Sunday, 8 February 2015

Creating Meaning

Writing a poem can be a form of play, an attempt to create something out of the infinite possibilities  that feels true. It can also be an attempt to make sense out of what otherwise might look like a series of coincidences. Or it can be something like a prayer, a form of spiritual expression. In any case, it can be something that helps create a more meaningful life.

Please comment on one or more poems that in some way or other create meaning - or share one of your poems that fits this category.

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  1. For me, “Holy Sonnet X” written by John Donne is a great representative sonnet about finding meaning in a life that otherwise might overflow with chaos. In the sonnet, Donne states why he is not afraid of death. His emphasis lies on the idea that death is not the end of one’s life, but the beginning of a newer and better one, where death itself is ‘dead’. Many struggle with this idea. For example, in the news I’ve read that a lot of rich older people are now seeking blood transfusions from younger people in order to prolong their lives. While the desire to live longer is not immoral or evil, at the end of the day we will all die, regardless of how much technology advances. This is why Donne’s conviction in an afterlife is something that should be admired, independent of the audience’s religious views. He puts his faith that mankind’s thrashing and moving about in life is not without meaning, but in fact, there is more, an extension after a brief interlude.


  2. Rebuild, one of the poems in the book "Rebuild" by Sachiko Murakami, addresses the subject's return to place in order to find meaning out of the reconstructed memories and perceptions she has of the place (after leaving it for a while). The speaker emphasizes the importance of naming in the act of rebuilding place, as language is used to habituate certain locations. The speaker also focuses on the idea of home as something that is editable, something that is not a set location, but something that is to be achieved through the changes that occurs to the person, alongside the experiences that shapes their actions and habits. The speaker's repetition of "now" also highlights a tendency to stay in the present, to find meaning not through looking back or looking forward, but fully engaging one's senses to "now".

    1. Hey! Funny! I was about to share this poem when I stumbled upon your comment. This is actually one of my favourite poems from Murakami. Her tone is constantly shifting between the personal then to the general, from smooth-talking to an almost imploring, pleading, tone. I'm particularly enamored by her idea of what home, or place, is or what it can be. Her ideas of the "now" truly illustrate how we as humans should and already are, constantly rewriting and rebuilding. Thanks for sharing this!

  3. Imagism was a poetic school that found its footing in the beginning of the 20th century. Adherents of the -- so to speak -- "imagist school" included Ezra Pound and William Carlos Williams. Later on in the 20th century imagism profoundly influenced many of the members of The Beats, as well as the San Francisco Renaissance poets. Imagism favoured common speech, freedom of subject manner, and a clear "image". Therefore, within imagist poetry there often lies a metaphor resonated through an object.

    Lately I have been making my way through the entire collection of William Carlos Williams poetry. Williams, I believe, ties into the idea of making "sense out of what otherwise might look like a series of coincidences." For example in oft-studied poem "The Red Wheelbarrow" we see that "so much depends / upon" the pastoral image of a wheelbarrow within William's mind. I believe that imagist poetry is succinct in creating meaning through its concrete -- rather than abstract -- language. Concrete language directly places the reader within a physical object, which then produces an abstract image. In utilizing imagist techniques I believe poets have the ability to place a reader in a more approachable, and therefore meaningful, situation.

    For your consideration:

  4. For me, Rumi creates a world in his poetry where - to me - questions about the self seem to be a permanent state of being:

    "I was going to tell you my story
    but waves of pain drowned my voice.
    I tried to utter a word but my thoughts
    became fragile and shattered like glass.
    Even the largest ship can capsize
    in the stormy sea of love,
    let alone my feeble boat
    which shattered to pieces leaving me nothing
    but a strip of wood to hold on to.
    Small and helpless, rising to heaven
    on one wave of love and falling with the next
    I don’t even know if I am or I am not.
    When I think I am, I find myself worthless,
    when I think I am not, I find my value.
    Like my thoughts, I die and rise again each day
    so how can I doubt the resurrection?
    Tired of hunting for love in the world,
    at last I surrender in the valley of love
    and become free."
    — Rumi

    This beautiful poem seems to be more about love than it is about identity, necessarily. Nevertheless, it seems to describe some difficulties of feeling lost within a story when such strong emotions are involved; love leaves the speaker “nothing / but a strip of wood to hold on to” in the same way that the emotions surrounding the realization that one is unsure of his/her own identity leaves him/her with very little support or reassurance. In the past, whenever I pretended to be completely certain of who I was, I felt more lost than ever – “When I think I am, I find myself worthless.” Whereas, the times in which I acknowledged that I couldn’t wait around to find out who I was but rather needed to put effort into discovering, creating, and reshaping my identity, were, ironically, the times in which I felt most whole – “when I think I am not, I find my value.”

