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PiP
November 2nd, 2017, 08:56 PM
When using the word 'soul' in poetry is its use abstract and meaningless? As a poet, what are you trying to convey?

The reason I pose the question is that I picked up on TL Murphy's comment in relation to the use of the word soul in poetry. Rather than derail critique on a poem I've posted here for further discussion.


There’s that word “soul” again. Do you know how many poems contain the word “soul”? At last count it was 14,362,952. Yours makes it 14,362,953. Not a number that stands out has unique. And what is a soul, anyway? Where is it? And what does it do? Does it eat? Does it bleed? Can someone get a soul transplant? I’ve been looking for my soul my entire life and I can’t find it. I think my self is as close as I’m going to get.

’Soul’, like love, existence, awesome... is so abstract that it’s really meaningless when it comes to poetry. You can’t point to a soul. No one knows what a soul is and you can’t feel your soul. Whatever you’re feeling when you think you’re feeling your soul is an emotion of some kind. Try to show that emotion in concrete terms in the poem. It’s far more poetic than saying ‘soul’. Abstract language in poetry is lazy writing. It bypasses imagery and relies on vague notions to substitute for immediate experience.

’Spiders’ is good. In this poem, ‘head’ would be a much stronger word than ‘soul’. It gives location and there is even a strong emotional recognition that comes with the image of ‘spiders in your head’. Everyone knows what it means. You can almost feel it. It fits with the existential angst of the poem. There is no such recognition with the term ‘spiders in your soul’.




TL's comment made me stop and reconsider using soul. What are your views?

Thanks, TL.




The issue is not about cliche's. It's about abstract vs. concrete language. Mind is almost as abstract as soul in that the mind is a "concept" as opposed to a thing. The best poetry creates images which the reader can experience. There is no image that can be formed around the word "mind", or "soul". It's a broad term for something fuzzy. "Spiders in my soup" would be an even stronger image, in that, stepping outside the lineal progression of the poem, the reader is encouraged to make leaps of association which lead to a broader emotional experience.

escorial
November 2nd, 2017, 09:11 PM
Soul is a word i use with it's meaning but it stems from my Catholic upbringing and I don't reckon there is a soul now..so for me it's a descriptive word with no substance but loads of poetic uses...

Darkkin
November 2nd, 2017, 10:55 PM
Soul is the incorporeal essence that raises gooseflesh...The unheard, unheeded symphony of the written word that screams from the deepest recesses of an artist's creative process. The belief in the impossible, hope in the face of bleak and bitter truths. Themes, eternal and universal, that traverse languages and time. Fluid and mercurial, it is the seat of emotions and instincts. Primal and precious it is the greatest nonquantifiable element in the human condition.

Psychology classifies those without this quality as sociopaths and psychopaths because they do not have the capacity to comprehend the extremes of highs and lows that encompass the vital essence of what is preceived as 'soul.'

- D.

Kevin
November 2nd, 2017, 11:19 PM
i never use that word but I'm not against it

andrewclunn
November 2nd, 2017, 11:45 PM
When the bottoms of my shoes seek redemption through prayer while eating Southern cooking... with gospel music in the background.

midnightpoet
November 2nd, 2017, 11:51 PM
Well, something like "soul music." Speaking to a practitioner of same it does have meaning. The word won't have the same meaning to everyone, to some it has no meaning at all. I do think, lot of a lot of words it's overused - and in poetry it's way overused. I'm not opposed to it like Kevin, but we poets would do well to think of different words to express ourselves.

Thaumiel
November 3rd, 2017, 01:00 AM
It doesn't matter how often a particular word is used. Soul, love, whatever. What really matters is the surrounding context. For a great majority of poems you'd probably find these words are used as part of cliche, therein lies the actual problem. The writer, given time, could find a way to break out of the cliche or present that 'abstract' word in a way that the reader knows what the writer is trying to show them.

Assuming this is in the religious context of the soul, just because something is transcendental in nature or abstract, it shouldn't mean that it's not worth using.

So if the reader doesn't instantly know how to process the word in a meaningful way, it shouldn't really matter, assuming the poem is attempting to make them think. It's like using terms specific to a subject a reader might not necessarily be acquainted with. In a world where we're reading poetry on the internet, a reader can research, think and come to conclusions using that same tool. Though I'm starting to dip into another matter there.

VonBradstein
November 3rd, 2017, 04:21 AM
I’m not against the word either, however I don’t recall ever using it and I think a big reason why so many of us recoil a little to words like that is fairly simple: They aren’t words.

Okay, so obviously they are words in the sense they contain vowels and consonants, but they have no fixed meaning. These words become largely decorative in a non theological context. I call them “spangles”. They are nice sounding and quite romantic in association, but they actually mean nothing.

When we say “soul” we usually mean it as a placeholder for some variety of immaterial life force, the exact nature of which is entirely up to the imagination. Sometimes it’s an aura. Sometimes it’s a kind of pretty ghost. Usually it’s neither. And that’s fine. The problem is how to use this to explain what the writer means. And that’s where we have problems.

Generally speaking I am opposed to any word that requires a limitless quantity of other words to explain it and still does not pinpoint a specific meaning.


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VonBradstein
November 3rd, 2017, 04:27 AM
I think there’s a really good debate to be had as to why we as humans need to resort to supernatural stuff like “souls” when we have the real, unquestionable ‘magic’ that is the human brain, personality and intellect.


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TuesdayEve
November 3rd, 2017, 05:19 AM
Soul, soul sister, soul brother, soul food, soul-ger...soul is a word some wish they understood, some get it, some don't and some won't, sometimes the soul is a matter of faith, a belief, and sometimes the soul is revealed... simply, whether you believe in a soul, having a soul or being a soul, clearly it's personal...agree or disagree, understand don't understand but the right to use the word soul and dictates of a creative source should be respected as with all things.

