Billy Collins’ “Introduction to Poetry” is a short poem consisting of seven stanzas but is nonetheless a colorful piece of literary work that is filled with figurative language. Collins explores how poems in general suffer from the hands, in a manner of speaking, from those who attempt to study them, especially students. The narrator tries to guide the students about the proper way of unraveling the mysteries of poems. However, the students instead prefer to, in the words of Collins, “torture a confession out of it”.
It suggests how poems lose their life when they are not properly studied like what happens to a precious vase when it is not handled well—it breaks into useless fragments, thereby losing its beauty. As far as the technical elements of Collins’ poem are concerned, the poem does not generally follow a consistent pattern among its technical elements. For example, there is no formal rhyme in the poem or the poem does not follow a predetermined rigid rhyme scheme. The end rhymes of both true and slant rhymes are scattered throughout the different lines in different stanzas.
There is also hardly any “even” meter style in the poem as each stanza contains a unique meter length. The poem’s level of diction consists of a simple vocabulary making up an ordinary syntax or sequence of words and phrases. The poem also predominantly makes use of several visual and auditory imageries. Told from the narrator’s perspective, the content of the poem easily suggests that it is the narrator who is introducing poetry to the audience, presumably students. In the first stanza, the narrator asks “them” to hold a poem against the light like how one would take a color slide in the light.
By comparing poems to color slides, Collins implies that poems are colorful and that their tones and shades widely vary. The narrator also suggests that the best way to view the shades and hues of colors is to place them before a well lit area. In total darkness, we can hardly be able appreciate the beauty of the colors of things that surround us, let alone be able to see. By using “light”, the narrator alludes to the idea that we should steer poems clear from the things that can possibly make them appear hard to understand such as the absence of imagination and the inability to identify their substance and value.
Thus, our capacity to appreciate the beauty of every poem rests on our capacity to open our imagination and to identify their inherent worth. In the second stanza, the narrator suggests that we should “press an ear against its hive”, implying that we should have the ears to listen and the willingness to hear its sounds. Like that of a beehive, a poem is filled with both sweet honey and dangerous bees. Harnessing the sweet nectar from within begins with our efforts to listen by asking ourselves questions such as “what is the poem trying to convey?
” or “am I hearing what I am supposed to ‘hear’ from the poem or am I hearing something else? ” The narrator compares a poem to a maze in the third stanza, and another way to unlock the message of a poem is to “drop a mouse” into it. What does the mouse symbolize? What does the act of dropping the mouse into the poem signify? For the most part, rats can either be pests or pets, depending on the type of the rodent and how we appreciate it. In the context of appreciating poems, the mouse can symbolize the attention of individuals, especially those who have a relatively short attention span—it can be a foe inasmuch as it can be a friend.
By dropping a mouse into the poem, the narrator suggests that the reader should place his attention into the poem and watch it probe its way out. Like any maze, a poem may have its own dead ends. To reach the exit, the reader should continue completing the maze despite obstacles such as not being able to grasp the meaning of the poem on first reading. Moreover, the fact that Collins used the term “watch” suggests that we should follow wherever our attention goes while reading the poem instead of simply taking a quick look and then losing sight of what we are reading.
The fourth stanza is simply composed of two lines and yet Collins deeply describes how readers can explore the wonders of poems. The narrator challenges poem readers to “walk inside the poem’s room” and to “feel[s] the walls for a light switch”. The passage implies that the reader is required to turn on the lights of the “poem’s room” because the room is dark in the first place where everything is barely visible. The fact that the narrator requests the reader to feel the walls of the room suggests that there is a bit of struggle at the start in reading the poem.
Recall in the first stanza that the narrator tells the reader to hold the poem in the light so that one can be able to see its colors. But before doing so, it is only logical that the room’s light switch should first upon entering the it or, similarly, it is only proper that the reader should first seek to open his mind even if it takes a bit of struggle at first so that he or she can be able to see and truly understand its message later on. While understanding poems can become a struggle especially for first-time readers, it can also be a pleasurable experience like that of waterskiing.
In the fifth stanza, the narrator wants the students to indulge the poem as if they are skiing on the surface of the water. Like waterskiing, the best way to enjoy a poem is to be on the constant move, reading through words and lines with passion so that the reader will not sink especially when he or she stops or pauses from reading. Collins wants poem readers to engage the poem as closely as possible while not failing to acknowledge the author of each poem.
The gesture of “waving at the author’s name on the shore” is an act of showing appreciation to the poem’s creator. The sixth stanza of the poem shifts away from the narrator’s suggestions on how to understand the message of poems and appreciating them. In the stanza, Collins writes that all the students want to do is to “tie the poem to a chair with rope” and then torturing “a confession out of it”. The seemingly violent imagery produced by the stanza is reminiscent of how some people coerce and torture others just to reveal what they know.
That is the same attitude that some poem readers have, forcefully beating the life out of a poem so that they may know its message, such as limiting the framework from where the poem can be interpreted or limiting the context of its words into a very literal meaning. Apparently, it is not the right way to fulfill such a task. Doing so can only render the poem lifeless and meaningless. The narrator ends the short poem with a brief description of how the poem is tortured by those whom the narrator is introducing poetry.
The last stanza conveys the message that despite the advices of the narrator, his audience still decided to deal with poem rather harshly instead of following the narrator’s suggestions. In the end, the narrator does not explicitly reveal if the students were able to find the real meaning of the poem through torture. However, the fact that the students departed from the suggestions of the narrator tells us that they might as well have failed with their task.
In essence, the title of Collins’ poem provides an interesting hint about the message he is trying to convey. All of the stanzas relate how first-time poem readers should handle poems, so to speak. Moreover, the fact that the poem makes use of simple words which are easy to understand adds up to the point that Collins’ goal is to teach students the proper ways in understanding any poem. Works Cited Collins, Billy. “Introduction to Poetry. ” The Apple That Astonished Paris. Fayetteville, Ark. : University of Arkansas Press, 1996. 58.
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