Poetry Notes

Dear Class,

As you begin to read the poetic terms and poems, please review the following power point as you review the notes below.

understanding-poetry–Review the power point as you review each chapter

The following lists the poetic terms from the study guide.  To understand the meaning of the poems, you need to understand how the poetic terms serve to enhance the meaning.

Poetry has its own language, terms, concepts, so it’s like learning another language.  Once you understand the terms, you can then begin to apply to the poems for enhanced meaning.  My definition on the study guide is my personal definition:  it is a kind of language that says more and says it more intensely than does ordinary language.  As a reader, I remind myself that poetry has it own language that adds meaning beyond the literal.

Denotation is the literal, dictionary meaning of the word.  House is a physical dwelling place.

Connotation is the suggestive, interpretative meaning of the word.  Home is a place of warmth, security, peace, not necessarily one’s physical dwelling place.

The poem “The Red Wheelbarrow,” by William Carlos Williams speaks of the image of the wheelbarrow.  The focus on words like “depends”, “red”, “ glazed”,  “white” are the clear images of the wheelbarrow.  It is a literal poem, no real hidden meaning, focusing on the image, and it is written in one sentence. This is known as an imagist poem.

“Mexican is Not a Noun” focuses on how words function in a sentence.  He argues that it is not a noun or adjective—words that describe—but a verb, a word of action.  The word “Mexican”, then,  is both denotative and connotative.

Imagery is defined as using sensory language. If one can see, hear, smell, taste, and touch the ideas described in the poems, then imagery is used.

Most first readers of “My Papa’s Waltz” believe that the images reveal an abusive father—“whiskey on your breath”, “we romped”, “hand…battered on one knuckle”, “ear scraped a buckle”, “beat time”.  But upon a second and subsequent reading of the poem, the speaker is describing a childhood experience when he would wait up for his father who worked long, hard days just so his father can put him to bed.  He wanted and needed his father’s love and attention badly that he would hang on “like death” and “cling to your [his] shirt.”

The second poem “Those Winter Sundays” by Robert Hayden is also about a childhood experience, but this poem is about the lack of emotional connectedness.  The main image is winter—both a literal meaning, cold season, and connotative, the coldness, indifference between parent and child.  The father would get up 7 days a week “Sundays too my father got up early” to make sure the house was warm enough before anyone else woke up.  The father would also polish his shoes.  Yet, the speaker indicates that “no one ever thanked him” and he spoke “indifferently” to him.  Why did the speaker not show gratitude?  Now that the speaker is older, he realizes that his behavior should have been more appreciative, but “what did I know”—I was a child—“what did I know”—of what it meant to be a father now that I’m an adult.  Being a parent is a thankless job “lonely offices”.

A metaphor is an indirect comparison to two unlike objects:  the green god (an image of America upon an immigrant’s first view; a forest); Papa was a rolling stone (a person who never stays in one place, no root; no relationship with the women he lays with nor the children he fathers).

A simile is a direct comparison between two unlike objects using “like” “as” “seems” and “than”:  “my love is like a red, red rose” –love and rose are being directly compared.  Like a rose that is a delicate, flowering plant which starts as a bud, then blossoms, but will wither if not watered, fed, or pruned, so too is love.  Love must be taken care of, tended to, or it will wilt away and die.

Both metaphors and simile create enhanced meaning that ordinary words cannot fully explain.

Personification is giving inanimate objects human qualities:   Traffic slowed to a crawl; Lightning danced across the sky.

In the poem “To Autumn,” the season is personified as a woman—it is paradoxically both beautiful and ultimately barren. Think of mythology:   we have Mother Nature, mother earth, Hera is the Greek goddess of the earth.

The title “A Valediction:  Forbidding Mourning” must be literally understood:  a farewell speech prohibiting grieving.  The speaker is leaving on a journey and asks his wife not to be sad.  (This is in fact John Donne who had to leave on a business trip).   He opens up with a simile—“As virtuous men pass mildly away” so “let us melt and make no noise”.  He doesn’t want his wife to cry or show any emotion but act like a good man who dies quietly and releases his soul.  Throughout the poem, the speaker compares his love as higher than a human, physical love “care less, eyes, lips, and hands to miss.”  “If they be two, they are two so/As stiff twin compasses are two” points to not only a simile but also an extended metaphor.  The compass is a mathematical instrument that creates perfect circles.  His wife will “in the center sit” and he will “lean and harken after it” and “makes me end where I begun.”  This last line informs the reader that the speaker will return to his wife.

