believe that even the poet himself necessarily knows everything he has put into the poem. Many writers liken the process of writing to words simply flowing into their heads. On the other hand, I know many of the writers who write for E2 find that writing is something they have to work hard at. "Earn your inspiration" was a phrase popular with an English teacher of mine, and my first encounter with "Earn your bullshit" reminded me of him. The poet's skill is to craft everything in his stream of conciousness into a consistent whole: a poem. Who knows what subconcious processes find themselves subtly mainfested in the final work?
I'm sure this all seems rather obvious to most of you now. It seems obvious to me too. But it was at that moment that most of the previous five years of English Literature classes made sense to me.