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Help Others Interpret Poems for Themselves
Posted by: Melanie (
Date: May 10, 2000 07:39PM

I was wondering if we could develop ways to help others to interpret poems for themselves, because perhaps when we are too quick to give people interpretations we are stealing some of the joy of discovery from them. Of course there are times when it is best just to give someone an interpretation straight off. But if someone doesn't learn anything new about interpreting poems by themselves, then they will never experience the whole joy of poetry. There's that old proverb, give a man a fish and he'll eat for a day, teach a man to fish and he'll eat for a lifetime.... And maybe giving hints will open up more discussion on their side and we can see what impressions the poem has given them, that they were maybe too scared to share before.
Also, maybe a network of poetry help sites would be good, though I don't imagine there are too many out there. But if you've written a site relevant to poetry, I for one would be interested in it.
Anyways, what do you think?

RE: Help Others Interpret Poems for Themselves
Posted by: JC (
Date: May 10, 2000 07:45PM

OH know what, not everyone likes to enjoy interpreting poem.
Most of them are having hard time finding the meaning of those poems and those
are only homework assignment for them which i don't think they enjoy.

I have been looking for the meaning of my poem for few hours still can't find the
interpretation of it. So i need some help on it now!!!!!!!!!
I think other people are i the same situation as i do!

RE: Help Others Interpret Poems for Themselves
Posted by: Kamili (
Date: May 10, 2000 09:09PM

I need help to with interpreting elegy Written in a Country Churchyard. I only need it for a homework assignment. does anyone have a paraphrase?

RE: Help Others Interpret Poems for Themselves
Posted by: Kamili (
Date: May 10, 2000 09:11PM

Help!!!!!!!! If you have a paraphrase, send it to me tonight ASAP. Right now

RE: Help Others Interpret Poems for Themselves
Posted by: Smokey (
Date: May 10, 2000 09:33PM

Melanie is on the right track. The meanings and intrepretations will depend on the individual. When Mark Twain wrote "live your life so that when you die even the undertaker will be sorry" did he mean the possible universal acclaim of your neighbors or are you the personal friend of the undertaker and he would miss you from the friendship. My view may be quite different from yours but in any event an honest attempt to express how it strikes you is never in error as that is your opinion. We shouldn't be striving to get the correct "authoritative" interprtation but instead let it speak to us and in some cases it never become clear.

RE: Help Others Interpret Poems for Themselves
Posted by: Djeph (
Date: May 10, 2000 11:27PM

I have helped interpet a couple of times, and have found it a little frustrating to be doing someone elses homework for them. If you speak english, and are human, you should be able to figure it out for yourself.

RE: Help Others Interpret Poems for Themselves
Posted by: Brittany (138.92.9.---)
Date: May 11, 2000 12:30AM

I am looking for an interpretation of one of William Blake's poems for a take-home exam right now. I would like to interpret poems on my own if it's for leisure---when there's a grade involved, I'm more liable to go with an interpretation that's already out there. Now I have this deadline and I WISH I could get an interpretation for it!

RE: Help Others Interpret Poems for Themselves
Posted by: Brittany (138.92.9.---)
Date: May 11, 2000 12:33AM

Well I kind of like Smokey's comment..... I definitely have my own opinions about pieces of poetry... but I'm just trying to get my damn homework done now so that's out of the question! smiling smiley

RE: Help Others Interpret Poems for Themselves
Posted by: Melanie (
Date: May 11, 2000 07:25AM

I know, not everyone is of my turn of mind concerning poetry, as hard to believe as that is. I know everyone says this about their pet subjects, but there are very good reasons why you study literature at school. One of the biggest ones is so you will enjoy it and in order for that to happen you will have to expend time and effort. But hard work is needed for anything worthwhile. I think it would be a great pitty if someone went through a literature class and never got an ounce of enjoyment out of it. I know that is what happens to many, probably mainly because they don't expect to enjoy it.
I only mentioned one reason why we study literature some others are, so we will know our culture, because literature is full of little jems that pinpoint who we are as human beings, because it makes us think, and the last reason I can think of is because it prepares us for writing of our own, even if it is just a homework assignment, knowing good techniques of how to write will help get you those high grades.
Sorry, but I have never read "The Pilgrims" before so I don't know if I can help you, but I'll re-read it and if I come up with anything I think might help I'll post to your Pilgrims post.
Anyway, I hope your assignment goes well, and you get some inspiration.

