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Written by WdC member Solace.Bring
How to Find Meaning in a Poem

Often, poems are meant to say what cannot be said in other forms of writing. They express ideas and feelings that can’t be presented in literal ways. Approaching a poem without preconceived ideas about what poetry should be frees us to immerse ourselves in the reading of each poem we encounter.

A poem’s title may give you some place to begin the interaction with that poem. The poem’s shape and lineation and general visual presentation can invite you into the reading.

To begin, read the poem aloud, and read it more than once. The first step is to hear what’s going on.

Here are a few general questions you might ask when approaching a poem for the first time:

*Bulletr* What does the title suggest?
*Bulletr* Who is the speaker?
*Bulletr* What situation is presented?
*Bulletr* What might be the poet’s reason for writing the poem?
*Bulletr* What is the poem’s mood?
*Bulletr* How does this poem make me feel?
*Bulletr* Am I able to relate to this poem?
*Bulletr* What form, if any, does the poem take?
*Bulletr* Does the poem use imagery to achieve a particular effect?
*Bulletr* What kind of figurative language, if any, does the poem use?
*Bulletr* Does the poem use unusual words or use words in an unusual way?

There is no certain method for understanding poetry. The experience of reading a good poem and appreciating how the poet uses language is its own reward. As you read a poem, try to appreciate the meaning, purpose, and artistry it has to offer.


Here are some poems for your reading pleasure. After each reading, ask yourself some questions about the poem that might help you understand and appreciate each poet’s message.

Abandoned Farmhouse
by Ted Kooser

He was a big man, says the size of his shoes
on a pile of broken dishes by the house;
a tall man too, says the length of the bed
in an upstairs room; and a good, God-fearing man,
says the Bible with a broken back
on the floor below the window, dusty with sun;
but not a man for farming, say the fields
cluttered with boulders and the leaky barn.

A woman lived with him, says the bedroom wall
papered with lilacs and the kitchen shelves
covered with oilcloth, and they had a child,
says the sandbox made from a tractor tire.
Money was scarce, say the jars of plum preserves
and canned tomatoes sealed in the cellar hole.
And the winters cold, say the rags in the window frames.
It was lonely here, says the narrow country road.

Something went wrong, says the empty house
in the weed-choked yard. Stones in the fields
say he was not a farmer; the still-sealed jars
in the cellar say she left in a nervous haste.
And the child? Its toys are strewn in the yard
like branches after a storm—a rubber cow,
a rusty tractor with a broken plow,
a doll in overalls. Something went wrong, they say.

( Source: https://www.poetryoutloud.org/poem/abandoned-farmhouse/ )

Wooden Boats
by Judy Sorum Brown

I have a brother who builds wooden boats,
Who knows precisely how a board
Can bend or turn, steamed just exactly
Soft enough so he, with help of friends,
Can shape it to the hull.
The knowledge lies as much
Within his sure hands on the plane
As in his head;
It lies in love of wood and grain,
A rough hand resting on the satin
Of the finished deck.
Is there within us each
Such artistry forgotten
In the cruder tasks
The world requires of us,
The faster modern work
That we have
Turned our life to do?
Could we return to more of craft
Within our lives,
And feel the way the grain of wood runs true,
By letting our hands linger
On the product of our artistry?
Could we recall what we have known
But have forgotten,
The gifts within ourselves,
Each other too,
And thus transform a world
As he and friends do,
Shaping steaming oak boards
Upon the hulls of wooden boats?

( Source: https://www.judysorumbrown.com/blog/wooden-boats )

by Denise Levertov

Brilliant, this day – a young virtuoso of a day.
Morning shadow cut by sharpest scissors,
deft hands. And every prodigy of green –
whether it's ferns or lichens or needles
or impatient points of buds on spindly bushes –
greener than ever before. And the way the conifers
hold new cones to the light for the blessing,
a festive right, and sing the oceanic chant the wind
transcribes for them!
A day that shines in the cold
like a first-prize brass band swinging along
the street
of a coal-dusty village, wholly at odds
with the claims of reasonable gloom.

( Source: https://allpoetry.com/Celebration )

A Dream Within A Dream
by Edgar Allan Poe

Take this kiss upon the brow!
And, in parting from you now,
Thus much let me avow —
You are not wrong, who deem
That my days have been a dream;
Yet if hope has flown away
In a night, or in a day,
In a vision, or in none,
Is it therefore the less gone?
All that we see or seem
Is but a dream within a dream.

I stand amid the roar
Of a surf-tormented shore,
And I hold within my hand
Grains of the golden sand —
How few! yet how they creep
Through my fingers to the deep,
While I weep — while I weep!
O God! Can I not grasp
Them with a tighter clasp?
O God! can I not save
One from the pitiless wave?
Is all that we see or seem
But a dream within a dream?

( Source: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/52829/a-dream-within-a-dream )
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