When looking at the language used by a poet when creating a poem it is important we do this with a number of things in mind. What kind of image is the poet attempting to create in our thoughts? When was this poem created? How is it structured and punctuated? What context has it been written? and also how does the poet want us to feel when reading the work? No matter how long or short a poem may be the language used when creating it will be vital as to deciding how we respond to the poem. It is not just what the poet is trying to say but how they are attempting to say it that will define how this poem resonates within us.
There are many reasons why an author might choose to use some words instead of others. A poet might choose words for the way they sound, compliment other words, shock value, for the tense they are in or even for the perspective they want to use. For the purpose of this essay we will be looking at three American poets with the intent of studying the language used in their works in order to better understand the meanings of these poems and to also figure out why they were written in a certain way.
When looking at the language used in each of these poems we will be looking out for many of the things mentioned above to aid the investigation into the language within them. The first poet that we will look at is William Carlos Williams and in particular his poem “This is Just to Say”. Just like all the poems he has written it is a short piece which is created using simple words and sentences that can be easily understood by the reader. The poem is full of enjambment and this means that we put particular emphasis on the words “breakfast, “delicious”, “so sweet” and “so cold”.
If we didn’t observe the enjambment in this poem it would more than likely be mistaken for a short note for someone’s sister, mother, wife or father. The way that enjambment is used in this poem has a profound effect, it is a poem written in the past tense, and one that relies heavily on the creation of an image in the mind of the reader. This poem successfully creates that image nearly to the point where we can almost see the drops of moisture on the plums as they glisten in the sunlight prior to being devoured by the writer. How the poet uses enjambment enables this strong creation of an image.
He uses the words delicious, sweet and cold to great effect and their placing within the poem adds hugely to how they aid this. They are all grouped together in the last section of the poem and this means we are quickly bombarded with a triple whammy of descriptive words in what is a very short poem. It is also important to note how Williams says the plums are “so” sweet and “so” cold rather than just sweet and cold. This little word has a huge effect and it compounds in our minds just how sweet and cold they really were and as such, one might even feel a desire to have the plums themselves if reading the poem on an empty stomach.
The poem is structured in one long flowing sentence that is broken up into three sections of three lines, this structure makes it easy to digest and understand. The poem “Woman Poem” by Nikki Giovanni is about a black woman and what her life is like. The woman wants things in life; the men will not let her have what she wants. The author, Nikki Giovanni uses several poetic aspects in the poem. Throughout the poem she uses synecdoche’s to make her point, for example: “me getting fat as a hog” being used to describe gaining weight. The imagery created by this poem helps to describe the way that men hold her back.
It is a completely different poem to the one investigated above but again it relies heavily on imagery along with words with a real sense of shock value to get a message across to the reader. The language of this poem is language of oppression, frustration, anger, devastation and hopelessness and the images it creates are such too. It describes the life of a black woman in the 1960s and when doing so she describes a yearning to be “free”. Free from the constraints of what she describes as a male dominated society, one where she almost feels as if she has been castrated.
She does not mean this literally but the use of the word “castrated” is symbolic to the genuine feeling of being powerless she feels almost as a dog being castrated would. She is using words as a means of venting and conveying her feelings and it is obvious to see the emotion attached to what she writes. The third stanza reads: “it’s a sex object if you’re pretty and no love or love and no sex if you’re fat get back fat black woman be a mother grandmother strong thing but not woman gameswoman romantic woman love needer man seeker dick eater sweat getter fuck needing love seeking woman”
This stanza is the one within the poem which is the most image provoking. The language used is vulgar and not everyday conversation etiquette. She most likely uses language of this sort on purpose in order to grab the attention of the reader and highlight her plight as a woman who can be regarded by men as merely an object for sex. She repeats this process throughout the poem to great effect using words like “whore” and “black dog”. As a whole this poem is difficult to read and find meaning from but when carefully studied it created in the mind an image of hopelessness for women.
One of an existence devoid of happiness, an image compounded by the final lines which read: “face me whose whole life is tied up to unhappiness cause it’s the only for real thing i know” The third poem to be investigated is “Poppies in July” by Sylvia Plaith. This poem was written in July 1962. At this stage of her life, Plath’s marriage to Ted Hughes was in turmoil, and she was suffering from a severe bout of depression. < http://sylviaplathnotes. wordpress. com/poppies-in-july/>. With this poem she enables us to have an insight into the turmoil and pain she felt inside.
The colour red is prominent and this symbolises anger and rage. The images created in the mind are very dark, vivid and disturbing, imitating what her thoughts were when she created the poem. At the start of this poem we are informed that bright red colour of poppies reminds the poet of the burning fires of hell. The poppies swaying in the breeze remind the poet of flames flickering. She begins to show a desire to self harm, thrusting her hand among the “flames” to see if it burns but there is something about these flowers that she cannot touch.
This is the reader’s first real insight into the pain Plath must have been feeling. Throughout the poem we are reminded of her desire to cause harm to herself. Later in the poem she describes outward appearance of the flowers again, this time with a simile. Now she likens them to the wrinkled, red skin of a bloodied mouth rather than the flames of hell. This violent imagery is another hint towards her desire to self-harm. Continuing the idea that there is something about these flowers she cannot touch, she now states that she is unable to touch their fumes and enquires about their opiates.
This represents a longing for heroin or opium which is a drug created from poppies. Complex imagery is used, referring to her mouth as a means of taking the drug. Exclamation marks indicate just how desperate the poet is getting. She needs these drugs and she needs them now! Throughout this poem there is a recurring theme of desperation from the poet, desperation for obliteration through drugs or self harm, it relies on graphic imagery to get the point across and gives us an idea of the darkness encased within the mind of the poet.
She closes the poem with the words “colourless, colourless” which might represent how she feels her life and marriage have become. Through investigation of the above poems we are able to come to numerous conclusions regarding the language used within them. The first poem is nothing more than a short piece but it still manages to create not only a powerful image in the mind but also a longing for the peaches described within! The last two poems investigated however are far more deep and sombre affairs. They offer us a real window into the souls of their creators.
The language used in each of these is powerful and it is impossible to read them without being left with a real sense of the turmoil felt by both these women. They both utilise the shock value element of language to make their poems that bit more hard hitting and employ similar punctuation techniques also. Through doing this investigation into language of poetry we can now understand how the language used by the poet is vital when it comes to determining the feelings we are left with having read a poem.
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Topic: Language of poetry
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