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On Poetry Interpretation

Updated on January 11, 2016

People have strong opinions about poetry

I've noticed that people seem to either love or dislike poetry, with varying degrees of intensity.

I think it's fortunate that I was exposed to poetry as a small child, well before I reached school age. I think this was fortunate because I believe people who are first exposed to poetry in a formal school setting are less likely to enjoy it than those who are first exposed to poetry as entertainment.

Poetry is an amazing art form. Emotions and sensations are concentrated and intensified into a potent dose, often less than a single page in length. Poetry makes us feel. But instead of being allowed to feel and be affected by poetry, children in school are asked to analyze and pick poetry apart. That will not give birth to love of poetry anymore than dissecting a rabbit will inspire love of rabbits.

Just like that rabbit, a poem must be killed to be dismantled. How can a person see poetry as alive when they've only seen it pinned to a table and cut wide open with others telling them what it means and what it should make them feel?

This is a language not your own
This is a language not your own | Source

Then How Does One Interpret Poetry?

In my opinion, if you want to enjoy poetry, you don't interpret it, you feel it in your gut; you send it tumbling from your tongue and stop to taste it in your ears. Savor the syllables as music, melody, rhythm or tone. Reach for the meaning or let it be thrust upon you and pay attention to what it makes you feel. Poetry isn't a different language, it's your language used differently.

If the reader isn't moved in some way by the poem itself without digging at it like a tick in his ear then either the poet's voice is too quiet and subtle or the reader isn't equipped to hear it. The poem is what it says to each person. If it needs to be explained to be enjoyed, something is missing, either from the poem or its reader.

To me, formally interpreting a poem is as useless as putting toothpaste off the floor back into the tube but sharing your feelings and thoughts about a poem is a lovely thing.

Save your formal poetry interpretation for dusty classrooms and maiden English teachers.

Is It Possible to Enjoy Poetry without Learning Poetry Interpretation? - Do people require instruction of a fairly specific sort to enjoy poetry?

Do people need to be taught how to enjoy poetry or is exposure to poetry all that is needed?

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An ear ready to listen
An ear ready to listen | Source

So How Do You Enjoy Poetry?

I enjoy poetry read aloud; spoken or sung, it doesn't matter. To me, poetry is a lot like sheet music. Some people can "hear" sheet music as they read it but others cannot. I think that some people can hear what a poem sounds like when reading it silently but that everyone (barring deafness) can hear a poem spoken aloud or a song played on an instrument. I can often "hear" a poem I read silently but actually reading it aloud gives it a greater depth and resonance for me.

Reading a good poem aloud is a lot like enjoying a fireside story only it can be done without a storyteller, or an audience present.

Does Poetry Need to Be Analyzed and Interpreted to Be Enjoyed?

Does poetry need to be formally interpreted to be enjoyed?

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image by Jeff Hire
image by Jeff Hire

What Makes a Good Poem?

A good poem makes the reader feel something, whether wonder, joy, delight, disgust, anger, or pity, it makes us feel something. Rhythm or rhyme combined with evocative words can wind up emotions or stretch them out. A good poem takes us somewhere new or somewhere old and gives us something to feel that rings true. Good poetry is electric and alive.

That's just my opinion, I'm sure that there are professional opinions of what exactly a good poem is and I'm sure they are very different from mine.

Does a Poem Have to Rhyme?

Does a poem have to rhyme to be good?

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© 2010 Kylyssa Shay

Does Poetry Move You?

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    • profile image


      6 years ago

      I am drawn to the poetry of World War 1. The trauma of war turned competent poets, like Owen and Sassoon, into great ones. Many people are moved to write poetry at times of extremis as the joy or pain seems to release the inhibitions about writing (learned often from school) that can block creativity. Funerals often draw out the shy poet in many people.

    • james g pete profile image

      james g pete 

      9 years ago

      I applaud your initial descriptions of poetry: that school can maim a person's enjoyment; that listening to its sounds is a treat in itself; that it's not a different language, but language used differently. Poetry moves someone when she is enthralled, when she "is into it." But then one comes out of it to consider other poems by the same author, criticism of the poem, facts about its writing that may prove enlightening. There is always this movement, often without awareness, from the text to the context, from content to style. And this is why simple interpretations give rise to a defensiveness-yes, it is your interpretation. But after many readings, some time, some study, it becomes your poem. At this point, at the opposite end of that first interpretation, you can stand shoulder to shoulder with the author. A true critic spends much of his life getting to this place.

    • John Dyhouse profile image

      John Dyhouse 

      9 years ago from UK

      A very interesting lens. I write song lyrics ratgher than poetry - the music helps a great deal, But I love reading "some poetry". Although I have nothing against non-rhyming work, I do like to hear a rhyme and structure. I usually read it aloud to get the full benefit

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      I love poetry. I was born on Robbie Burns day too. I really like Robert Frost and the war poet Wilfred Owen. At school we studied Keats and T.S.Elliot which I found hard work. Modern poets like Bob Dylan are brilliant too. Oh and Shakespeare knew what he was doing too :)

    • KarenTBTEN profile image


      9 years ago

      You have some good points -- and analogies -- about poetry. Yes, I think it can be a bit like sheet music (except that the inflections and such aren't nted on tne poem). Blessed by a traveling SquidAngel.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Poetry is a love affair with words ... and needs no rhyme nor reason. Lovely poetry lens ...

    • norma-holt profile image


      11 years ago

      This is a lovely lens on a favorite subject of mine. I love writing poetry and good verse can bring tears to my eyes. Well done and Top marks. I am lensrolling it to How to write well and will also feature it there.Norma

    • justholidays profile image


      11 years ago

      Inspiring lens! Well, I don't like to interpret things - unless they hurt anyone and then, I look for an explanation whenever there is one - so I would tend to say that everyone does interpret a poem in the sense they feel it. The same goes for rhymes... it doesn't have to rhyme, for as long as it does "sing" in our mind when one reads or think of it. I might be wrong... but that's my opinion.Just like I think your lens is an inspiration...Blessed by a SquidAngel.


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