PiP
November 3rd, 2017, 08:54 AM
When I quoted TL's comment in my opening post I did not include this:


’Spiders’ is good. In this poem, ‘head’ would be a much stronger word than ‘soul’. It gives location and there is even a strong emotional recognition that comes with the image of ‘spiders in your head’. Everyone knows what it means. You can almost feel it. It fits with the existential angst of the poem. There is no such recognition with the term ‘spiders in your soul’.

and a further explanation

The issue is not about cliche's. It's about abstract vs. concrete language. Mind is almost as abstract as soul in that the mind is a "concept" as opposed to a thing. The best poetry creates images which the reader can experience. There is no image that can be formed around the word "mind", or "soul". It's a broad term for something fuzzy. "Spiders in my soup" would be an even stronger image, in that, stepping outside the lineal progression of the poem, the reader is encouraged to make leaps of association which lead to a broader emotional experience.



For some reason I'd never considered 'Soul' as abstract. Yes, mind is abstract. You raise some excellent points, Tim.

Perhaps it is due to the cliche's that surround these words

I'm losing my mind.

Life and soul of the party.

etc

escorial
November 3rd, 2017, 11:43 AM
A good crossover is the use in music..northern soul an soul music...it's not just about the words but the beat/rhythm as well that both add up to an emotional response that uses the word soul to describe a deep feeling that is only understood by the self but the need to communicate this feeling is expressed in shouting the merits of a particular song..

JustRob
November 3rd, 2017, 01:21 PM
Any word is useless for the conveyance of information if the writer and reader do not share the same understanding of it. There is no reason to single out the word "soul" for this treatment.

When I worked in the data analysis team of a large life assurance company we discovered that people from different departments interpreted words quite differently because of their own specialised perspectives. Hence though they might agree something in words at a meeting they might not have agreed anything at all in principle. As computer systems designers we had to have clear unambiguous understandings of the agreed meanings of the words used in order to know what the computers were expected to do, so we studied this problem and tried to make people more aware of it. An example given was the simple word "benefit". Asked what the benefit of a life assurance policy was, an actuary might reply "two hundred thousand pounds" while a salesman might say "sitting by your swimming pool drinking G&T's."

This question was asked in the context of poetry, a subject which I truly do not understand and certainly a word which I don't. I'm sure that there must be some other characteristic of poetry apart from it not filling up the lines like prose, but I have little idea what it is. In fact I have a much better idea of what the soul is despite having abandoned all religious beliefs. Of course, the word "religious" can simply be interpreted as implying persistent adherence to something, which might in fact even be science or mathematics. I regard myself as a mathematician, but I'm not religious about it as, like any religion, it has its axioms and hence its weaknesses.

If I speculate about the nature of poetry I wonder whether its purpose is to convey information at all. This may well be the real difference between it and prose. Perhaps what matters is what it evinces within each individual reader's or listener's mind, not what precise meaning it might convey to all. The word "soul" evidently evinces something in many of our minds, so one can hardly perceive it as a non-word any more than one can the word "benefit". So, is there any benefit in using it in poetry? To be honest, given what I've already written here, I have no idea what is being asked there, but I am sure that, if I gave you my very precise perception of what the soul is, you'd still be none the wiser in your own minds, so I won't.

aj47
November 3rd, 2017, 01:26 PM
Like any other word, it depends a great deal on context. Because of that, it's rather tough to swoop in and make pronouncements. I don't use the word because it's not in my working vocabulary except as a specific religious reference and I tend not to write much religious work. I understand its use in phrases like "soul food" or "soul mate" or "chicken soup for the soul" but those aren't my cultural idioms so they don't flow out of my keyboard.

JustRob
November 3rd, 2017, 01:48 PM
I find it interesting that people associate the word specifically with religion. If one were to substitute the word "psyche" would the discussion change course? That word is apparently even vaguer than "soul" despite it being regarded as synonymous by some. Modern psych-ologists would deny that they study the soul of course, but some do admit that there may be a parapsychological element to their patients' experiences that has to be acknowledged.

In poetry possibly more than in prose there may be a distinct challenge. To show rather than tell one must ensure that the reader is looking in the right direction. On the other hand, if the conveyance of meaning is not the objective of a poem then it doesn't matter what their viewpoint is.

Thaumiel
November 3rd, 2017, 01:55 PM
I don't like the idea that we shouldn't use 'abstract' language and just stick to straightforward, 'concrete' words. There's a point where that breaks down and just doesn't work, there will be things that you simply can't convey if you start cutting your vocabulary. It might be more difficult to convey something meaningful with a more abstract word but that doesn't mean it shouldn't be attempted. Why limit yourself?

aj47
November 3rd, 2017, 02:18 PM
I don't think the idea is that we shouldn't use abstraction, but that we should use it responsibly. Know when you're doing it and know why. Don't use words you're not sure of for their poeticism or perceived coolness factor.

It's been almost 40 years but I got a smackdown from an English teacher for misusing the word "eternity" that I will never forget.

Thaumiel
November 3rd, 2017, 02:43 PM
So instead of telling the author of that poem using the word poorly that they shouldn't be using that word, we should be telling them how to use that word to better effect.

aj47
November 3rd, 2017, 04:17 PM
Something like that. I don't know. This isn't my poem and I don't know what the right word is/was. It may be "soul" is the right word in the wrong place or the wrong word entirely. I may have read the poem but I didn't crit it. So I'm the person watching the game at home not a spectator in the stands or an officiator making a ruling.

VonBradstein
November 3rd, 2017, 05:01 PM
I mean, I think the point that the word has little utility is born out by the fact there are so many differing viewpoints in this thread. If the word in question was one like “cake” nobody would be saying that word is invalid.