RE: Help Others Interpret Poems for Themselves
Posted by: Melanie (
Date: May 11, 2000 07:55AM

For a start. Which specific poems do you want interpreted?
I think it would be fair of me to say that the postings in reply to requests for interpretations of poetry is the opinon of the writer, and not THE interpretation, as there are very few poems that have A interpretation. But I have a feeling from what you write that you already know this, but you feeling that you have less qualification for interpreting poetry than maybe some of the people in this forum. Well, maybe there are people who have learnt more about poetry than you, however you, and you alone, are the expert on what YOU think about a work of poetry. I'd bet you could interpret poetry just as well as I can. Personally I think it is fair enough to discuss assignments with others, but when it comes down to it, it is your thoughts that should go down on paper. If your ideas are laid aside for someone elses then the world becomes a little less original and less creative. You have an increadable, unique mind - an organ that no scientist actually knows how it manages to think. A mind that is unpredictable and a mind that can come up with limitless possibilities.
If you really would like read poetry for leasure, first I'd suggest you just come in here when you don't have an assignment to rush through, choose a poem and post that you want to learn how to go through a poem and understand it for yourself. Second, rent movies like "Much Ado About Nothing", "Midsummer's Nights Dream", "Sense and Sensability" and "Pride and Predjudice" (I know the last two are prose, but they help, and are enjoyable) and just enjoy them! And another thing about enjoying poems is, you don't always have to understand them.
Best wishes on your exam,

RE: Help Others Interpret Poems for Themselves
Posted by: Melanie (
Date: May 11, 2000 08:26AM

Nope, no paraphrase. I must admit I was a bit interested that you choose to post in this particular thread asking for a paraphrase.
I love this poem, so don't go wishing it was shorter, because one line less would be a loss to the world.
Ok here are a few thoughts for you, it is and elegy (ie poem for the dead). Ever heard the phrase "standing on the shoulders of those that went before" (ie built on the foundations someone else made) well, keep that in mind. Last remember it is written in the setting of a small village, where both nature and ancestory are strong influences.
Now imagine yourself in a village's graveyard. Not thinking about the scary, gothic images a graveyard brings up, but rather as a place of beauty and of history. Think about what you will find there, what of the history of the village? What about the dreams of those who have died, and those who are living? What of the village's ancestors? What influence do they still have in the village? Keep thinking up questions of the people that used to live in the village and the people that do now, and also of the influence of nature. Note the moods. Also ask yourself why. Why does he mention that? Why does he use those words?. Now start reading the poem a stanzas at a time taking short notes one the impression each gives you and enjoy it.
Take a break if you find you stop concentrating,

RE: help me plz!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Posted by: JC (
Date: May 11, 2000 09:42AM

I just want interpretation of the poem i am working on.
I admit that i am not good at english, therefore i really do need help on that poem
for my assigment. I really can't get the theme of that poem.

John McCrae's "the Pilgrims"

RE: Help Others Interpret Poems for Themselves
Posted by: (200.196.141.---)
Date: May 11, 2000 09:58PM

Melanie, I think that the best thing was if everybody who needed to do an assingment or an exam about poetry could understand and enjoy the poems. But the truth is that it doesn't happens. This semester I'm studying the literature of FOUR different countries, and in different time periods and styles... and I have also other subjects to study... so I think quite impossible to enjoy a reading thinking if I'm gonna took a good grade in the exam. The other thing is the way teachers present the poems to the students and how they use the poems in the exams. If teachers could make the study of literature interesting I think that the students would begin to understand the poems and also like poetry.

PS.: It's a opinion of a poetry lover... but I like to read what I want, what I really like, not what I'm imposed to.

RE: Help Others Interpret Poems for Themselves
Posted by: Melanie (
Date: May 12, 2000 02:27AM

"I'm studying the literature of FOUR different countries"<
DROOL if only you knew what I would give to be able to do that! But the other subjects thing, yeah, that is a bit much. Even though I'd love it, I realize it is a lot of hard work.
Actually I doubt you fall into the "I just want someone else to tell me what this means because I just can't be bothered figuring it out for myself" category. It is really only those that don't understand how to interpret poetry and who aren't going to learn by us making it easy for them that this thread was refering to. After all, getting the opinion from several different sources, including through the dynamic way the internet allows, is simply good research.
It's a real pity that poetry isn't always taught in an inspiring way, but then I guess when a teacher goes through years of trying to get students to enjoy poetry and it doesn't work they get a bit disillusioned.
Anyway something for you....
"Up! up! my Friend, and quit your books;
Or surely you'll grow double.
Up! up! my Friend, and clear you looks;
Why all this toil and trouble?
Enough of Science and of Art;
Close up those barren leaves;
Come forth, and bring with you a heart
That watches and receives."
(Wordsworth, Tables Turned)
I think even the poets understood!

