Poetry: Noun. A Piece Containing an Absurd Amount of Made-Up Symbolism and Overdramatic Back Story

by Samantha Hilyer 5 months ago in courses

Unpopular opinion: the symbolism can make it better

Every student has been involuntarily subjected to poetry in the pursuit of education. And I am willing to bet that we have all fallen victim to the English teacher/professor who sees a symbolic meaning in every third word or the comma placement. As a person who genuinely enjoys poetry, I will admit that even I can be put off by the in-depth analysis that poetry is often associated with. However, I do believe that the problem lies more in the way that poetry is taught to students instead of the divination of details in the poems themselves. (Yes, it is difficult to take it seriously when someone is telling you that the period in the poem signifies a deeper ending.) My first point is that poetry can be enjoyable, regardless of background or explicit attention to every detail. How can this be?

I was a speech competitor in the category of poetry for about three years, and it gave me a deep appreciation for how poetry is read. Trust me, if a good piece is read right, it does not matter what kind of symbol could be behind that flea in John Donne's The Flea (which is sex, according to my professor, in case anyone was wondering). Most poetry is meant to sound interesting, whether it's lyrical/euphonious or cacophonous. The sounds of the words in poetry, in my opinion, are an integral factor to the enjoyment of the piece overall and do not necessarily require further examination other than thinking to yourself, "Wow, those words sound good together!" It is so important to say the poem aloud or find a reading of it online because the difference between reading what is written and hearing what is meant is immense and should not be skipped over. In the classroom, it is easy to get swept up in the “significance” of the meaning instead of simply listening to the sounds and letting them guide the students in whatever direction the poem inspires them to go. However, dissecting a poem can still be just as fun as enjoying the pleasing to the ear aesthetic.

As an English major, poetry sections among other readings are a blessing. They are usually short, simple to read, and easy to bullshit answers to. Why? Well, in the end, meaning is in the eye of the reader. There is no "correct" way to interpret a poem and so even though I'm sure professors and teachers have their certifications for a reason and are probably more qualified to have the "accurate interpretation," the truth is poetry is whatever you want it to be. The human experience has reacted with each independent being differently, which in turn causes distinct and unique connections to be made by each person. I can 100% agree with looking excessively for symbols and backstory because the symbolism we give poetry is not the problem, but rather the issue is that symbolism is taught with a right or a wrong answer. Teaching poetry, in my opinion, should be about giving students the tools to interpret and analyze pieces in whatever way they want to. Giving a specific meaning to a poem takes away the creativity which is sewn into poetry by the author.

I love to read poetry for fun and I even write poems on occasion as well, so I know for a fact that sometimes when I say that this flower is blue then I literally just mean that the flower is blue and it has no symbolic meaning or conveyance of meaning in my head as I am writing the poem. However, as I stated before, anyone can interpret this and give it a unique meaning. I think poetry is about shaping thoughts from one person to the next and seeing the inspiration flow throughout the world. Words touch people in astounding ways and I truly believe that poetry in the classroom is constricting an art form that has no boundaries.

Samantha Hilyer
Samantha Hilyer
Read next: The Unconventional College Life
Samantha Hilyer

My hobbies include making an absurd amount of dad jokes, hiking and basically anything creative.

See all posts by Samantha Hilyer