Thursday, July 19, 2012

Basic Elements Can Have Advanced Effects On Interpretation

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Aaron Allison

English Composition II

Mr. Todd Sukany

1 May 00

Basic Elements Can Have Advanced Effects On Interpretation

A poem is only appreciated as well as it is interpreted. Poets apply and use different elements to affect the interpretations of a particular poem. In “Mirror” and “To A Daughter Leaving Home,” the poets of each of these poems use the elements of imagery, tone, and symbolism to mold the way their reader decodes the message of their poems.

Imagery is a widely used literary tool in all forms of poetry. A reader can appreciate imagery because it is a representation of something they can recognize using one of the five senses (Sagan ). Imagery is a very basic concept to comprehend in literature, and that is why it is easy for the reader to recognize an object, a taste, smell, or sound and attribute meaning to it. Poets can use imagery to either define a concrete meaning in their poetry, or to perhaps entail a hidden meaning lying in a simile or metaphor. In “Mirror,” the poet uses metaphors to directly relate what the mirror is saying about itself (Plath 74). In the first stanza, the mirror claims to be the four-cornered eye of a god, something that reflects not cruelty, but truth; the mirror states in the second stanza that it has become a lake. The reader may associate a relationship in the first stanza that the mirror is an idol that is worshipped, and therefore is like a god, or in the second stanza, when it states ‘I am now a lake,’ a mental image of a vast body of water surges in the reader’s mind, perhaps used to drown something in. In “To A Daughter Leaving Home,” the poet uses the entire poem (as in a mental image or snapshot) as a memory of a happier time (Pastan 4). Imagery is very important in this poem because it is told as a fond memory; the reader actually gets to see what the poet is thinking because the poet puts the reader into her own unique mindset. The images used bring very concrete meanings to the forefront of the reader’s mind; the only ‘hidden’ meaning found in this poem is a simile found in the last five lines, “the hair flapping behind you like a handkerchief waving goodbye,” and the poet makes sure that not only is this simile easy to understand, but it correlates well with the title of the poem as well, and interconnects the meaning of both the title and the memory. Imagery is a powerful tool that can bring meaning to almost every word in a poem.

Symbolism is also a powerful tool used by many poets, and can incorporate multiple meanings with images to create deeper interpretations. The reader should not necessarily define symbolism as the use of similes or metaphors (Miller 4). Symbols not only make comparisons of two dissimilar things, but the association established in the two dissimilar things yields a meaning that is both literal and figurative (4). The double entendre presented here usually is obvious to the reader, but sometimes is meant for a select few, as in a specified audience. Symbols can be used in terms of making various points to the reader throughout the poem, or simply using the poem as one large symbol for the reader to associate a meaning to. Quentin Miller, of Suffolk University, sums up the function and meaning of symbols as thus,

A symbol works two ways It is something itself, and it also suggests something deeper. …No symbols have absolute meanings, and, by their nature, we cannot read them at face value. Rather than beginning an inquiry into symbols by asking what they mean, it is better to begin by asking what they could mean, or what they have meant. (4)

In “Mirror,” the mirror states that in her, a woman “…has drowned a young girl, and in me an old woman rises toward her day after day…” (Plath 74). The mirror uses the previously stated lake metaphor as a means to create a symbol of the aging process. The process is showed as being slow and gradual, in terms of occurring day by day, but still shows the aging of a young girl maturing into an old woman. In “To A Daughter Leaving Home,” the girl in the poem leaves her mother behind for the first time as she rides solo on her bicycle (Pastan 5). The memory in the poem is used to create a past symbol of what is occurring at the present time of the writing of the poem, the daughter is now grown up and leaving home. The analogy of the bicycle ride is very important in its symbolic nature of what is occurring at the time of the poem’s writing; mother and daughter were riding together on the park path until the daughter realized she could be just fine on her own, and now she is leaving her mother’s protection to live her life out on her own. Symbolism is an effective literary tool in that it gives a very important figurative meaning to what would otherwise be considered a literal interpretation.

Tone is also a powerful tool in conveying the correct interpretation to the reader. Tone, in essence, is the attitude of the poet, or speaker, about the subject. When the reader reads the poem, the implied tone used to write the words on the page will become apparent by creating a mood in the mind of the reader (Hammer 75-6). Poets, like actors or singers, can write or say the same phrase in many different ways to get across different meanings (Kennedy 11). The meaning of the literature can be totally lost if either the wrong tone is used, or the correct tone did not get across to the reader. In “Mirror,” the speaker is the mirror itself, reflecting on what it has done over the last several years in the house it has been hung in (Plath 74). The tone of this poem is reflective (just like a mirror) and somewhat sad, but not regretful. The tone used by the mirror produces the idea to the reader that the mirror has feelings, but does not let them affect what the mirror believes is the truth, that the mirror refuses to be biased towards anything. In “To A Daughter Leaving Home,” the speaker is the mother, reflecting on a memory of her and her daughter together (Pastan 4). The tone of this poem is also reflective, sad, and not regretful either. The mother is in essence reminding her daughter that she is ready to leave her mother’s side and begin her new independent life away from home, and the tone used conveys a message of a sort of “remember when” style. The tone used in a poem can have a direct effect on what the reader determines is the meaning of the poem.

Tone, symbolism, and imagery are all integral parts of the interpretations of both “Mirror” and “To A Daughter Leaving Home.” Combining these elements together allows the reader to understand the meaning of the poem that the writer had originally intended. Unlocking the writer’s true meaning of the poem is the reader’s key to appreciating all of the intricacies found therein.

Works Cited

Sagan, Miriam. “Stalking the Poetic Image.” Writer 106. (1) .

Plath, Sylvia. “Mirror.” Literature Structure, Sound, and Sense. Ed. Thomas R. Arp. Washington, D.C.

International Thomson Publishing, 1. 74.

Pastan, Linda. “To A Daughter Leaving Home.” Literature Structure, Sound, and Sense. Ed. Thomas R.

Arp. Washington, D.C. International Thomson Publishing, 1. 4-5.

Miller, Quentin, Suffolk University. 1 May 00.


Hammer, Langdon. “Frank Bidart and the Tone of Contemporary Poetry.” Southwest

Review 87.1 (00) 75 1.

Kennedy, X. J., ed. Literature An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, and Drama. 4th ed. Boston Little,

Brown, and Company, 187.

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