Monday, September 29, 2008

A very public attempt...

At Understanding Poetry

I know very little about poetry. But I have been trying to understand the form. Some poems I get. Most I don’t. I often resort to what the others have said about the piece before making up my own mind. So much so, I no longer know what I instinctively feel about a piece. The next few posts will attempt to strip away with the noise and simply listen to my own senses. And you’re welcome to join in.

This is what we will do. I will post a piece of poetry without revealing who wrote it. Please resist temptation to google for the poet’s name and comment what you think of it. And let’s compare notes.

Here’s the first…

And Madonna, she still has not showed

We see this empty cage now corrode

Where her cape of the stage once flowed

The fiddler, he now steps on the road

He writes ev’rything’s been returned which was owed

On the back of the fish-trucks that loads

While my conscience explodes.

What do you think? Befuddling rhyming nonsense? Or some deep, deep philosophy?


Shrinivas Krishnamurthy said...

The medium of poetry in my opinion, is often used to express inner turmoil, undecidedness and every other emotion, while retaining a very cryptic and irritatingly indecipherable quality. These few lines somehow speak about restrictions and freedom, and of debt's (perhaps promises) being repaid. It is beyond me to decipher the fish trucks and the exploding conscience, hope you reveal the poet, looking forward to yours and others opinions on this snippet.

Shammi said...

I'll go with rhyming nonsense... although I'm sure there are those who will extrapolate some fundu meaning from ANYTHING! Including this :)

Akira said...

Ammani that makes us two. :D I will keep checking for more in this series in hope of reaching the goal that you have set for yourself.

I read the piece 4-5 times...but ah I don't think I understand it a tad bit :(( ...Some random thoughts

The poetry uses rhyming (doh!..isn't that obvious?)

Madonna = singer or Mother Mary?

The first four lines seem to be talking about something that was - then and now. But whats with the last line? Seems to me that suddenly a new character (the poet) is introduced...

I just cannot connect the dots.. :((

sriku: Wow!!..I am impressed..

Falstaff said...

It's gibberish, but it's 'visionary' gibberish. And a glorious song.

And I cannot believe there are actually people who do not know where this comes from. The education system is broken, I tell you, broken.

Anonymous said...

Drug induced trash.

"And I cannot believe there are actually people who do not know where this comes from. The education system is broken, I tell you, broken."

Another reason why people refuse to countenance poetry : because of pretentious homigod how-cool-I-ams who make remarks like this.

Add to other overhyped garbage like the Beatles.

Shrinivas Krishnamurthy said...

Dylan it is eh! I had to google it after people started blaming the education system :P Apologies to anyone upset by my ignorance. Although I think we can restrict our comments to the actual post itself, and attempt to draw out our understanding of Dylan's words. Lets turn the off-topic comments, er.. umm.. off.

Anonymous said...

Education system or not, i struggle with poetry. Looking fwd to more in this series Ammani

Anonymous said...

Figures... I dont like Bob Dylan :) OR David Bowie.

Shilpa Colluru said...

Dylan it might be but it made absolutely no sense to me.
It seems I don't get poetry either!

neha vish said...

On an average.. I get poetry.

But I will disagree with falstaff. For one thing, there is something called exposure. For a majority of us, we're first generation English poetry/ prose readers for "fun". We don't come from families where people generally lounge around and quote Keats to each other. Sure, they are erudie. But in biographies and factoids. Not in fiction, or poetry.

But I speak strictly for myself.

The discovery of poetry involves some amount of serendipity. And to a greater extent, the ability to contextualize and to empathize. Half of the pop-references from Dylan's works can be completely lost if you've never had the access to those pop articles in the first place.

This isn't drug induced trash. But it is relevant to its time and space and context. And the Beatles similarly are not overhyped either. They expressed a certain generation, in a certain space.

And nor is poetry some homogeneous thing - a giant undifferenciated blob of similar references. I am ranting.. Sigh.

Anonymous said...

Well i guess you must be happy with urself after this post, coz none of them seem to have even come close to explain the meaning of that poem. A complete tangent for me too :)

-- GM

Falstaff said...

neha: I'm not sure how you're disagreeing with me. For the record, I'm a first-generation poetry reader too - I doubt anyone in my immediate family can tell Keats from cummings. But that's precisely why we need an education system that helps people discover poetry, no? The discovery of poetry could be a lot less serendipitious if the education system provided the kind of exposure to poetry that poetry deserves. I don't come from a household where people sit around discussing differential calculus either - but I'm still expected to understand it, because the assumption is that I would have learnt it in school.

