Does the poem stand alone from the poet?


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Thread: Does the poem stand alone from the poet?

  1. #1

    Does the poem stand alone from the poet?

    I made a remark in relation to Dylan Thomas about not liking alcoholics, although I do like a lot of his writing, and Clark observed that it is a big question, how much are the poet and his poems interrelated?
    What if 'Dulce decorum' had been written by a conscientious objector? Or 'Prufrock' by a lothario? Would it change the poem? How much does the poet impact on the poem?
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  2. #2
    It would be hard,{ for me} to separate the poet from his poetry... when I posted a poem about war, written by Wilfred Owen, and later learned from a comment Phil made, that Wilfred Owen lost his life in a war... for me, it made his poem heartbreaking... so ironic... I think one cannot help being in some way influenced by the history of the poet, seems to me the poet's life and his poetry are entwined...most of us write from personal life experiences or observations....

    should we separate the poet from his work? Probably... but poetry is different than other art forms...jmo, but poetry is more intimate than say... a painting or a sculpture...
    She lost herself in the trees,
    among the ever-changing leaves.
    She wept beneath the wild sky
    as stars told stories of ancient times.
    The flowers grew toward her light,
    the river called her name at night.
    She could not live an ordinary life,
    with the mysteries of the universe
    hidden in her eyes....
    Author: Christy Ann Martine

    Death leaves a heartache no one can heal,
    love leaves a memory no one can steal....
    Author unknown.

  3. #3
    I think it depends on the poem. Wilfred Owen being a soldier is relevant because he wrote war poetry, but I don't think it would matter so much if he wrote romantic poetry, or poetry about his dog. For me the significance is in the realism. Reading 'Dulce' I can see Owen writing it in a dark trench while poison gas drifts across No Man's Land. It creates an image that feels real, which is all a poem is designed to do in the end.

    This made me think of the controversy surrounding Morrisey, who despite being a pop star is often considered a 'poet'. I know a lot of people who have stopped listening to him purely because he's a racist. I also know a lot of people who haven't. I'm somewhere in the middle. His unpleasant views have affected my opinion of some of his work greatly, and all of his work slightly, but I can't say I'm not able to still listen to some of his songs without thinking 'bastard, bastard'.

    It doesn't massively bother me knowing Edgar Allan Poe was a pedophile, either. Not sure why. Maybe because it was so long ago and his generally oddball reputation makes it possible to fudge that fact - 'maybe he didn't actually have sex with her'. Maybe it's a moral failure on all our part?
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  4. #4
    ok, well maybe we are talking about 2 different scenarios... if a poet writes about just his life experiences, it most likely would sound more authentic... and would be difficult to separate that poet from his work.

    But knowing a poet was a serial killer writing love sonnets ... well, how could you NOT be just a tad biased...
    She lost herself in the trees,
    among the ever-changing leaves.
    She wept beneath the wild sky
    as stars told stories of ancient times.
    The flowers grew toward her light,
    the river called her name at night.
    She could not live an ordinary life,
    with the mysteries of the universe
    hidden in her eyes....
    Author: Christy Ann Martine

    Death leaves a heartache no one can heal,
    love leaves a memory no one can steal....
    Author unknown.

  5. #5
    I think therefore I am
    The only one who can heal you is you.




  6. #6
    We don’t need to know anything about a poet to appreciate his or her poetry. A poem is like a painting in that way. Everything we need to know about the poem is in the poem. The poem is not the poet. It is not an extension of the poet. The poem stands on its own as a work of art. Knowing something about the poet might help give us some historical context for the poem. But that is entirely outside the poem itself. Knowing something about the poet might aid us in analysis of the poems. But poems are not written to be analyzed. Wilfred Owen is a good example. It is apparent from his poetry that he was a soldier. He did not know when he wrote those poems that he would not survive the war. Knowing that he died may enhance our desire to read and absorb the poetry. But it doesn't change the poems or their intent.
    Last edited by TL Murphy; November 20th, 2019 at 07:10 AM.

  7. #7
    Well, maybe it's just me...but as humble human beings, can we really separate our own private emotions concerning the poet... I mean seriously, if we knew a writer was a child molester, might we read his poetry about the innocence of children differently?? I know I would...

    No, we do not NEED to know about the poet's life... but when we do.... well, it is bound to cause a bias...
    She lost herself in the trees,
    among the ever-changing leaves.
    She wept beneath the wild sky
    as stars told stories of ancient times.
    The flowers grew toward her light,
    the river called her name at night.
    She could not live an ordinary life,
    with the mysteries of the universe
    hidden in her eyes....
    Author: Christy Ann Martine

    Death leaves a heartache no one can heal,
    love leaves a memory no one can steal....
    Author unknown.

