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So You Say You Can't Understand Poetry!

John has been writing poetry since his school days. He was awarded the "Best Poet 2014 and 2021" Hubby Awards.

Oscar Wilde

Oscar Wilde

Poetry Month

April is "Poetry Month" in the USA, and other countries allocate a certain month to the same, but you don't have to wait for a specific time to write poetry. For me, anytime is the right time. This short poem, however, I did originally write for April's Poetry Month and for all those people out there who say they don't like reading poetry because it is too difficult to understand. Well, maybe they are right after all.

The thing is, you don't have to analyze every poem you read. You can just also just read poetry for enjoyment or entertainment. A lot of poems are really just songs without music, especially rhyming ones.

The genius of a composer is found in the notes of his music; but analyzing the notes will not reveal his genius. The poet's greatness is contained in his words; yet the study of his words will not disclose his inspiration. God reveals himself in creation; but scrutinize creation as minutely as you wish, you will not find God, any more than you will find the soul through careful examination of your body.

— Anthony de Mello, Awakening: Conversations with the Masters

To Analyse or Not to Analyse? That is the Question.

I am far from an expert at analysing poetry, in fact, I find it a much harder process than actually writing a poem. To me, writing poetry is for fun and enjoyment. I never spend time analysing my own, or other people's poetry.

But for the literature students out there, and for those who feel the need to do so or get satisfaction from trying to put themselves in the poet's head, I offer you the following guidelines compiled by real experts.

so-you-say-you-cant-understand-poetry

Typical Questions Asked When Analysing a Poem

Analyzing poetry can seem overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be difficult. Simply break the poem down to its basic elements. The main idea of poetry analysis is to investigate and evaluate the way the poet makes an impression.

Questions about the theme:

  • What is the theme of the poem?
  • Are there multiple themes? How do they relate to each other?
  • Is the poem trying to deliver a message or moral?
  • What audience/audiences is the message for?
  • What techniques does the poet use to deliver the themes in the most effective way possible?

Researching the poet can help you understand the poem and context:

  • Do details about the poet’s life suggest a specific point of view?
  • Does the culture of that era (i.e. time, and/or place) have any effect on the interpretation of the poem?
  • Does the poem belong to a movement? How might this affect its interpretation?
  • Is there a common theme in much of the poet's other work?

Questions about mood and tone:

  • What is the mood of the poem?
  • Does the mood change over the course of the poem? Why do you think the poet created this change?
  • What strategies does the poet use to convey the mood?
  • What is the tone of the poem? Does the poet agree, disagree, admire, ridicule, or condemn the subject of the poem? What is the reason?
  • How does word choice affect the tone of the poem?
  • What strategies does the poet use to convey the tone?

Questions about literary devices used in the poem:

  • What are the most prominent literary devices used in the poem?
  • What function do the devices have in the poem? Do they build the structure?
  • Do literary devices contribute to the mood? Do they support the theme?
  • How does the poet’s use of literary devices make the poem better and more meaningful? (source: Creative Writing News)
so-you-say-you-cant-understand-poetry

So You Say You Can't Understand Poetry!


Razor sharpened butcher's knives

Slice cleanly through my heart.

It's only bricks and mortar

But at least that is a start.


It could be Whistler's mother

Or Mona Lisa's smile.

But winds are blowing from the East,

So it may rain in a while.


I want to be a poet

But can never find the words,

And every time I look at trees

I can never see the birds.


But since you cannot understand

I’ll take a hammer and go pound sand.

(final couplet courtesy of Maya Shedd Temple)

Image by Dr StClaire from Pixabay

Image by Dr StClaire from Pixabay

Critical Analysis Invited

For anyone who thinks they can understand poetry, I invite you to do a critical analysis of the above poem (in comments). I would love to find out what the poet was thinking or intending and what poetic devices were used.

so-you-say-you-cant-understand-poetry

© 2014 John Hansen

Comments

John Hansen (author) from Gondwana Land on October 24, 2016:

Thank you for you kind comment. I am glad you enjoy my writing, and good luck with your own. I have never tried writing "tanka" poetry.

Elsie Hagley from New Zealand on October 24, 2016:

I enjoy writing poetry, have been writing Tanka poems for a few months now on my WordPress blog - Ramblings of a writer, I have found so many ways of writing poetry, I'm stuck on tanker poetry it can tell a story in thirty-one syllables.

I enjoy your writing whether it's poetry or short stories, there is a place in the market for this type of writing. Keep up the good work Jodah, happy days writing.

John Hansen (author) from Gondwana Land on October 23, 2016:

Thank you for attempting to interpret this poem, Shyron :) What you came up with was very interesting, but I won't say whether it is right or wrong :) Glad you liked the poem though.

Shyron E Shenko from Texas on October 23, 2016:

John you know I love your poems, so I will try to interpret it's meaning, in poetic form.

