Images are not just what we see. Imagery is any time that the poet appeals to any of your five senses. As the text points out, it can even capture a mood, a moment in all of its complexity. Imagism was a movement within poetry that occured within Modernism, an artistic movement that occured at the turn of the twentieth century that experimented heavily with the idea of art and what all counted as art and especially with traditional artistic forms and ideas. Poetry up until that point was traditionally used in a didactic manner, in other words, to teach a lesson. The poet was looked at as an arbiter of wisdom, a prophet giving society new perspectives and ideas. Modernists in general rejected this role but especially the imagists. The imagists wanted to focus instead on clear, objective subjects that did not teach a lesson or impart wisdom. They attempted to translate an image or even a moment. This was also the time of expressionists painters, like Picasso. Many people just saw a jumbled mess, but what the painters were trying to do was paint motion, to provide the feel of a moment and in that way provide an image through the perception of the mind. The mind doesn’t just see a still image. It has an experience, and that is what those painters wanted to express with their distorted images. Poets at that time wanted to do the same thing. They presented images in a way that attempted not to teach a lesson but show human consciousness having an experience with a moment. William Carlos Williams was one of these poets who experimented with imagism. You can read his poem on page 670, titled simply “poem.” The speaker watches a cat moving and tries to relate the experience of seeing the cat as well as the cat’s movement. (Notice also the use of the word “pit.” Remember that is a word with strong connotative value that I pointed out. This poem was one that I had in mind when speaking about the word. If you changed that from pit into something else, it would change the image and the poem. Our connotations with the word “Pit” are of precariousness and danger and the use of this word helps accentuate the gracefulness of the cat.) Images convey mood and feeling and can move from beutiful to frightening as they do so gracefully in Matthew Arnold’s “Dover Beach” on page 674. Images are very important in poetry and a great way to dig into a poem and expand the meaning of it. As I said in the previous discussion board, since poems are so short, it is even more important not to focus on the poem as a whole, but to take all of these different pathways via these elements in order to expand the meaning of the poem. Poets craft their lines very carefully and use their words and images very purposefully. Next week we are going to look at larger structures like figures of speech: metaphors, similes, etc. and then on to symbolism, but before you get to these larger ideas, you can focus on the words and images themselves and work your way out to symbolism and metaphor. That is how you open up a poem. By focusing on larger general ideas first, you take away a lot of opportunity for analysis of the more minute and subtle poetic elements. You can get away with that more in short fiction but not so much in poetry. By speaking generally about the whole poem and the meaning of the entire poem, you steal words from yourself. I can say this until I am blue in the face, but students will go on to speak about the poem as a whole anyway instead of focusing on the smaller pieces like words and images. Try discipline yourself to start small. I will give you an example of looking at imagery below:
The poem on page 677 called “Crocuses,” which is a type of flower, does that thing I was talking about above in reference to Arnold’s poem “Dover Beach.” The poet starts with something beautiful and slowly switches the tone of the poem with the images by turning the images into something more terrible.
In her poem “Crocuses,” Ruth Fainlight uses imagery to show the vulnerability of human beings. Flowers are how the poem begins. The title and the use of words like “stems” (line 1) make us think of flowers. Flowers are known for their beauty but also their delicateness. This continues with the word “petals” and “shivering” (line 3). In this way, the author plants an image in our minds of delicacy and tender beauty, capable of being trampled any moment but also being admired. However, the author switches all of the sudden to showing us that these are not flowers at all but human beings. This switch keeps the ideas and images already planted (no pun intended), which makes the pain awaiting these human beings all the more graphic. The imagery assaults our minds in this way like the soldiers assault the pitiful creatures they have “herded” (line 6) like animals.
This poem not only has strong uses of imagery but of connotation and denotation. Try to access the poem with these elements and see what you find. Notice how the use of particular words enhance the imagery and ultimately the metaphor used here.
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