  5. "Our life is like a thorny rose
    Not perfect, but always beautiful
    The thorns represent the hardships in our lives.
    The delicate red petals represent the fun and beautiful things in our lives.
    As a young rose the petals hugging around the seed
    are the family and friends who protect, love, and care for us." - Kriston D. Warfield

    This poem by Kriston Warfield gives meaning to life in the form of poetic symbolism, using a rose as a metaphor, which can also be used to describe the rose. Every rose has its thorn. Roses are truly a beautiful piece of nature, but its beauty is contrasted with the thorns in which each has. This is a symbol, identifying that nothing in this world is perfect, but there is still beauty that can be seen in everything. Even through hardships, we must look up and see the beauty in this life that has been given to us.

  6. One poem that stands out to me in the way it gives meaning is Seamus Heany's "Digging".

    In the poem, a speaker observes his father doing a mundane task, digging in his garden, but this is able to elicit a wave of memories and connections in him. He looks back on the times when he was younger and when he would see his father digging up potatoes. He also thinks about how his father's father, his grandfather, did the same thing and how farming became a meaningful act in his family that was passed down. Ultimately, the speaker realizes that his path will differ from his ancestors because he has chosen to be a writer. This is a great example of how an ordinary task like digging can help a person find meaningful connections in their own life. In this case, it not only led reminiscing on past memories but it also helped the speaker find his identity and accept it.

  7. I recently read "The Waste Land" for another class. It was one of many readings we did in the post-war era and I thought it was incredibly haunting how so many works after WWI just seemed to express such a sense of emptiness and absence, like all meaning to life had been stripped away in the face of such a tragic war. Even though the world as we currently know it has been so deeply shaped by the wars of the past, we generally don't have any idea about what it's like to be involved in something like the world wars.
    I choose to share "The Waste Land" because although the approach that we took in my class was one that kept with the theme of emptiness and absence, I believe another interpretation could be that this poem provides a sort of a call for healing and moving forward. I especially like the imagery given by reference to the legend of the Fisher King, with the people connected to the land, and to the Tarot card the Hanged Man, of a "false sacrifice" to bring back a spring when it is already on its way back.
    I know it's pretty long but definitely worth a read, I think. I'd love to hear how others approach it.

  8. In “Always a Rose”, Li-Young Lee employs the symbol of a rose more effectively by using it to represent a variety of different ideas, feelings and objects. In Lee’s piece the narrator returns to the garden of his deceased father where he finds a single live rose among plots of dead plants. He brings the rose home with him, puts it in a vase and then later, sees it “Mouth, scream, edges/ barbed, it balances/ on a long spiked, crooked/ stem” (1.4-7) in the middle of the night. This image creates an onslaught of emotions for the narrator and prompts him to recount the story of his life. Towards the end of the poem, the narrator asks himself, “What is this liturgy, this/ invocation, and to whom?” (7.5-6). In doing so, he calls into question his actions and discusses how his words are coming across like worship or the summoning of a deity and are forming the tale into a sort of poetic prayer to the rose. Throughout this story the narrator describes a multitude of other roses; roses which stand in for emotions, feelings and ideas; roses which seem to have historical meaning to the narrator’s family; roses which at one point Lee suggests represent a different sentiment every day, “Scorn, Banish, Grieve, Forgive, Love”. In this way, Lee grants meaning not only to the literal rose that seems to haunt him; he also struggles to find meaning in the wake of his father's passing. He asks “if I adore you, Rose, / with adoration become nonsense become/ praise, could I stop our dying?” (8.15-17) In these lines Lee’s anxiety about death is brought to the forefront. Earlier in the poem he uses the lines “Then, I saw it- you actually. / Past the choked rhododendrons, / behind the perishing gladiolas, there/ in the far corner of the yard, you, my rose, / lovely for nothing, lonely for no one, / stunning the afternoon/ with your single flower ablaze” to emphasize how tremendously beautiful the flower is by contrasting its vibrancy with the death that surrounds it and by suggesting that it is more magnificent than the sun, again trying to grant meaning to a small object by contrasting it with something that is large and seemingly infinite; here the sun.