Here's hoping you get 'round to reading what you like,

RE: Help Others Interpret Poems for Themselves
Posted by: Smokey (
Date: May 12, 2000 09:32PM

Is the problem because the poems to be intrepreted lack rythym and rhyme? A poem is a song and should be said aloud. I cnnot understand so-called poetry that consist of uneven lines and apparently disconected words. Have our educators gotten so hung up with technical jargon and gobbledegook that the joy of poetry is lost? I think this is what is happening and so many students are looking for help. In my school days alas aday, more than fifty years away, we disected frogs and not words.

RE: Help Others Interpret Poems for Themselves
Posted by: Stephen (
Date: May 13, 2000 03:11PM

I think the problem with interpreting poetry stems from our manner of
reading poetry as a puzzle. I have had countless teachers that insist
poetry is a kind of secret language, which through careful decoding
we can then view some \'secret\' message. Especially with regards to
symbols. Teachers/students insist on imposing a qualitative, one-to
one reading. Rose=love; Light=good; Dark=evil. We read poetry as
though the poet were hiding meanings and our job is to discover them.
Sometimes the words are just there for the simple beauty of the sounds
or sensory images they invoke. Like William Carlos Williams:

The Red Wheelbarrow

so much depends

a red wheel

glazed with rain

beside the white

I have listened to people ramble endlessly about how \'red\' symbolises
the violence inherent in modern society and the \'whiteness\' of the
chickens refers to rural pacifity, etc, etc. I think our approach to
reading depends far too much on uncovering hidden meanings, when
often there aren\'t any or in most cases, we recall any number
of stereotypical poetic themes: love, death, life, etc. So when
students can\'t find any hidden meanings or relate the poem to
any of the dominant themes raised in literature class, they ask
others what the secret message is. I\'ll leave you with an antecdote
which will illustrate my point/complaint more clearly than my words

Once a famous Russian ballet dancer was asked by a reviewer
what her dancing performance was meant to symbolise and what
the audience should take from it. She became indignant and responded
Do you think if I could put it into words that I would take the very
great trouble of performing it? Same applies to poetry.

my two cents

RE: Help Others Interpret Poems for Themselves
Posted by: Melanie (
Date: May 14, 2000 01:09AM

Bravo! Two cents well spent, I agreed with that totally. Poetry as a secret language would soon grow trite and weary. Poetry must either plant a new idea in my mind, put into words a thought I have held but never been able to express or be beautiful, for it to be any value to me (I reserve the right to change or ammend my opinion).
I have heard a rose refered to as equivalent to love, also equivalent to life and death, and as long lived. It is the various meanings of symbols that takes me by suprise and is a constant source of thought.
Yet some of the best poetry is simply for beauty's sake, or is just descriptive. Lewis Carols "How Doth the Little Crocodile" is an excellent example. It is descriptive, beautiful, and as far as I know, has no alternative meaning. It puts in my mind a vivid picture, and that, to me, is a pearl.
The antecdote is very appropriate. To tell someone the meaning of a poem, is like explaining the meaning of a joke, it takes something away from the joy of discovery, and is always more clumsy. Somthing gets lost in the translation, and there is no guarantees that it will be found again.
When I say lets help people interpret poetry themselves I do not mean, lets give them the "poetry codebook", but rather, lets show them the yellow path and let them follow it themselves. More meaning is found on the journey, then in the destination.
Thanks for spending your two cents with me,
P.S. It is the more simple poems that many have the most problems with.