Other people have said they don’t use the word in their writing. Given it is not a terribly obscure or exotic word and is extremely common in pop culture I think it’s interesting it can be so readily scrapped from a writers personal lexicon without any difficulty. I can’t think of many nouns I can say I never use. This indicates strongly to me the word does not possess much inherent meaning, as much as we would like it to.

I also think it’s important not to conflate arguments for and against the word with arguments for and against abstract nouns overall. “Trust” is an abstract noun but nobody would argue that word does not have meaning or importance. Same with “hatred”, “sadness”, “pride”...the list goes on. Soul just doesn’t carry the same gravitas.


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JustRob
November 3rd, 2017, 08:47 PM
Trust is an act of faith, but there are plenty of people, especially hard-nosed business men, who have no faith even in their fellow man and need everything to be agreed in writing. They will stand only by the letter of the law, not its spirit, because they don't see any gravitas in words like "trust", "faith" and "spirit". Some might regard them as being soulless though, not that that would worry them. Nevertheless they'd probably still claim to "love" their families rather than admitting to being nepotistic.

If "soul" has no meaning then probably neither do "love", "romance", "charm", "beauty" (which is probably politically incorrect to use nowadays anyway) and a host of others that find their way into poetry. No doubt poets could use more concrete neurological terms for all these phenomena but they'd be a devil to get to scan.

Of course, the word "charm" is entirely acceptable when writing poetry about quantum mechanics, but I doubt that that would attract as many readers as any mentioning "soul".

For heaven's sake people! Er, am I allowed to mention heaven on this thread or is it too abstract a concept?

Raevenlord
November 4th, 2017, 12:25 AM
Hello.

I am the original user of the word "soul" in the context of the poem that elicited that answer from TL. So I can at the very least give the reasons for why I used it, and why I ultimately decided not to.

I agree with what has been said that these words are context-specific, and should not be ruled out of a writer's vocabulary just because. It's a fact that these word's meaning depends from reader to reader, and this, I believe, is at the same time the best and worst characteristic of it.

I used 'soul' because in the context, it speaks of emotions, memories, the essence of a person. For me, it means identity. It's not a manifestation, really. It's a mix of personality and identity; kind of like the mental fingerprint of someone. How you act in a given situation and the reason why you do it, the things that have brought you to that place... that's the meaning of soul for me.

However, as you can see, it is hardly the same for me as it was for any person in this thread. So while I can use that word and give it all that weight - which is also derived from context - it becomes hard to make sure the reader understands all the shades of it, and sees them as I do (which I guess really is a natural part of poetry, though). Also, I tended to agree with TL in that it doesn't really convey much of an image - unless you think it means a ghost or a materialization of an 'essence' of some kind, in which case, that's not what I was looking for.

I ultimately agreed with TL because his suggestion of "head" as I replacement still made sense to me in the context of a soul. Where does our personality/identity/soul reside? It's an amalgam of everything - ambient stimuli, history, memory, education, culture, physical characteristics... But it does provoke change in our brains. It's still somewhat of a personal approach, but I think the brain is what allows all of those concepts to thrive and mix and mingle and be stored for future analysis. So, yeah, head can include the mind and the soul.

Buy why is head better than soul in this context? Arguably, soul is more 'poetry-like'. It sounds great, has an amazing, round sound; your mouth makes a little 'o' when saying it that brings smoothness, calm, peacefulness. However, it's vague in imagery. It doesn't elicit an image, a response. "spiders in soul" is pretty clear in its meaning. But 'spiders in head', for me, encompasses everything else (I think, therefore I exist) that the soul already does, but offers a strong initial connection with spiders walking around your skull. It's an uncomfortable image that demands attention, that's terrifying, stressful, and conveys vulnerability and the inability to fully respond. Which is exactly the message i was trying to convey on my poem.

So yeah. These are my two cents in this particular case. If you want to read the poem that gave rise to this, it's Technical Support (https://www.writingforums.com/threads/174074-Technical-Support), located on the poetry workshop.

VonBradstein
November 4th, 2017, 04:42 AM
I used 'soul' because in the context, it speaks of emotions, memories, the essence of a person. For me, it means identity. It's not a manifestation, really. It's a mix of personality and identity; kind of like the mental fingerprint of someone. How you act in a given situation and the reason why you do it, the things that have brought you to that place... that's the meaning of soul for me.

However, as you can see, it is hardly the same for me as it was for any person in this thread. So while I can use that word and give it all that weight - which is also derived from context - it becomes hard to make sure the reader understands all the shades of it, and sees them as I do (which I guess really is a natural part of poetry, though). Also, I tended to agree with TL in that it doesn't really convey much of an image - unless you think it means a ghost or a materialization of an 'essence' of some kind, in which case, that's not what I was looking for.

I ultimately agreed with TL because his suggestion of "head" as I replacement still made sense to me in the context of a soul. Where does our personality/identity/soul reside? It's an amalgam of everything - ambient stimuli, history, memory, education, culture, physical characteristics... But it does provoke change in our brains. It's still somewhat of a personal approach, but I think the brain is what allows all of those concepts to thrive and mix and mingle and be stored for future analysis. So, yeah, head can include the mind and the soul.

Buy why is head better than soul in this context? Arguably, soul is more 'poetry-like'. It sounds great, has an amazing, round sound; your mouth makes a little 'o' when saying it that brings smoothness, calm, peacefulness. However, it's vague in imagery. It doesn't elicit an image, a response. "spiders in soul" is pretty clear in its meaning. But 'spiders in head', for me, encompasses everything else (I think, therefore I exist) that the soul already does, but offers a strong initial connection with spiders walking around your skull. It's an uncomfortable image that demands attention, that's terrifying, stressful, and conveys vulnerability and the inability to fully respond. Which is exactly the message i was trying to convey on my poem.

