Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Poem

For Ann Miller

I

This morning was hot and humid.  Although it was grey, it felt as if I could have been in the tropics.  But by lunchtime, it was 53 degrees in Houston.  Cold.  How can we account for the plummets in our lives, the weather that we weather?  Who can explain how winter comes?  Well, scientists.

And poets.

II

Last week, some of my students wrote about some poems.  They could look at the poems–you don’t have to memorize.  Some of them wrote about all poems.  Some of them guessed.  One of the themes that kept coming up in the essays was:  this is a really great poem. That is not necessarily wrong.  It is just not the whole story. Sometimes there is a story, like Dido and Aeneas and how their love is a train wreck even before trains.  Sometimes there is no story.  Sometimes you are just in a station of the metro.

But at least you are in Paris.

III

Maybe you can look at the title:  “The Beautiful Changes” is a good one.  But then you have Emily Dickinson–who never had titles for poems, although sometimes she had titles for herself, like “Queen.”  She didn’t need titles, yet people give them to her anyway. What should the title be for a poem that states,” I like a look of Agony/ Because I know it’s true”?

Don’t say “Agony.”  I am begging. Continue reading