, the bane
of English class, is nevertheless the foundation of a complete understanding
, and more, enjoyment
But it must be taken in the place it must remain!
Let me explain that, admittedly cryptic remark with a metaphor: Imagine a rope, an old hemp rope, wound around with many, many strands of fibre, all woven together to give it strength. Now, our role in the understanding and enjoyment of this rope is finding how and why it hangs together, and is strong enough to lift what needs lifting.
- One of the strands might be the immediacy that called forth the poem, whether experience, thought, or some other work of art.
- Another might be the poet's backround, the experiences and education that clothe his response to the immediacy.
- Another might the poet's ambition for this, and all his work, what his mission in writing is--say to develop his own consciousness, or to forge the conscience of his race in the smithy of his soul.
- Another might be his taste for his own language, the way it rolls around his tongue, and in his mouth, and in his ear--or maybe not spoken at all, and just as concept. . . .somewhere.
- Another might be the metaphor(s), or image(s) he has chosen to express something beyond what he actually says.
- Another might be the logic, or imaginative logic in which he uses the metaphor(s), image(s), and even logic itself.
- Another might be the humor, he uses, or decides not to.
- Another might be the way, or reason he uses to choose any, or all of the above.
This is the HOW.
The WHY is less easy to explain. A poem may have one, some, all of these strands--even others that escape me at the moment--and still be nothing more than an experiment, as one practioner of the art once described a failed poem to me.
This is like life, science can describe how something works, but not why. But at least in poetry we need not appeal to deity to explain why it works.
The poem that works will probably demonstrate several of these strands. But our analysis--our taking apart--of the piece can only bring us half way to a true understanding, and more important, an enjoyment of the work. We must weave the strands back together; we must synthesize it.
Most English classes fail in this, as they must; for how can any but the best teachers get inside our heads. How can any but the best introduce us to wanting to enjoy poetry--and all its strands.
For without all its strands, strengthening the rope, it is nothing more than prose, and unfit for heavy lifting