So yeah. These are my two cents in this particular case. If you want to read the poem that gave rise to this, it's Technical Support (https://www.writingforums.com/threads/174074-Technical-Support), located on the poetry workshop.

Having reviewed the original poem I don't really object to the use of the word soul, though I do think TL was right and 'head' is better in that particular instance. Regardless, you explain your point well and clearly are an example of how to take criticism professionally.

I think sometimes when we critique work we can get a little over zealous with picking on certain aspects we ourselves would not have written and sometimes, inadvertently, forget to take into account the reason for why it was chosen by the writer. I think sometimes we are too quick to impose our own values on another's person's work and pass it off as fact. Obviously that is part and parcel of criticism (and why a lot of people hate critics) but there is no reason why we cannot give the benefit of doubt when we can. A lot of times we assume a mistake of judgement on the writer's part the moment something controversial catches our eye. It's not always a malicious thing, but by product of the process of critique.

In this case while I still prefer 'head' I can see advantages to 'soul' that perhaps even you as the writer did not intend. It is true that 'soul' is more conventionally poetic as you mention, however one might argue that in order to make a poem fresh perhaps it is better to avoid 'poetic' words, for fear of inadvertently falling into cliches. Either way, that's a judgement call.

The partnering of 'spiders' with 'soul' offers an alliterative quality that you lose by replacing it with 'head'.

Finally, and perhaps least obviously, there is the meaning of the poem.

This poem is titled 'Technical Support' and seems to be about the simplification or dumbing-down of the human condition. With that in mind, an exclusively 'human' concept like soul (head is not a human characteristic - every animal has a head - but a soul sure as sugar is) juxtaposes quite nicely with the rigid, gray, shall we say 'soul-less' world that the poem describes. I usually don't like to get into-the-weeds with metaphysical themes, but I would simply argue that the presence of a word like soul in such a context actually works.

Would I have written it? Probably still no, but then again I am not a particularly good poet [emoji4]

VonBradstein
November 4th, 2017, 05:10 AM
Trust is an act of faith, but there are plenty of people, especially hard-nosed business men, who have no faith even in their fellow man and need everything to be agreed in writing. They will stand only by the letter of the law, not its spirit, because they don't see any gravitas in words like "trust", "faith" and "spirit". Some might regard them as being soulless though, not that that would worry them. Nevertheless they'd probably still claim to "love" their families rather than admitting to being nepotistic.

If "soul" has no meaning then probably neither do "love", "romance", "charm", "beauty" (which is probably politically incorrect to use nowadays anyway) and a host of others that find their way into poetry. No doubt poets could use more concrete neurological terms for all these phenomena but they'd be a devil to get to scan.

Of course, the word "charm" is entirely acceptable when writing poetry about quantum mechanics, but I doubt that that would attract as many readers as any mentioning "soul".

For heaven's sake people! Er, am I allowed to mention heaven on this thread or is it too abstract a concept?

You raise a good point. I want to be clear I am not advocating the limiting of language. Ultimately what it all boils down to is how the word is used. I could not possibly comment on all the abstract terms in common use. There would be no way to make a definite list of what is or is not useful and ultimately its a red herring because every human being knows, deep down, what words have meanings and what words do not.

That said, I honestly do not think I would equivocate a word like 'soul' with one like 'charm'. If I talk about a 'charming man' you probably do have a good idea of what that looks like, as do I. The fact our specific images may not be the same is neither here nor there - it would be rather a boring world if they were. Same with beauty. I say 'a beautiful sunset' and you know what that looks like. Is it the same exact sunset I picture? Well, almost certainly not, but the word has transaction value because assuming the context is one that we both have some experience of (a sunset, a man) we can speak to the same concept and both be relatively in accordance.

Can you think of a single sentence in which 'soul' would be so easily understood, where any universal accordance exists? The 'soulless businessman' does not count, in my view, because in that case the word 'soulless' is (1) Being used rather as a poetic placeholder for 'immoral' - which has a relatively fixed meaning and (2) You are using it in the negative. I'm not trying to be pedantic, but it is generally much easier to define the absence of something rather than the presence of it.

So, then, what does it mean to be 'soulful'? What kind of things can have 'soul'? We are vaguely aware that people have souls, but apparently some may not (such as the businessman) so it's not sufficient simply say 'it's the invisible life force of a person', right? The word would appear to have some sort of moralistic component - but what? Does it mean kind? Does it mean generous? Does it mean whimsical or faithful? Who knows...

Even poor Merriam-Webster seems to struggle:
Definition of soul

1 :the immaterial essence, animating principle, or actuating cause of an individual life (Problematic all over the place. Firstly, what if the person has no 'actuating cause'? How would this apply, say, to somebody in a coma - do they lose their soul? How about animals. Plants. What is an 'immaterial essence'. Etc, etc.)
2 a :the spiritual principle embodied in human beings, all rational and spiritual beings, or the universe (this makes no sense to me either - I'm really trying but it just doesn't)
3 :a person's total self (SO A BODY AND A BRAIN THEN?)

Don't want to go too far down the philosophical black hole, nor offend anybody, but this is an example of the kind of issues I personally find whenever this stuff comes up. And the thing is definitions of other abstract nouns are usually not this vague. Beauty, for instance, is sort of easy to define. MW: "Qualities in a person or thing that gives pleasure to the senses or pleasurably exalts." I think we can all get behind that, right? We can and do fight over who/what is beautiful, but we agree on the basic definition.

With soul, not so much. At least not for me.

JustRob
November 5th, 2017, 12:29 PM
I used 'soul' because in the context, it speaks of emotions, memories, the essence of a person. For me, it means identity. It's not a manifestation, really. It's a mix of personality and identity; kind of like the mental fingerprint of someone. How you act in a given situation and the reason why you do it, the things that have brought you to that place... that's the meaning of soul for me.

