What Brings a Poem to Life?

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Poetry is defined as a written or spoken art of rhythmical composition for exciting pleasure by imaginative and beautiful thoughts. Almost every contemporary writer claims that poems are alive and the first thing the author must do with his poem is to bring it to life. The power of any poem comes not from its form or the speaker but from the elements that make these few lines unforgettable and disturbing. Among such elements are the sound devices, figurative language, and imagery. The fact that poems become alive due to the usage of the mentioned elements can be proved in terms of the works created by Wallace Stevens, William Carlos Williams, Tori Amos and Natalie Merchant.

Writing poems is not an easy thing to do as poets have to use only words to express all their feelings and ideas. Poets are to make the words in the poem sound to the listener and at the same time be meaningful and powerful. Poems are created to inspire, to encourage, to probe the reader’s emotions and feelings, and to teach something. Although people seem to have enough words in English language to express their thoughts, it is almost impossible to create a worthy poem without using the numerous poetic devices and elements.

The first issue to be discussed is the usage of sound devices in the poetry. Although people are accustomed to reading poems silently, there are such poems that carry with them the feeling of being read aloud. Reading the lines of the poem aloud will definitely help to catch the writer’s idea and to run though his emotions (Lyne 158). Maybe we think about it too rare, but writers choose sounds for their poems as carefully as words. For instance, the sounding of calm poem about beautiful scenery is usually soothing and pleasing, while the lines about something less pleasant will sound quite the contrary. Such phonetic devices include alliteration, assonance, onomatopoeia, repetition, rhyme, rhythm and many others (Lyne 160).

A famous American singer-songwriter Tori Amos claims, that tone of the sound, rhyme and rhythm apart from figurative language bring pictures to our mind and make readers experience feelings and see images (14). Moreover, some sounds make people feel touch, pain, satisfaction, etc. In her song Winter Tori Amos communicate the meaning of the words through such phonetic devices as alliteration (many words starting with “w” resembling the blow of winter wind), repetition (“Mirror mirror where's the crystal palace”; “When you gonna make up your mind; When you gonna love you as much as I do; When you gonna make up your mind”), assonance (“Sleeping Beauty it drips me with a frown”) (214). The mentioned devices make the listener pay attention to the words and their meaning, to feel the atmosphere and to live the events through.

One more vivid example of how words can sound is a poem Spring and all written by William Carlos Williams. When I read this poem for the first time I definitely felt put into the landscape described. For instance, the sounds of the line “it quickens, clarity, outline of a leaf” (Williams 183) make the readers imagine the sharp edge of the unfolding spring leaf and just a thought about this view brings the smell of the spring and blossoming trees. It seems, that the poem is growing together with the plants and their leaves.

Another well-known American singer-songwriter Natalie Merchant in her interview claimed: “Poetry comes alive to me though recitation. When I read some poems for the first time, I couldn’t comprehend the meaning, and I couldn’t really understand the structure, the internal rhythms and rhymes” (136). According to her words, the poem remains misunderstood until it is spoken, heard and “felt” in one’s mouth. The poem, which is spoken aloud, is much more accessible and open. One may hear how these very idea works in the songs and poems, performed by Natalie Merchant as well as by Tori Amos.

The second element, which brings a poem to life, is imagery. It includes images, phrases and words that call up pictures in our mind and evoke our imagination. They are able to appeal to the senses of hearing, sight, smell, touch and taste and help the readers to imagine what is described in the poem. Imagery is defined as the use of vivid words to generate mental images not only in terms of visual sense but regarding emotions and sensation as well. Thus, the poet works hard picking and choosing right words that can evoke “images” and carry depth of original message. Images in our mind, which appear during the reading of a poem, are closely connected with the general tone and mood. As an example, let us discuss the imagery of the poem Sunday Moring written by Wallace Stevens. There are a lot of images of nature among the beautiful scenes in the woman’s memory, namely “falling snow”, “wet roads on autumn nights”, “forest blooms” and others, that evoke great emotions and feelings (Stevens 66). The author uses synecdoche “April’s green” that reminds the reader about the freshness of the spring. Besides, there is a personification (“trees shiver”) and metaphor, as trees are compared to a choir, joining the singing of the pagan man (Stevens 66).

It is obvious, that imagery is employed though the third element, which makes a poem alive, which is a figurative language. To use figurative language means to use creative comparisons that describe some familiar notions in new interesting ways and words. The majority of English words have many meanings and poet has to worry about the search for right ones, which will carry the right thought. When speaking about the figurative language, it needs to be mentioned, that it include such stylistic devices as allegory, allusion, analogy, hyperbole, irony, metaphor, metonymy and many others. Of course all these elements can appear not only on the phrase level, but on the sentence one as well. Moreover, syntax and punctuation in most cases play a key role for understanding and interpreting the piece of writing and it influence the sound, tempo, rhyme, rhythm and general perception of the poem greatly. Again, both lexical and syntactical stylistic devices cooperate with imagery and create pictures in readers’ minds.

For example, the poem Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird by Wallace Stevens is full of metaphors and symbolic images which together with the punctuation and syntax create alive lines that speak instead of the author or reader (92). Among the metaphors are the comparison of icicles to glass and speaking of blackbird as if it were a bit player. There are also the cases of hyperbole (the eye of a blackbird is the only moving thing around) and usage of symbolic language (golden birds is a symbol of money while blackbird symbolizes beauty that is not noticed) (Wallace 92).

Apart from the mentioned three elements, there is an arranging of lines and words that is also very important. The tone and sound depends on the way the poem organized. Some of the discussed poems have definite structure, some do not. The structure of the poem influences the rhyme and rhythm, and the way we read and hear the poem.

Summing up, poems are brought to life through the diction and syntax which are contained in three important elements: imagery, figurative language and sound. Almost all contemporary poets consider their poems alive and we feel it while reading or listening to them. It is not easy for writers to make the words speak and to make the reader live them through. The poems, authors of which coped with their task, seem to talk, to inspire, to encourage and to teach us something. In other words, they live.

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