RE: Help Others Interpret Poems for Themselves
Posted by: (200.222.182.---)
Date: May 16, 2000 09:08PM

Hi Mel!
Thanks for your words, sorry if I was rude to you. I completely agree with yours and Stephen's point of view. There's no meaning in explian what a poem symbolizes. That's why I was very upset. Most of the teachers don't see that. They just give us hundreds of poems and ask us to analyse them.... but not based on what WE were able to take from the poem, they want us to reach THEIR own analysis. It's quite impossible two people have the same view of a poem, it depends from a lot of things like background, personal experiences, etc... I'm studying language and I think that when we are studying poetry as an especific subject we should have our minds opened and not chained in pre-made interpretations.
I'm Brazilian, and I don't know if you know Portuguese but I realy want to share with you these two sonnets, because they are my favorite ones and they mean a lot to me. I hope you can understand them. Kisses, Taís.

"Ardor em firme coração nascido
Pranto por belos olhos derramados,
Incêndio em mares de água disfarçado
Rio de neve em fogo convertido.

Tu, que em peito abrasas escondido
Tu, que em rosto corres desatado
Quando fogo em cristais aprisionado
Quando cristal em chamas derretido.

Se és fogo como passas brandamente
Se és neve como queimas com porfia?
Mas aí que andou Amor em ti prudente

Pois para temperar a tirania
Como quis que aqui fosse a neve ardente
Permitiu parecesse a chama fria."

(Gregório de Matos)

"De tudo ao meu amor serei atento
Antes, e com tal zelo e sempre e tanto
Que, mesmo em face do maior encanto,
Dele se encante mais meu pensamento.

Quero vivê-lo em cada vão momento
E em seu louvor hei de espalhar meu canto
E rir meu riso e espalhar meu pranto
Ao seu pesar e ao seu contentamento.

E assim, quando mais tarde me procure
Quem sabe a morte, angústia de quem vive,
Quem sabe a solidão, fim de quem ama,

Eu possa me dizer do amor (que tive):
Que não seja imortal, posto que é chama,
Mas que seja infinito enquanto dure.

(Vinicius de Morais)

PS.: Both talk about Love.

RE: Help Others Interpret Poems for Themselves
Posted by: Melanie (
Date: May 17, 2000 06:57AM

Thank you for the compliment. I don't speak Portuguese, but language is one of my other loves and so I do know a little Spanish. Although much harder to scan, I think those poems sound beautiful, but then I haven't yet found anything written in Spanish or Portuguese that doesn't sound like poetry! Maybe it is the tragedy of my mother tongue that I can never fully notice it's beauty in everyday speech, or perhaps English is such an amalgamation of tongues that it lacks fluency and consistency.
If you do have to analyse a poem you feel strongly about, I suggest you do present your own view, even if it is politely termed alongside the "accepted" view. Maybe a few wake-up calls wouldn't go astray.
Best of wishes,

RE: Help Others Interpret Poems for Themselves
Posted by: Les Gartner (
Date: May 18, 2000 12:58AM


I have to disagree with you! English is a beautiful language. It has precision as well as fluency and it is capable of expressing complex concepts in simple language. All you have to do is read Emily Dickinson. Of course Joh Updike and Robertson Davies are two other masters in displaying the nuances of English. And if you want to experience the mellifluous quality of the English language read Poe's Raven (out loud) or almost anything by Alexander Pope.

Les Gartner

RE: Help Others Interpret Poems for Themselves
Posted by: Melanie (
Date: May 18, 2000 04:15AM

Les Gartner,
You are right that English is very beautiful in its variety of words and nuances. And yes, English poetry does create beauty out of English. However, may I point out that I was referring to English being less beautiful when said in everyday, non-poetic speech. It is rare you have repetitions of sound in common speech unless intentional, and then sometimes that sounds silly.
You of course get the occasional genius who can write prose in English and make it sound like poetry, but those works of art aren't common!
Maybe if I use the illustration of a painting to try and convey what I am thinking (even in English I find it difficult to put my mind on paper/computer). Say a language like Spanish is like a painting that has a limited palette, each colour symbolizing a different sound in Spanish. By limiting your colours you can make a picture that has unity and simplicity, and is very appealing to the eye. But English is like a painting that uses heaps of different colours on one painting, it can look incongruous. One portion of the painting may not tie in very well with another. Yet it is more likely that this painting would be more accurate than the Spanish one. I don't know if that makes what I feel about this more clear or not, but I hope it gave you an interesting picture anyway.
One of the strengths of English is in it's subtleties and it's smorgasbord of different languages.
Yet you were right to correct me, English can contain fluency when well written, especially in poetry. If I didn't find English poetry so beautiful I wouldn't be having this conversation.
You raised some good points. Thanks for your comments.