The concept of identity has always been important to me in my working career as a computer systems designer. As an example, the computer finds two records of applications for an insurance policy from the same person within its files. Have they really asked for two identical policies or are these simply two copies of the same application? In another case an existing client applies for a second policy but their date of birth differs from the one already on record. The computer has a problem deciding whether they can really be the same person. What should it believe and how should it behave? A man suspects that he is dating identical twins. How does he prove it? One radical way would be to kill her and bury her in the garden and then wait to see whether she turns up to their next date. This last example illustrates the point that identity is about the entirety of anything's existence. We are everything that we are, have been and will be.

There comes a point when we become just memories, maybe in the minds of people who knew us or, if any here are that lucky, in the published books that we have written. Maybe the hope of immortality at least in words is just one motive for being a writer. When I was a boy a friend of mine at our boarding school died in a cycling accident at age sixteen. He was the son of one of the masters and was buried in a quiet country churchyard on a hill near the school. On the fiftieth anniversary of his death I laid flowers on his grave with a note that read "We live on in the minds of others." My childhood memories of him, his happy bubbly character, his laughs and smiles, they are all a part of his soul, which lives on in the minds of those who knew and remember him. Therefore I think that you have grasped the concept of soul very well in your words above and have every right to use it wherever you see fit.

TL Murphy
November 5th, 2017, 11:39 PM
I didn't start this thread, but since the opening question is based on a quote from me then I figure I should wade in at some point. And the point I want to make here is that the question is not about one's assessment of "the soul" or whether one believes in a soul or what soul means or even whether someone has the right to use the word or not. The question is about whether the word is meaningful in poetry. Is it effective? Does a word like "soul", which is an abstract word, make for good poetry? This has nothing to do with an author's spiritual or philosophical beliefs. It has nothing to do with a poet's right to express herself in any way she chooses. This is about poetry. Is it poetic?

If I asked you to make a painting of the soul, what would you paint? You can't paint the soul because no one knows what a soul looks like. You might make an abstract painting using certain colors or shapes that you feel convey the feeling of the soul. You might try to capture a certain kind of light. A viewer may look at this and enjoy the presentation of color and might even admire the composition of the painting. But I guarantee you that no one would know you have painted the soul. Or, you might paint a landscape with majestic mountains, or a prairie scene with an enormous sky. You might paint the ocean. Now you are investing the painting with images that make you feel something that feels like "soul" to you and you are trying to do this in a way that the viewer might pick up on similar feelings by grasping the images. The better you present these images, the more successful you are likely to be. If you are a very good painter, you might paint the Mona Lisa. Now there is a painting that has "soul" all over it. When a viewer looks at the real Mona Lisa, there is a feeling that he is looking into the soul.

It's the same thing with poetry. You cannot convey the feeling of the soul by using the word "soul" because no one understands what "soul" means. The word is too vast. It's too abstract. It has too much baggage and too much weight. But if you write a poem about walking alone in the woods at dawn and listening to the wind, you may start to convey images to the reader that feel familiar. Images that lead the reader to deep feelings she has never been able to express. And yet this fugurative language that she is reading makes her feel her soul.

This is the difference between abstract and concrete language. Abstract language talks about feelings. Concrete language is the feeling. Talking about ideas and concepts is the domain of philosphy and theology and maybe science. The relm of poetry is to convey feeling, not meaning. A poem doesn't mean; it is. A reader gets meaning from poetry by feeling, not by understanding. Therefore, abstract language in poetry obstructs poetics by banging away at misty concepts in an attempt to make the reader understand. That's not good poetry.

VonBradstein
November 6th, 2017, 12:15 AM
TL,

I agree with your argument concerning soul as stated however the counter argument which I think you should acknowledge is that soul DOES apparently mean things to some people. I already explained in my last post why I think a good case could be made for its inclusion in this poem, and the OP made a better case.

Also it is silly to suggest abstract language doesn’t belong in poetry. For example, “love” is a heavily abstract and individualized concept but you can’t possibly say that all written works which employ the word “love” suffer from absence of meaning as a result. Sure it’s misused, as are so many things, but think of all the work from Shakespeare to Khalil Gibran who have explicitly used this word and other abstractions to create great meaning. A sonnet in purely concrete language would likely not be nearly as good.


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Kevin
November 6th, 2017, 03:15 AM
As a person that is colorblind I feel that color is abstract. It is a silly, made up, cliche... thing, that's not even a thing. Therefore, I propose we toss all references to color in poetic usage, along with anything else I can't see, hear or touch, or describe... erm, 'properly'. All those in favor..?

TL Murphy
November 6th, 2017, 03:32 AM
VonB, yes "soul" does mean something to some people. It means something to me. But that's not the point. Does it make good poetry? Poetry is not about meaning. Poetry is about feeling. Meaning is not what the poet brings to the poem. Meaning is what the reader takes from the poem through epiphany. There is no place in poetry for explanations. Explanations are for politics and engineering.

I am not saying that abstract words should never be used in poetry. I am saying they are overused in bad poetry. There is a place for abstract language in poetry but it is selective and specific. Clark posted a great example by Yeats in his poem The Lake Isle of Innisfree. In this 12 line poem, Yeats builds strong imagery through concrete language. He conveys to the reader the feeling of peace and what that feeling means. In the middle of the poem he uses the word peace. It is not an explanation of the feeling built by figurative language but a culmination. By the time we get to the word "peace" we already know what peace is. It's no longer abstract. So Yeats has successfully make abstract language concrete. We get the image. That is the way to use abstract language in poetry.



The Lake Isle of Innisfree


- BY WILLIAM BUTLER YEATS


I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made;
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.


And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet’s wings.


I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart’s core.