  8. #8
    Dulce is interesting in other ways, we have Owen's notebooks and it is apparent that he wrote it whilst home on leave, not in some dark trench. The other thing they tell us is that it was written over an eighteen month period. I am always rather sceptical about the 'Here's something I wrote last night' poets, producing something really good takes time. One of my favourite Wordsworth poems has parts that were written a bit over twenty years apart before they were adapted and amalgamated.
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    Hidden Content

    A thread of links useful to writers wishing to learn
    Piglet's picks. Hidden Content

  9. #9
    I first looked more closely at Dulce... when I chose it as one of the poems to dissect in an exam a few years ago. About a year ago I stumbled across an old, dilapidated book of Wilfred Owen's poems in a charity shop. It cost the Brit equivalent of about a dollar. Result!


  10. #10
    Olly -- You're diabolical, Olly Buckle! This thread will run to 300 posts. . .and fail to 'answer' the question. But what the hell! . . .all the questions worth asking can't be answered because we need mystery in our lives and, perhaps, the play of active minds probing the mysteries is the finest exercise of intellect/imagination. When we take on Theseus's famous "the poet' eye in a fine frenzy rolling/doth glance from . . ." we always focus our attention on the last part of the pronouncement, the functional part where he talks about how the poet takes common bits and pieces and creates something that never existed before. NO ONE wants to get into the 'trance' that begins it all, or the fact that the poet merely 'glances' ('tis enough!) to come to his extraordinary new fusions. That way might lie madness.

    I am torn. On the one hand, I reject the biographical/historical/sociological blurring endemic to Victorian literary criticism, perhaps exemplified by the work of George Saintsbury, a giant in the field, who continued writing until his death (I think) shortly before the rise of Hitler and the advent of WW II. Saintsbury did focus on the texts of poetry, or tried to, but he couldn't resist approaching literature as a crystallization of the cultural values from which it came, or relating key aspects of text to events in a poet's life or notable historical 'movements' to which a poet was responding. The various 'schools' of literary criticism dominant in the early decades of the 20th century also came to literature with the baggage of philosophical or sociological presuppositions which were then applied to text as a means of "understanding". The Marxist approach, the Psychoanalytical approach, the Biographical approach . . .and of course the radical New Criticism (IA Richards, Wm Empson in the 1930s and Cleanth Brooks in the 1950s), which looked on the poem in absolute isolation from everything but the text on the page.

    Pre-dating the New Critics is William Carlos Williams famous opening to his best-known poem (1923): "so much depends upon. . .", an important lead-in that IMO does not receive the attention it deserves as the preamble to the objects that comprise the poem. I look on that preamble as a hot knife slicing the modern era of criticism away from the centuries of criticism that preceded. I need to remind myself that poetry as Handmaiden to culture and history, and approached through those filters , has been the norm for most of human history. The poem as standalone Art is a relatively new idea and "so much depends" on our grasping the concept, opening our senses to the world around us, unencumbered with imposed values or beliefs.

    So, there's the very broad context within which I say I am "torn." A huge part of the way I write, read, and criticize poetry--huge--totally agrees with Tim (see post #6) that the poem must standalone. But Tim makes two statements that bring me up short. I do not know quite what to do with them . . .and I've been in this quandary for years. Tim says:
    • the poem is not an extension of the poet
    • knowing details of the poet's life "may enhance" our interest, but that doesn't "change the poems or their intent."

    On the first point, of course the poem is not an extension of the poet-as-person. It is very bad criticism to say "the sentiment in L4 is simply spillage from Joe's well-known Marxist leanings." SCA-REEM! The poem has just disappeared in the fog of my completely unsubstantiated projection. My reader is now thinking about Joe's politics, not the poem at all. BUT, though not a "projection" of the poet, the poem did not mysteriously drop from the sky, either. Am I forbidden as a critic from considering any aspect of the poet? His or her vulnerability in expressing the poem at all? Is ot there an aura of the poet's values tissued through the standalone poem? . . .wurra, wurra . . .

    The second point is even more problematic: " . . .the poems or their intent." (my emphasis) The poems themselves are not sentient. They do not have "intent". Only the poet can have 'intent'. And determining that intent from the text of the poem is vital to determining the gestalt of the poem, essential to determining how the pieces of the poem come together . . .and where they appear to be going. Does not this determining of Intent require me to "get inside the poet's head"? Or can I sidestep that accusation by arguing that i have proven Intent solely from the interlocked elements in the text and only the text.

    For me, getting a clearer sense of these two issues is at the heart of this thread.



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    "No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main . . . any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind. And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls -- it tolls for thee. " John Donne, Meditation XVII

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