*

*

The butcher cutting to the heart of the matter

In the art museum

From the smile on Mona Lisa

She is madder than the Hatter

And the debauchery of Whistle's Mother's son

Would cause any Mum to come undone

And there is one thing you will never see

Birds roosting in a painting of a tree

Except for the Partridge

On first day of Christmas eve.

*

*

John, I love it!

Blessings my friend.

John Hansen (author) from Gondwana Land on August 30, 2014:

Thank you teaches. I have noticed a few Hubbers here who say they are not good at poetry but if they do happen to write a poem they are excellent. Glad you liked the photos. I agree the do enhance the poem.

Dianna Mendez on August 30, 2014:

I love poetry but I'm just not that good at it. Love your photos posted here - enhances the post content.

John Hansen (author) from Gondwana Land on April 23, 2014:

Thanks for your interesting comment Thandi. Ye, exactly as you say, there is no need to look for the birds in the trees when there is one on Whistler's Mother's head...haha. Glad you liked the Mr Bean Mona Lisa too. I usually try to make my poetry easy for people to understand.

Alexander Thandi Ubani from Lagos on April 23, 2014:

you said

"And every time I look at trees

I can never see the birds"

well, look no more on the trees cos the bird is perching on the woman's head. (check down photo you will see lol)

On a more serious note, so many people find poetry hard to understand and that is a fact. The reasons vary; some say cos of ambiguity of words, writer's perspective and thematic structure. I am no Poet--assuming I am one--poetry is a sweet meal I beg to eat each day. But, you Poets should use words my small brain can understand and also give me explanation when I request to know the Poet's perspective. lol, don't mind my banter. Poetry is the sweetest of all!

...and that Mr. Bean/Mona Lisa photo hahaha

John Hansen (author) from Gondwana Land on April 20, 2014:

Thank you for reading and your kind comment Gypsy. yes I thought the pics were a fun addition.

Gypsy Rose Lee from Daytona Beach, Florida on April 20, 2014:

Awesome and the pictures added just the right touch.

John Hansen (author) from Gondwana Land on April 15, 2014:

Thanks for rereading Kevin, glad you have it worked out.

The Examiner-1 on April 15, 2014:

I read your poem again Jodah and I see what, or at least part of what, you were talking about.

John Hansen (author) from Gondwana Land on April 15, 2014:

Thanks for the thumbs up and pin Kevin, even if you don't know why...haha. There is a message in the last verse, well actually the whole thing is a bit of a parody. I know it's short. I almost placed it in my micro-poems category but it didn't quite suit the style. Anyway I'm glad you found it interesting, and hope you figure out how it will be useful.

The Examiner-1 on April 15, 2014:

That was interesting Jodah. I expected it to be longer. It was funny and I do not know why yet but I know it was useful too. I gave it a thumbs up and pinned it.

Kevin

John Hansen (author) from Gondwana Land on April 11, 2014:

Damn epigram man, you mean I should have listed this under satire? I was seriously attempting to be serious here, seriously. Enjoy your coffee, oh and what's the name of the headless pianist you're listening to?

epigramman on April 11, 2014:

Great humor and wit here Sir J - especially in the overly/overtly serious poe-tree genre.

Never could much understand what 'they're' trying to say/write but sure as shite you have your tongue properly placed in cheek here and you just made my day - currently drinking coffee at 12:20pm with headless piano music.

John Hansen (author) from Gondwana Land on April 11, 2014:

Sure does DDE, thanks for reading.

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on April 11, 2014:

Poetry is beautiful and shows true emotions.

John Hansen (author) from Gondwana Land on April 11, 2014:

Thanks Frank, I think I actually prefer this version to the original Mona Lisa, but I am a Mr Bean fan. Thanks for the 'poet' compliment.

Frank Atanacio from Shelton on April 10, 2014:

Jodah, plain and simple...Perfect.. I love that Mr. Bean's face in the Mona Lisa portrait LOL.. you are a poet my friend

John Hansen (author) from Gondwana Land on April 10, 2014:

Anna, I started writing this in jest, but even then I found it carried a message. Thanks for your kind comment.

John Hansen (author) from Gondwana Land on April 10, 2014:

Thank you for reading Alicia, my pleasure to entertain and glad I succeeded.

John Hansen (author) from Gondwana Land on April 10, 2014:

Thanks Harishprasad, poetry seems to have become one of my greatest passions in recent years. I love all the examples in your wonderful comment. I wish for nothing more than to play a small part in helping others appreciate and actually form a love for poetry. Thank you for voting up too.

John Hansen (author) from Gondwana Land on April 10, 2014:

Thanks Audrey, I knew you'd be able to appreciate this one.

I really appreciate you reading this Phyllis, glad you enjoyed.

Anna Haven from Scotland on April 10, 2014:

You formed your words well. With a good message Jodah.