Robbie
November 6th, 2017, 04:05 AM
Tim, you said ‘If you are a very good painter, you might paint the Mona Lisa. Now there is a painting that has "soul" all over it. When a viewer looks at the real Mona Lisa, there is a feeling that he is looking into the soul.’ Do you mean Mona Lisa’s soul, the artist’s soul or the soul of the viewer? For me it’s all three but still would like to know which ‘soul’ you meant. If you see Mona Lisa’s aren’t you also seeing Da Vinci’s and feeling it in the depth of your own?

TL Murphy
November 6th, 2017, 04:55 AM
Robbie, the soul is bigger than the Mona Lisa, bigger than the artist and bigger than the viewer. The soul drops into our experience through windows. The Mona Lisa (and any art for that matter) is an opportunity for the viewer to glimpse the soul. But no human being can grasp the entirety of the soul in one moment. It is beyond our ken. But we can know it through an accumulation of direct experience. And that is the task of poetry - to bring the reader to the experience that offers a glimpse of the infinite. But to offer the infinite is simply pretentious.

VonBradstein
November 6th, 2017, 05:46 AM
VonB, yes "soul" does mean something to some people. It means something to me. But that's not the point. Does it make good poetry? Poetry is not about meaning. Poetry is about feeling. Meaning is not what the poet brings to the poem. Meaning is what the reader takes from the poem through epiphany. There is no place in poetry for explanations. Explanations are for politics and engineering.

I am not saying that abstract words should never be used in poetry. I am saying they are overused in bad poetry. There is a place for abstract language in poetry but it is selective and specific. Clark posted a great example by Yeats in his poem The Lake Isle of Innisfree. In this 12 line poem, Yeats builds strong imagery through concrete language. He conveys to the reader the feeling of peace and what that feeling means. In the middle of the poem he uses the word peace. It is not an explanation of the feeling built by figurative language but a culmination. By the time we get to the word "peace" we already know what peace is. It's no longer abstract. So Yeats has successfully make abstract language concrete. We get the image. That is the way to use abstract language in poetry.



The Lake Isle of Innisfree


- BY WILLIAM BUTLER YEATS


I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made;
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.


And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet’s wings.


I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart’s core.

The real point, my only point, is that I think you are over-reaching on your position. It takes a lot for me to disagree with an argument that essentially says 'use simpler words', it really does, but it seems you are taking a rather hardline, almost zealous, position toward language. This may not be your intention but that is how it comes across.

You stated: "I am not saying that abstract words should never be used in poetry. I am saying they are overused in bad poetry." All right, yes, but bad poetry is bad poetry and good poetry is good poetry. One might argue until the cows come home (and until they wander off again, because they are so bored of hearing it) about the proportional contributions of certain words and word-types to forming the ideal, but the main point is that if a word is poorly used it will stick out as such and if it isn't it won't. There is no other valid measure for the worth of any word.

Actually while reading this post I remembered a poem I read awhile back. I thought it was funny and worth sharing because it hits so close to home...


Agnostic Apology
by Robert William Service


I am a stout materialist;
With abstract terms I can't agree,
And so I've made a little list
Of words that don't make sense to me.

To fool my reason I refuse,
For honest thinking is my goal;
And that is why I rarely use
Vague words like Soul.

In terms of matter I am sure
This world of our can be defined;
And so with theories obscure
I will not mystify my mind;
And though I use it more or less,
Describing alcoholic scenes,
I do not know, I must confess,
What Spirit means.

When I survey this cosmic scene,
The term "Creator" seems absurd;
The Universe has always been,
Creation never has occurred.

But in my Lexicon of Doubt
It strikes me definitely odd,
One word I never dare to flout,
One syllable the mountains shout,
Three letters that the stars spell out:
GOD.

^ The reason I thought this was funny is because it seems to bridge your point and mine. Yours because the poem is obviously about abstract terms and how much the author despises them, however there is clearly irony there because obviously in creating the poem Service does use a ton of abstractions including, yes, the dreaded S-word. This is obviously for ironic, humorous effect but nonetheless he uses them. In fact, he OVERUSES them. There are very few non-abstract nouns in that poem. If one was to abide rigidly by your logic this poem could not exist - we would have to dance around the use of such words. I personally think its rather good how it is

So hopefully we agree there can be exceptions...?

And what does this have to do with anything? Well again I go back to the source material and context of the word 'soul' in the poem posted in this forum - the poem I recall being about the simplification of the human condition. In such a context, the use of an abstract word like 'soul' could be seen to be there for much the same reason it features in Service's poem - because of the contradiction it creates. The poem is literally about lack of soul, right? So soul should absolutely be there :pride:

It may be not everybody sees it that way, and that's fine, but I simply propose that there should be flexibility in the use of such words and one ought be open to the possibility of subversion and upending rules, even those they live by. Especially those they live by, in fact.

TL Murphy
November 6th, 2017, 06:11 AM
VonB, in the Service poem you site, the words soul, spirit ...etc are taken out of their abstract context and they are used concretely. This is a very clever critique on abstract language for the abstract words are used in a way that is not abstract. It’s very specific. The words are self-referential, they don’t attempt to explain abstract concepts. You’re missing the forest for the trees. However, it is a good example of the successful use of abstract words. But I don’t think it adds one iota of credence to your argument.

VonBradstein
November 6th, 2017, 06:28 AM
VonB, in the Service poem you site, the words soul, spirit ...etc are taken out of their abstract context and they are used concretely. This is a very clever critique on abstract language for the abstract words are used in a way that is not abstract. It’s very specific. The words are self-referential, they don’t attempt to explain abstract concepts. You’re missing the forest for the trees. However, it is a good example of the successful use of abstract words. But I don’t think it adds one iota of credence to your argument.