Symbol is something that represents something else.  It is taking a concrete object and applying an abstract meaning:  American flag symbolizes liberty, freedom; a cross symbolizes faith; dove symbolizes peace.

In the poems, “The Lamb” and “The Tyger”,  are part of William Blake’s collection of poetry, Songs of Innocence and Experience:  Shewing the Contrarie States of the Human Soul.   Innocence and Experience are conditions or states that show how humans progress in life.  Innocence is not a physical experience, but a state of mind where a person learns about life, experience.  In his collection, Blake pairs a poem of innocence, “The Lamb”, with an experience “The Tyger.”   “The Lamb” is a child-like poem, sing-songing, rhyming.  The majority punctuation mark is the exclamation point—to show excitement!  The lamb can be a symbol of a child, Christ, innocent, “meek and mild”.  “The Tyger” shows the world of experience, a world of hypocrisy, world of frustration and cynicism.  The majority punctuation is the question mark.  The many questions are not answered:  inadequate answers?  The first stanza and the sixth stanza parallel except for one word:  “could” and “dare”.  The opening stanza shows that the tyger is not yet created “how could one think of creating one”; the last stanza reveals that the tyger has been created “how dare someone create it.”   What does the tyger symbolize?  If one compares it to its counterpart, “The Lamb,” then innocence progresses to knowledge, wisdom.  Consider other symbolic concepts like technological advances.

“Birches” should be read in 3 parts:  lines 5-20, literal meaning of how the ice storms bend the branches on the birch trees; lines 21-40, a romantic view of how the speaker wishes to think why the branches are bent; lines 41-59, the symbolic meaning of how the birch tree is one of escape.  Frost uses similes “Like girls on hands and knees”; imagery “loaded with ice a sunny winter morning,”; metaphors “shed crystal shells” “heaps of broken glass”.  It is implied that the young boy “too far from town to learn baseball” is the speaker as the last part of the poem opens up with “So, was I once myself a swinger of birches,/And so I dream of going back to be.”   The simile “And life is too much like a pathless wood” points to the symbolic notion that climbing a tree is a means of temporary escape.  The speaker does not wish to die “May no fate willfully misunderstand me/And half grant what I wish and snatch me away/Not to return.”  The speaker only wishes to go and come back.

Other poetic terms:

Hyperbole:  an exaggeration “I’m starving to death”

Understatement to say or mean less than what you mean:  If the temperature is 20 degrees, you claim that “it’s a bit cold.”

Irony means the opposite occurs.

  1. Verbal irony: saying the opposite of what you mean:  Calling a bald man curly.  A mother saying, “You can win an award for cleanliness” to her son who has an extremely messy room.
  2. Situational irony: being in a situation where the unexpected/opposite reaction occurs:   A police station gets robbed.   Voted most likely to succeed, ten years later, Steve is arrested for armed robbery.
  3. Dramatic irony: the audience/reader knows more than the speaker/character:  In Act III, sc iii of Hamlet, Prince Hamlet seeks his revenge against Claudius and has the perfect opportunity to kill his uncle but when he finds him in the chapel, thinking he is praying, Hamlet stops and rationalizing another time.  Ironically, Claudius wasn’t praying—he isn’t remorseful for his actions.

Paradox is a contradiction–but upon further investigation is a true statement:  for example, Mr. Jones was a stranger in his own home.

Tone:  the speaker’s attitude toward the subject of poem:  happiness, frustration, anger.  Tone is usually detected by words and use of punctuation.  For example, in the poem “The Tyger,” the tone is one of apprehension and uncertainly by the words “could” “dare” and the use of question marks.

Stanza:  a group of lines whose pattern is repeated throughout the poem.  Some stanzas can be couplets, 2 lines; tercet, 3 lines; a quatrain, 4 lines; sestet, 6 lines.

Verse–a line in a poem

Sonnet:  a 14 line fixed poem

Petrarchan sonnet:  an Italian love sonnet developed in the 14th century.  Its pattern is a sestet, 6 lines, that poses a question or problem; and a octave, 8 lines, which answers the question or solves problem.

Shakespearean sonnet:  an English sonnet created by Shakespeare.  Its pattern is 3 quatrains (12 lines) and ends with a couplet (2 lines) which sums up the theme of the poem.




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