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September 12, 2023

What Does a Poem Mean?

A poem is a brimming, electric container of language and meaning, but to boil it down to its essential ingredients risks unraveling the glowing strands of electrified words that make it up. Trying to understand poetry or use it to teach others is like trying to extract knowledge from a technicolor coat. It’s a futile and often disappointing endeavor.

Instead, consider that it is not the job of poetry to be understood or evaluated; the job of poetry is to be experienced. Attempts to define poetry have come and gone over the centuries, and even great poets have struggled to explain it to themselves or to other poets. But it’s important to remember that any system of understanding or judging poetry can never be complete, as there is always a part of any good work of art that resists explanation and evades definition.

The most popular way to approach a poem is to look for its underlying themes and ideas. But this method can also be frustrating, as it may take years to grasp the full implications of a complex poem.

Another useful technique is to look for poetic devices that can add to the overall experience of a poem. For example, rhyme and meter help give poems their musical feeling, and onomatopoeia, or words that mimic sounds, can provide a unique aural experience.

It’s also a good idea to look at how a poem is structured. Longer poems, for instance, often feature stanzas and couplets, which add to the poem’s overall feel.