Nov 06 2010
In response to Friday’s poem by Wendell Berry, a few people commented that they read it as a meditation on the path to a mature and peaceful sense of mortality, something not really touched on in my own notes about the poem. I think Wendell Berry would entirely approve of that way of understanding his poem. Throughout his series of Sabbath poems, there is both an exploration of Sabbath as spiritual rest, but also, yes, Sabbath as the rest at the end of a lived life… with the natural world often teaching us these great lessons not as easily learned amidst human concerns.
This is one more reminder that my commentary on any particular poem should not be taken as all-encompassing or the one “right” way to understand it. Poems, by the elastic nature of their language, have no single, fixed meaning or correct interpretation. Even the when the poet himself has a fixed meaning in mind when writing the poem, the moment that poem is shared it expands in meaning.
I like to read a poem the way I try to understand a dream: It is layered with meaning. Ask yourself a question and then look at the poem — it will suggest a meaning to you. Ask yourself a different question and reread the same poem — you will discover a different meaning. Return to the poem five years later and discover a new meaning again. Poems change with us.
It is my hope that the thoughts and observations and occasional tangents I include with each poem inspire you to connect more deeply with the poem or be touched by it in some unexpected way. But my commentary is only one possible entranceway into the world opened by each poem. Never hesitate to claim a different understanding of a poem, even one contrary to mine. It’s not so important what I say about a poem; it is in your own personal experience of the poem that is where the magic happens!