RE: Help Others Interpret Poems for Themselves
Posted by: Les Gartner (
Date: May 18, 2000 10:44PM


i did understand your comment and I was not correcting you I was merely expressing my fascination with English as a language when used properly. It is rich beyond comparison especially in its ability to make puns (my downfall to the constant consternation of my captive audience, who groan - to my distinct pleasure - as I malign my students' ears with horrid puns; and then after having spent a semester in my clutches they, in turn, become punsters - and I revel in my Frankensteinian transformations and creations). I have to confess that English is not my first language, so I am probably suffering from the disease of the convert.

If you listen to the common speech it is in iambic pentameter (at least in occasional snippets) and it is glorious to hear.

I do admit that English lacks in romance it lacks in assonance and it lacks in imaginative cursing (the last I find reassuring).

I apologize for my harangue and beauty is in the ear of the beholder and even though the ancients say "de gustibus non disputando," sometimes one must take up the cause!

In friendship, with courtesy, and understanding,

Les Gartner

RE: Help Others Interpret Poems for Themselves
Posted by: wafa (212.14.231.---)
Date: May 21, 2000 08:25AM

I think it is a relatively matter depends on the individuals themselves.Of course , when we depend only on the interpretation of others and don't make our own efforts,we will be such repeated copies.I believe that this site is made for creation not for imitation.On the other hand, i can't deny that we as a student take our advantages easily by this way .But what is wrong when we exchange ideas ?
There is something i want to add.It is better to write the name of the subject concerning the question or the idea which we want to say. I mean there are some who write for example confused smileyTUDENT NEEDS YOUR HELP or PLEASE HELP ME.. I hope that i could introduce my comment clearly.

RE: Help Others Interpret Poems for Themselves
Posted by: suguna (202.54.67.---)
Date: May 22, 2000 07:00AM

Melanie and all those who asked for help,
I have chanced upon this page while trying to look up my favourite poets and am responding as I have enjoyed the discussion, particularly Melanie's sugenstions etc., and also it is subject dear to my heart.I have always enjoyed poetry and feel sad that many younger people do not get around to developing this feeling.

To come to the point, I think this should be called "Help others appreciate poems for themselves". Interpreting a poem does not call for special knowledge. The meanings are not hidden, as it were in a riddle. Poems are very often simple expression of the wonder the poet feels at a thought, image or feeling. When we are asked to analyse them, we would have to try and find out how the poet has expressed an idea in a way that is unique and striking. As Melanie suggests, " you just come in here when you don't have an assignment to rush through, choose a poem and post that you want to learn how to go through a poem and understand it for yourself." Then you ask yourself questions like, "Do I enjoy this poem? If yes then - Why? If I read it aloud would I find an underlying rhythm in it? Does it inspire in me a feeling of soomething magical /surprise /wonder /admiration? Does it seem that the poet's choice of words, their order or particular pattern is really the best for expressing this thought/feeling? ......" So on, so forth. Posing such questions and answering them will itself give you the key to the assignment. Now, it is likely that you don't like to analyse in this manner and just enjoy the poem. Well, that's fine as long as you don't seek to convince someone else about the way you feel or as long as you don't have to earn marks. You might even be a poet and say, "I'll write my verse, let others take or leave it!" Chances are you would not be happy with second alternative. You write because you want at least one other person(even if that person is yourself, at a later date) to enjoy it and appreciate it. Then it is worhtwhile asking these questions about your poem also.

As to the matter of exams and the rush to get something done, like I tell my daughter, you may feel like the effort you spend in thinking, analysing, discussing and writing(rewriting) your assignment is a waste of of time at that moment, but believe me ( and this my daughter has confirmed later, even before a math exam) this effort and time is well spent, because the next assignment will be that much easier and as for this one you never will forget what you have learnt on this one.

Sorry , about making this so long. But in real life there are few shortcuts, you cannot expect someone else to do your job for you. Someone can show only show you how.


RE: Help Others Interpret Poems for Themselves
Posted by: Damian Collier (
Date: May 27, 2000 11:30AM

If it's any consolation I think you've got the right idea Melanie. You strike a balance between wanting to help people get their work done, and wanting to help people derive as much as possible from the works they are interpreting.

You are a good person.


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