Lesson 2 : The Play of Words
Your last lesson introduced you to the magical world of words that is poetry. This lesson expands your understanding of poetry by probing deeper into that world. You will read more about the techniques that poets use in order to convey their thoughts and feelings so that you will be able to interpret poems on your own.
* Identify figurative language used in a poem
* Distinguish between connotative and denotative meanings of words * Interpret a poem
Poets paint word pictures
When poets set out to describe a scene, an object, a bird or animal, they want us to be able to picture in our minds what they have seen. This is the artistry of poetry. The poet must find words, sounds, comparisons, rhythms and a structure that combine to stimulate our imagination to stimulate our imagination so that we can respond to what the poet has experienced.
Our response to a poem will also be affected by our own past experiences. The way we react to a poem is partly a reflection of who we are and how we feel.
Read the poem “Be specific” by Mauree Applegate and the discussion that follows. As you read, try to complete the short activities that are integrated within the discussion.
Don’t say you saw a bird; you saw a swallow,
Or a great horned owl, a hawk or oriole.
Don’t just tell me that he flew;
That’s what any bird can do;
Say he darted, circled, swooped, or lilted in the blue.
Don’t say the sky behind the bird was pretty;
It was watermelon pink streaked through with gold;
Gold bubbled like a fountain
From a pepperminted mountain
And shone like Persian rugs when they are old.
Don’t tell me that the air was sweet with fragrance;
Say it smelled of minted grass and lilac bloom;
Don’t say your heart was swinging;
Name the tune that it was singing,
And how the moonlight’s neon filled the room.
Don’t say the evening creatures all were playing;
Mention tree toad’s twanging, screeching fiddle notes.
Picture cricket’s constant strumming
To the mass mosquitoes humming
While the frogs are singing bass deep in their throats.
Don’t use a word that’s good for all the senses
There’s a word for every feeling one can feel
If you’d want your lines terrific
Then do make your words specific
For words can paint a picture that is real.
The messages brought by the senses.
Are among life’s greatest recompenses.
Techniques of the Poet
All the poets have to work with is words. They work hard to create wonderful images and ideas. In the poem, the poet tells us to use specific words. For example, look at stanza 1 line 2, which mentions breeds of birds swallow, horned owl, hawk or oriole instead of general words (birds).
Activity 1. Identify other examples from the poem of this technique. GeneralSpecific
Poets choose words because of their connotation (the idea or feelings evoked by a word) instead of merely their denotation (literal or dictionary meaning of a word). In the poem, the word gold in the 3rd stanza line 3 does not mean the precious metal used in jewelry. Instead it is used to evoke warmth especially since it is bubbling gold, a more vivid way of describing the sky.
A poet can use alliteration, assonance or onomatopoeia in order to create beautiful sounding words. Alliteration is the repetition of the same letter of sound at the beginning of two or more words in a line of poetry. For example, the second line in the 5th stanza repeats the letter “t”: tree toad’s twanging. Another example is the last line of the 6th stanza: paint a picture where the letter “p” is repeated. Assonance is the repetition of the same vowel sound followed by different consonant...