Imagery often forms the heart and soul of poetry. I cannot emphasize enough how
important it is for you to be able to speak or write precisely about the imagery
of a poem. To begin, examine the categories of imagery provided by Perrine (page 55):
Remember, however, that "We cannot evaulate a poem... by the amount or quality of
its imagery alone. Sense impression is only one of the elements of experience. Poetry
may attain its ends by other means. We should never judge any single element of a poem except
in reference to the total intent of the poem" (57-8).
Oliver offers an additional term, "texture," (pp 92-99) to name what imagery creates in
a poem. How do you understand the "texture" of a poem? How would you describe the
"texture" of Donne's poem for today?
I appreciate Perrine's commonsense attitude toward understanding figures of speech and
the centrality of the metaphor. Let us focus our attention on understanding metaphor
in as complete a way as we can, and let the other details of naming fall into place
where they may.
Perrine offers us the distinction of four forms of metaphors, to be categorized
according to whether their literal and figurative terms are explicit or implied. These
are useful distinctions in helping us understand the meaning of a poem, and so I believe
we should try to use them (pp. 71-3).
First form : : both literal and figurative terms explicit
Second form : : literal term explicit, figurative term implicit
Third form : : literal term implicit, figurative term explicit
Fourth form : : literal and figurative terms implicit
Use Perrine's discussion of Dickinson's "It sifts from Leaden Sieves" to distinguish
metaphoric forms (p. 72-3).
Finally, keep in mind the REASONS why a metaphor or other figurative language might be
effective. It is one thing to identify the figure; it is another and more important step
to be able to say how it contributes meaning to a poem. Consider the following reasons
"Figurative language affords us imaginative pleasure" (77).
"Figures of speech are a way of bringing additional imagery into verse, of making the
abstract concrete, of making poetry more sensuous" (78).
"Figures of speech are a way of adding emotional intensity to otherwise merely
informative statements and of conveying attitudes along with information" (78).
"Figures of speech are an effective means of concentration, a way of saying much in
a brief compass" (78).
Oliver offers several examples of appropriate and inappropriate language for poetry. These
can offer you clues in evaluating poems that you read. What is the difference, for example,
between a metaphor that is dead and one that is alive with electricity?
Remember the concept of "negative capability" discussed by Oliver on 80-84 for our
discussion of Keats. Why is the concept of negative capability significant for good poetry?