Sunday, October 5, 2014

How to Read a Poem

     If I were to go to wiki-how online, this is a question I would ask.  Along with whipping perfect meringue or understanding Albinoni's music.  When it comes to reading poetry, we need help!  Anything worth knowing needs proper study and understanding.  Not the least of which is poetry.  Here are some suggestions by our dear friend, Mr. Perrine, to help us from his Sound and Sense.

     1.  Read a poem more than once.  Imagine listening one time to Beethhoven's 5th Symphony and then saying you understand his music.  Repeated hearings give new discoveries each time!  Or, this quote by Perrine, "A poem is not like a newspaper, to be hastily read and cast into the wastebasket.  It is to be hung on the wall of one's mind."  Beautiful.

     2.  Keep a dictionary by you and use it.  Avail yourself of improving your vocabulary!  Recommended by Perrine is keeping a reference on Greek mythology and a Bible.  I also think a Latin lexicon is helpful.  Many of these resources are now available online.

     3.  Read so as to hear the sounds of the words in your mind.  Poems are written to be heard; its meanings conveyed both through sound and print.  Every word should be given special attention.  Read s-l-o-w-l-y, enunciate the words, sounding them out loud or lip-reading.  Allow the full weight of meaning each word possesses to sink like pebbles into the pond of your mind.

     4.  Always pay careful attention to what the poem is saying.  You may at the first read pay attention to grammatical facts.  A second or third read need ensue before venturing an audible read.  Imagine reading a poem as if on a roller coaster or train ride without noticing the passing scenery.  Take a walk, take a stroll through the poem and notice the budding leaf or interesting shell... in fact, pick it up and observe it!  This is how to take a poem!  Perrine says, "One should take the utmost effort to follow the thought continuously and to grasp the full implications and suggestions."

     5.  Practice reading poems aloud.  For this, you need at least an audience of one.  "Read it affectionately, but not affectedly,"  says Perrine.  The two extremes you want to avoid would be the monotone read or the overly eloquent read using funny voices.  "It is not necessary to put emotion into reading a poem.  The emotion is already there," so read naturally and sensitively.  Again, avoid the extreme of reading too fast or too slow.  But read slow enough for the meaning of the words to sink in.  Regular grammar within the poem should regulate how you read.

     Much more could be stated here.  But this will give us a start!  Happy reading!   


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