On Comprehension Of Poetry And Langauge -- A Coursera ModPo Forum Post



Yeah... the version [of the Imagist Manifesto] is... well... it could use some editing.

I'm trying to read that thread [LINK REDACTED]. To be frank, I don't think I can get through it because I'm stuck on the title of the thread. "Language without ambiguity has no meaning" defeats the whole purpose of language because it renders definitions useless. 

I view poetry (and all art) in a very practical fashion. It is a mode of communication. There are senders and receivers. One can be both (and neither, but I'll get to that later). 

[Please forgive me for bringing this to a very basic level, but I think it's important to show my foundational ideas.]

In this case the poet is the sender and use the medium of a poem to send a message. We are the receiver by being the reader (and sometimes listener). 

If we understand the meaning, the message/poem was well-crafted. 

If we do not understand the meaning, one of two things is going on. 

1. The message/poem was not well-crafted. The sender/poet has failed in her/is purpose and needs to re-write the poem. 
2. The message/poem is well-crafted. We are not the intended receiver. We do not exist in this formula being neither sender nor receiver. We can then, do one of two things.
a. We can educate ourselves and become, if not the correct receiver, a sympathetic receiver.
b. We can move on and not feel guilt because we were never supposed to understand the message in the first place.

Let me apply this to a more mainstream example.

One Direction is the sender with their songs as their medium.
I am the receiver.
I do not understand their songs.
I can either educate myself by immersing myself in the lexicon of the One Direction fan following, or I can say, "I'm okay with not understanding this message."

So let me finally get back to the topic at hand and the difficulties in understanding some of the poems.

I find some of the poems we are reading to be difficult to understand. Why? I'm not the intended receiver. I don't not understand the rhetoric that the poet is using, and that is completely okay. I don't understand for a variety of reasons. Some, but not all, of those reasons are that I live in a different time period with different words and different meanings of words and different connotations of said words. I don't possess the education of some of these poets. Even if they were writing in the vocabulary of today, I still wouldn't understand it because I'm literally in a different socio-economic class as the intended receiver, and--again--that is okay. That I'm not understanding the poem is not a judgment on me and my worth just as me not understanding One Direction is not a judgment on me. 

So what do I do now? Well, if I so choose, I decide whether or not to place value on the poem. If I decide to value on the poem, I learn the poet's lexicon and become (or at least become sympathetic to) the intended receiver. If I decide to not value the poem, I write the poem off as not worth my time and move on.

Getting back to the original topic [again]. I guess in the end, I do think of these poems in black and white, but allow for other interpretations even if I disagree with them. I do think that there is a right and wrong way to interpret the poems and their intended meanings; however, that does not de-value a conflicting view. I think language can and should be exact. The problem is that our personal meanings are different because of who we are and where we've come from. Our understandings differ because our experiences differ. I wrote THIS and suggested that one of the other forum posters stand on a subway platform for a while and imagine being in 1900s Paris to understand Pound's experience taking the metro. Because while Pound's language, to me, is exact; if one has not had the experience of having to rely on public transit, the meaning becomes ambiguous. So I do believe that one can have the exactly correct word for one receiver; however, an unintended receiver needs more than just a word to gain understanding of the message. What's important is that we not judge the unintended receiver for not understanding; what's important is that we understand that--if we are the intended receiver--we help to translate the message to someone who wants to become the intended receiver. (Or, if we're the sender, it's important that we not judge the receiver for not understanding our failed message, but go back and revise until we create a well-crafted message.)

[I've just re-read my post (before sending). I'm not sure if I'm adding or subtracting. If I'm subtracting, please feel free to ignore everything I've just said because, in that case, it'd be a badly crafted message.]