In any case, I wasn't really trying to make a serious point with my earlier comment - it was just a silly joke, brought on by sheer bewilderment that so many people would not recognize what to me is so standard a pop-reference.

For the record, I totally agree that poetry is not an undifferentiated blob, and think that attempts to understand poetry by picking extracts from here and there (and fairly mediocre extracts at that - Dylan's status as a serious poet is marginal at best) and attempting to analyze them out of context (and not just 'context' as in time and place, but the context of the text itself - Visions of Johannah is supposed to be an incoherent set of vaguely surreal, possibly drug-induced visions, so reading the lines here without knowing that is meaningless) is unlikely to yield any useful results, except to confirm people in their ignorant prejudices.

If you really want to understand poetry you need a good anthology, a primer on form / meter, a set of well-written critical essays and / or conversations with someone who actually does appreciate poetry. Which is to say, you need some way to approximate the education we should all have received, but didn't.

Space Bar said...

Ammani: Falstaff said "If you really want to understand poetry you need a good anthology, a primer on form / meter, a set of well-written critical essays and / or conversations with someone who actually does appreciate poetry. Which is to say, you need some way to approximate the education we should all have received, but didn't."

And it's something I wanted to ask you all day yesterday but didn't have time to. Why would you take a small portion of the lyrics of a song and put it up to ask if people thought it was 'poetry'?

If you wanted to create bafflement I can think of so many, many short poems you could have chosen that would have done the same thing: William Carlos Williams, Geoffrey Hill, heck - even Kolatkar would have had your readers asking if just breaking up what sounds like prose into little lines constitutes poetry.

This particular example you chose as your first one for the blog seemed to me (forgive me if I'm wrong) deliberately specious; chosen to prove that poetry is almost always incomprehensible and elitist.

Would you choose a whole poem, withhold the name and see where the discussion goes?

(I have to say I agree with Falstaff here: understanding poetry is not something that's achieved with one poem or even a few. It's a constant readjustment in the mind, slowly acquired and always provisional. I would also suggest a good anthology and a few essays. Plenty available on the net.)

austere said...


I liked this. I liked it before I read the comments/ discussion.
Nope- I wouldn’t know Dylan. Or Eliot.
Yes, that’s bad- just to set the stage- but read I can.

There’s music in the lines if you read them in your mind, in the cadence, the fall of words- I liked that.

The sense of irrevocable loss in the first three lines, of broken promises maybe, of the way things were and now are not, of aging and loss. I could see in my mind’s eye a derelict Opera House, the seats dust laden but Bach somewhere in the air, in dust trapped in the sunlight.

The fiddler- the performer or perchance the poet-moves on, to playing for himself, the crowds satiated, their dues paid, perhaps a plea to be left alone, hence “everything’s been returned that was owed”

That line about the conscience exploding maybe hints at some injustice that’s been done, maybe at the time and her whimsies.

(Back to lurking and g’reader)

Anonymous said...

I read the poem first. I dont think I got much. Yes rhyming. Sure. I was itching to google, but instead chose to read the comments. WOW such a debate. Finished reading them. Have heard of Bob Dylan, never read him, or remember any song!

So went back and re-read. Only now I could read the poem very clearly on two stands. (the only thing that has changed - could be my confidence - between the two reads! and I looked what exactly cape could mean in dictionary!!!)

I think first I read it as a soul departing/liberating from its body - a happy singer of a soul - fiddler - who celebrates life - but somehow fish trucks evoke stinkiness - why load the life's values into a fish truck - I felt a bit sad - but this could be a fisherman fiddler - and exit looks like a cape - an extension of land into the ocean - all this with an awake conscience - stretching itself into the depths of lives and freeing itself from its clutches - even though without the help of Madonna - the pure savior.

And I had my own sexy interpretation of it too!!! :) Madonna doesnt come, so all that he wrote in his fantasy explodes ... well well, I shouldnt go too far describing it ... You know it makes sense too ...

Some Tantric Liberation of the hippie world!!! :) ...

I loved it when the first meaning came to me, I felt silly happy with the second meaning!!! :)
Either way this song could be happy singing!

Bob Dylan Fans and good English poem critics forgive me!!! :)