How to read a Poem

 

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Earlier this week, a friend asked me how to read a poem.  It was a question I have been asked before, and so I felt I should know how to give a better answer than I did.  Of course, it may depend on the poem, and the mind and the training of the mind of the reader.  A good response to the question will take these things into account.

The exchange stayed with me, so I took some of the phrases of my answer, and wrote them in my notebook sitting on the garden bench later in the day.  I found they formed a a small poem themselves, inviting other words to join them – it’s what they seemed to want to do.

I begin with the mind – at school, so many of us ended up approaching poetry as if it were a form of cryptography, as if the pesky poet had deliberately concealed a meaning and we had to puzzle it out. Poetry rarely holds that kind of meaning.  In this, it is similar to story, as I was thinking in my previous post about parables.   The mind is a great resource in reading, and writing, and good academic rigour can seriously deepen our joy in a poem, but, for the nervous reader, it is not a good place to start.

Try starting like this, and see if that helps.

If you like to listen, you can listen here.

 

How to read a poem

Let your mind rest.
Do not pursue it anxiously,
grasping for meaning.

There is no riddle here
that must be solved
or else doom will fall.
No puzzle to puzzle
for a prize.

Let the sounds of the words
soak you,
water you.
Let the colours of the words
fill your eyes.
Receive it all, then,
with a yes,
hold the words
cool and dripping
in your cupped mind.

Come back,
come back again, for
something that snagged
your dreams
like the dark brambles
over an autumn path.

Come back.
In time, the words may
open to you.
You may taste
their sweet sharpness.
They may grow in you,
nourishing you again
and again.

 

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3 thoughts on “How to read a Poem

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