Interpretation of Poetry: A Mind Maze that Defies Mapping

Poetry reminds me of a magic maze in the Dragonlance fantasy series of novels by Margaret Weiss and Tracy Hickman. The maze was a challenge that many characters would attempt to successfully master. But the ways changed depending on the inner character and viewpoint of the one trying to navigate its twists and turns. One character was a gnome who tried to pin down the pathways with rulers, strings, mathematics and a bottle of ink and paper with which to map it. He would gleefully have it down to a science, but then, when he went back to navigate it according to his map, he found that he was lost, because no path was in the same place twice. Yes, you could master the maze, but not scientifically, and not with a map.

Although poetry is not one of the most popular of my subjects, I decided I might as well share those works that I particularly love for those of us who do find meaning and appreciation for the art. They come under the headings of “My Favorite Poems”, and “My Own Poetry”. Since I thought I would be sharing this subject with those readers who know and love poetry, I didn’t want to insult their intelligence by giving my own interpretations.

The only one I did do was Adrienne Rich’s poem “Gabriel” and that’s because it was an assignment at the College of Charleston back years ago. Our professor would not allow us to choose a “simple” poem. We had to pick one that was complicated. Well, you can’t get more complicated than Adrienne Rich, so I chose her. As I labored over this poem, you could see the smoke coming out of my ears from the brain cells burning. (The Gift and the Anguish of Adrienne Rich (1929-2012): “Gabriel”)

But just because I “see” a poem from a certain angle or in a particular light, does not mean that it doesn’t have a myriad of angles or several lights. The best of them do. So to say that my explication or interpretation is the “right” one would be . . . well . . . wrong. It’s just my own perspective.

But over this first year of blogging, I have gotten many hits looking for “the meaning” of certain poems I’ve shared. Whether this is from students looking for an easier way of completing an assignment than by the grueling task of THINKING, or if it is a genuine search by someone who is touched by a poem but doesn’t quite know why, I wouldn’t know. I do know that there are people who are literal thinkers and do not grasp poetry easily, or at all. My own son is one of these who, when I once said, “That’s the way the old ball bounces”, asked in exasperation, “WHAT ball are you talking about”?!, but who can still come up with some surprising depths of his own. All I can say is . . . the mind is a mysterious world that I doubt will ever be successfully mapped. Thus . . . poetry.

That said, I have decided to go back and give my own viewpoints and perspectives of those poems whose meaning some people are searching for. It doesn’t mean I’m “right”, it just means I will share what I see and feel when I read it. It may even help or inspire someone to navigate his own way through these magic pathways.




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