Ahhh, but you have repeatedly stated that the word itself has no meaning. Now you are allowing it can be given meaning in certain contexts and when used in certain ways. This is also why I wanted to share that particular poem.

This is what I mean about flexibility and not applying absolute arguments to language. You have contradicted yourself entirely by first stating "the words soul, spirit ...etc are taken out of their abstract context and they are used concretely" and then, later in the paragraph stating "However, it is a good example of the successful use of abstract words"

So which is it, abstract or not?

The answer - the obvious one - seems to be 'it depends on the larger context and how that context is communicated to the reader'.

I am not missing anything here, I don't think. I have no gripe, as I have mentioned repeatedly, with arguments against abstract language to be used to describe abstract concepts. You are correct, and have been all along, that a line like "when I dream of your soul I feel pleasure" is both a crap-tacular line and a wholly meaningless one. However it would seem, from both Service's poem and the one in this forum, that an abstract term employed in contexts of the self-referential, the satirical, the surreal or just tightly enough welded to concrete language to clearly indicate it isn't about, say, chocolate or traffic cones can be made to work. The poem posted on this forum also used 'soul' in rather a similar way. It talked of 'spiders in the soul', indicating it was some sort of material substance, and was clear as to what it meant. Clear enough that you interpreted it as meaning 'head' and recommended such a change. So in that instance it seems to me it functioned as a synonym for something concrete (a head) and therefore had meaning. It also had poetic qualities of being alliterative and thematically relevant because the poem was essentially about the absence of 'soul'. So I am unsure as to how you can then say 'it has no meaning' when you yourself have now been able to extract a meaning from it in two separate examples - the forum example and the Service example. Seems rather contradictory to me.

I'm not sure there is much more to say on the matter, but I have enjoyed the debate.

TL Murphy
November 6th, 2017, 06:44 AM
I reserve the right to contradict myself.

escorial
November 6th, 2017, 10:30 AM
So many think they don't....

JustRob
November 6th, 2017, 01:13 PM
To show rather than tell one must ensure that the reader is looking in the right direction.

... or at least in the right way. If one shows a spectator the Mona Lisa then unless one mentions soul there is no reason to believe that they see it in that way. As with prose the concrete showing and abstract telling must be balanced against each other to guide the reader/viewer/listener in the desired direction. Some people may get feelings from looking at an entirely concrete structure but they may well not be the ones that the architect hoped for when he designed it. By employing abstract terms the writer is indicating that there is more to it than meets the eye, even the mind's eye, not that I have one of those apparently.

My mind only contains abstract representations of concrete objects apparently, a condition that's been dubbed "aphantasia". The Mona Lisa is just a collection of feelings and identifiable characteristics to me because I can't picture it in my mind, only recall its structural elements and abstract impact. Perhaps I shouldn't express my opinions in among those here from people whose minds are filled with visual images of concrete objects and equally concrete concepts. Groping through its perpetual darkness looking for meaning in patterns, my mind can perceive a structure that fits the soul as well as it can that of a chair or table, but I can hardly expect others to comprehend its world when they cannot conceive how it functions. Even I don't have much of an idea about it as my conscious mind is usually preoccupied with processing the things that I see around me, but their concrete structures vanish when I close my eyes and then I just "see" them conceptually within my mind. You have to be there to understand that, I suppose.

TL Murphy
November 6th, 2017, 04:55 PM
JustRob, if poetry is about discovering meaning through epiphany, then you rob the reader of the epiphany by explaining the metaphor. I see this all the time. A poet will present a metaphorical image and then will tell the reader what the image means rather than allowing the reader to grasp the image’s significance through the context of the poem, thus creating their own meaning. By explaining the images, the poet dictates the symbology in the poem and kills the poetry. Now, a ball must mean the world and a bird must mean freedom. Great poetry is universal, fractal and expansive. Explanations in poetry are contractive. Different readers will see different things in a good poem. They bring their own experience and point of view to the poem and find meaning based on how they interpret it. A reader may not interpret a great poem in the way the author intended, but by explaining the metaphor there is no room for interpretation at all.

JustRob
November 6th, 2017, 06:30 PM
JustRob, if poetry is about discovering meaning through epiphany, then you rob the reader of the epiphany by explaining the metaphor.

I used the words "balance" and "guide" in my statement, not "explanation". I seldom write poetry and very seldom seriously, but in my prose I drop clues as to the underlying meaning which are so subtle that most readers probably never experience that epiphany. My writing can be very obtuse. I doubt that readers of my novel gave much thought to my chapter titles or their ambiguity; who does? More so, just the title of a poem may suggest how a reader should interpret it. "Looking in the right direction" or "way" was not meant to imply leading-by-the-nose explanation. A metaphor explained is a simile surely. I always allow my readers to place their own interpretations on what I write, as I have apparently done even here.

TL Murphy
November 6th, 2017, 08:04 PM
JustRob, thanks for the clarification. It's a healthy approach to think about balance in a poem. Personally, I don't usually find obscurity in poetry to be as much of an obstacle as some readers do. Perhaps that is because I am not looking primarily for meaning. But I know that some readers can't get past that hurdle and for them some poetry can be frustrating without hints that help them find the context or lead them through the metaphor. But I don’t believe it's the poet's job to guide all readers through the poem. Some will get it and some won't. As I see it, a good poem is more like a painting than a story. I feel that a successful poem will reach below the surface levels of day to day consciousness into a deeper, more primortial level of awareness that helps the reader experience reality beyond the limits of logic. I don't think that can happen if the poem reveals too much about its own archetypes.