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on April 10, 2014:

This is clever and funny, Jodah! Thank you for the entertainment.

Harish Mamgain from New Delhi , India on April 10, 2014:

My friend, I love your true passion for poetry. Poetry is like travel back from death to life, turn stones alive, make Sun, Moon and stars to come down, make the mighty God a human and what not. Poet is a guy who is free to roam into the very crux of anyone and anything. John, this poem is so beautiful and tells a lot that goes with the birth of poetry. I wish I could also churn out a poem on a similar theme ! I relished this poem with all my heart and am sure that each one of us started loving and appreciating this wonderful art ! Thank you very much. Voted up.

Phyllis Doyle Burns from High desert of Nevada. on April 10, 2014:

Very enjoyable read, Jodah.

Audrey Howitt from California on April 10, 2014:

Witty and entertaining write John!

John Hansen (author) from Gondwana Land on April 10, 2014:

Thanks for your comment Jackie. You should write poetry more often. I'll read it. Yes, I think Mr Bean looks great as the Mona Lisa too. :)

John Hansen (author) from Gondwana Land on April 10, 2014:

Yes MizBejabbers, we are all entitled to our own interpretation. If a poet puts their work out there to be read it is open to whatever interpretation the reader makes of it. Thanks for reading and glad you found it funny.

Jackie Lynnley from the beautiful south on April 10, 2014:

So much too we can say in poetry that we may never otherwise...well not me of course, lol, but some. (Love that Mona Lisa!)^+

Doris James MizBejabbers from Beautiful South on April 10, 2014:

Yeah, some poetry is as plain as the nose on your face, while some is as complicated and nebulous as the lawbooks that I edit. I always hated it when my interpretations weren't even close as other peoples. Now I believe I have as much right to mine as Maya Angelou does hers, but when they flunked me on a standardized test for them, I didn't think that was fair at all. Don't get me wrong, I love Ms. Angelou's poetry and admire her as a women. You really are funny, though.

John Hansen (author) from Gondwana Land on April 10, 2014:

Hi Jamie, thanks for reading. If I can please a fellow poet I know I have succeeded.

John Hansen (author) from Gondwana Land on April 10, 2014:

Thank you Flourish. I've Ben told I am a funny fellow at times.

John Hansen (author) from Gondwana Land on April 10, 2014:

Hey Kim, a song really? Sounds great to me...if you sing it, I'm hopeless. Glad you like the rhythm, and thanks for the vote up.

John Hansen (author) from Gondwana Land on April 10, 2014:

Hey MsDora, everyone in the world can't be a poet just like everyone can't be a doctor or a mechanic. But most of us appreciate what they do and can't get by without them. Where would poets be without people that appreciate their poems? Thanks for being one of those.

John Hansen (author) from Gondwana Land on April 10, 2014:

Your words are spot on Ruby, keep flying the flag for poets everywhere. Thank you for your great comment.

John Hansen (author) from Gondwana Land on April 10, 2014:

Thanks Bill, I'd like to see yo have a go one day. It couldn't be much worse than this one..haha. Maybe you should have had one of the characters in your book write one.

Jamie Lee Hamann from Reno NV on April 10, 2014:

Great stuff Jodah! I love it! jamie

FlourishAnyway from USA on April 10, 2014:

I like your humor!

ocfireflies from North Carolina on April 10, 2014:

Jodah,

Every line and every image = awesome

V+

I can imagine this used as the lyrics in a song. There is just such a cool rhythm you have got going in this piece.

Best,

Kim

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on April 10, 2014:

Jodah, I just do not have the vocabulary for the lovely nature poems that the rest of you write so well. "I can never see the birds" is true for me. However, I know good poem when I see or hear one.

Ruby Jean Richert from Southern Illinois on April 10, 2014:

I could never understand how anyone would scoff at poetry, that's like saying that you don't like music, or laughter. Life is a mixture of feelings that comes from the heart, that's poetry.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on April 10, 2014:

Oh, I understand poetry....I just can't write it worth a damn.

Fun poem my friend.

John Hansen (author) from Gondwana Land on April 10, 2014:

Really Eric, that could be interesting, even scary. :)

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on April 10, 2014:

John be careful here. You might inspire some of us that are really quite bad at it ;-)

John Hansen (author) from Gondwana Land on April 10, 2014:

Haha thanks Shauna.

Thank you Faith, much appreciated, glad you liked it. Thanks for vote up, share and pin.

John Hansen (author) from Gondwana Land on April 10, 2014:

Haha thanks Shauna.

Thank you Faith, much appreciated, glad you liked it. Thanks for vote up, share and pin.

Faith Reaper from southern USA on April 10, 2014:

Wonderful poem written by a true poet! I just love how much you love poetry.

Up and more, tweeting, pinning

Have a great weekend!

Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on April 10, 2014:

I like it when you're silly, Jodah!

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