A Frequent Misconception of Poetic Language

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  • Topic: Poetry, Emily Dickinson, Syllable
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  • Published : April 19, 2007
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A Frequent Misconception…

A frequent misconception of poetic language is that a poet always seeks the most beautiful or noble sounding words. What they really seek are the most meaningful words, and these vary from one context to another. Language has many levels and verities, and poets may choose from all of them. Their words may be grandiose or humble, fanciful or matter-of-fact, romantic or realistic, archaic or modern, technical or conventional, monosyllabic or polysyllabic. Usually a poem has a driving tone. The words of Emily Dickinson's "There is no Frigate like a book" and those of Thomas Hardy's "The Man He Killed" are chosen from quite different areas of language, but both poets have chosen the words most meaningful for context of the work. It is always important to determine the level of diction employed in a poem, for it may provide clear insight into the purpose of the poem by helping to characterize the speaker. Sometimes a poet may import a word from one area of language into a poem composed mostly of words from a different area. The word "`Ere" in "Remembrances" is inserted in such a skillful way that it results in shock and surprise, greatly enhancing the meaning for the reader. "Remembrances"

author unknown

I woke in a cloud
Of thick melancholy, and
`Ere I saw, I wept.

"Here are two versions of the same poem by Walter de la Mare. One of them was published in 1941. The other appeared nine years later, when de la Mare included it in a book."
"Slim Cunning Hands"

Slim cunning hands at rest, and cozening eyes—
Under this stone one loved to wildly lies;
How false she was, no granite could declare;
Nor all earth's flowers, how fair.

"The Stone"

Folded hands and darkened eyes—
Here one loved to well now lies;
What her name was, Stone, declare;
Thou could'st not say how fair!

"Slim Cunning Hands" and "The Stone" are supreme examples of how the many varieties of language open to poets...
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