RHPeat
December 22nd, 2017, 08:58 AM
It's an over used word most of the time that is taken out of context as feeling something intensely. The concern about that is: when are you without your soul? So if you are feeling something intensely; most definitely your soul is too. Feeling something in your soul means you are feeling something. In most cases it redundant and misleading. Now if you want to speak about out of body or after someone's death you might be getting into the right zone to use the word. But it's horribly misused in poetry and extremely over used. I always avoid it.

sas
December 22nd, 2017, 02:38 PM
Good advice.
I'd include other lazy words like soul: love, hate, fear, ........the list is endless. They are shortcut words we use in everyday language. Poetry requires more.

RHPeat
December 22nd, 2017, 07:39 PM
Sas

You are right Sas another such word is "life." do we really need to say we are alive or have life in the poem? If the voice in the poem is speaking; that voice must be alive. Again something that is obvious. I say cut to the chase and get down to the nitty-gritty. Show it in some way; you don't need to say it, because it's obvious. But what is shown might be far more specific and still show life in a unique way. It will become more of a unique and creative thought in that way. if you are going to use such words make sure they present a special case that is unique to the concept of the poem's viewpoint.

a poet friend
RH Peat.

sas
December 23rd, 2017, 01:43 PM
RH:
I am trying very hard to eliminate the words that create a bland poem. We are so used to using them that we don't even recognize them as pretty much meaningless. I wish I could set my computer to automatically highlight them, like spell check. Poetry is hard.

Kevin
December 23rd, 2017, 05:12 PM
RH:
I am trying very hard to eliminate the words that create a bland poem. We are so used to using them that we don't even recognize them as pretty much meaningless. I wish I could set my computer to automatically highlight them, like spell check. Poetry is hard.
It's not the words you use, it's how you use them:

My dimishing soul is expressed by a lack of empathy. That's just one way.

CrimsonAngel223
December 23rd, 2017, 07:28 PM
Would using sprite be a better word than soul? I use it constantly in my verses.

RHPeat
December 24th, 2017, 12:23 AM
Would using sprite be a better word than soul? I use it constantly in my verses.

Like Kevin just said; it depends on how you use a word that counts for there is always a case to use a word. But some uses are extreme cliche or misuse of the word. Like soul meaning to feel something deeply. For any feeling you have is felt in Your soul. It is your identity. When is your body without it? Do you only wear it for special occasions when you want to feel things deeply? Maybe on your birthday or when you eat certain foods. The Greeks called it the psyche. For it was seen arising out of the body. To say "I felt depressed" says far more directing than "I felt depressed in my soul." And it means the exact same thing. You are depressed. You find this a lot of modern poetry that isn't even speaking of the Psyche.

Sprite is hardly soul. Maybe you're speaking of spirit?

sprite |sprīt|
noun
1 an elf or fairy.
2 a computer graphic that may be moved on-screen and otherwise manipulated as a single entity.
3 a faint flash, typically red, sometimes emitted in the upper atmosphere over a thunderstorm owing to the collision of high-energy electrons with air molecules.

sas
December 24th, 2017, 12:46 AM
It's not the words you use, it's how you use them:

My dimishing soul is expressed by a lack of empathy. That's just one way.


ok, my nit-pik: You did not just use the words diminishing soul, you defined it (lack of empathy). "Diminishing soul",by itself, means nothing, which is my point. Many would just write "my diminishing soul", think it poetic, and leave it, at that. I still hate "soul". Maybe it's the atheist in me. I don't feel like I have a soul. I have a presence. I am here, now. Good enough.

sas
December 24th, 2017, 12:47 AM
Would using sprite be a better word than soul? I use it constantly in my verses.

No.

Robbie
December 24th, 2017, 01:03 AM
My thoughts exactly Kevin. Thanks.

Darkkin
December 24th, 2017, 01:27 AM
Would using sprite be a better word than soul? I use it constantly in my verses.

'You keep using that word and I do not think it means what you think it means...' - Inigo, The Princess Bride.

Sprite is a type of fairy and a brand of soda.

Spirit is the word that deals with the essence of humanity.

Major difference. Proofread before clicking post....(facepalm).

e.g.

The Sprite (soda) weeps for want of a word,
what word...One that must remain unsaid.
And so the sprite withers, dust unto dust.

clark
December 24th, 2017, 05:26 AM
Good grief! We can't leave this puppy alone, can we? I defend Christians when in their narratives they refer to the "body/soul" dichotomy. In contexts of Christian discussion it makes perfect sense. What bothers me in poetic contexts is that the word is thrown about like emotional confetti (and with about as much direction) and it carries a vague kind of borrowing from that Christian use, a sort of piggy-back validation of its emptiness of meaning in virtually all poetic contexts. I'm hedging a bit; it might be possible to breathe life into this corpse--let's leave the door open a crack--but I doubt it. More to the point: why bother? Among languages, English has the largest vocabulary in the world and a rich poetic tradition almost 2000 years old. ; There's a world of exciting new possibilities in image and language for our poetry. Let Granny have her richly deserved rest.

Kevin
December 24th, 2017, 06:06 AM
Sprite is most probably a product of autocorrect- I'm pretty sure he meant to post 'spirit.

TuesdayEve
December 25th, 2017, 03:37 AM
Here’s a thought, just askin....if someone or several, where to
describe the/their soul without saying the word soul, would you know it?
Would you recognize what they meant? Or... would it mean more as
it would be showing not telling?

sas
December 25th, 2017, 01:47 PM
Here’s a thought, just askin....if someone or several, where to
describe the/their soul without saying the word soul, would you know it?
Would you recognize what they meant? Or... would it mean more as
it would be showing not telling?


I'd describe soul as non-existent, a term used egotistically by mankind. Such puffery.

Kevin
December 25th, 2017, 07:41 PM
How about a western non-western take on it?:

I looked upon the kitchen floor
like a swami I did see
a roach, wriggling, upended,
with a certain familiarity:
that wretch, your old Aunt Martha,
that went about with Raid...
seemed to me, a similarity
in movements that had stayed.