How Do Poems Use Language to Create Imaginary Worlds?
Poppies by Mary Oliver and A Martian Sends A Postcard Home by Craig Raine, with the use of unconventional metaphors and extremely detailed observation encourage us to look upon the ordinary in a way that leads us to explore our own human nature. Unexpected connections between a previously ordinary object and something that at first seemed totally unrelated can paint a picture of another context within which we can better examine our own existence (Hirsch).
This is demonstrated quite well in A Martian Sends A Postcard Home in nearly every stanza, with the alien viewpoint of everyday things leading to considerable thought about the things we take for granted. The line, “At night, when all the colours die” is a particularly vivid way of describing day turning to night and implies the alien land must be either bright all the time or of another dimension where night and day have no meaning.
Similarly, Poppies describes a field of flowers in terms that evoke the passage of life itself, with lines such as, “Of course nothing stops the cold, black, curved blade from hooking forward— of course, loss is the great lesson” describing night falling, the death of a flower as it wilts and the blade of a scythe, invoking images of the Grim Reaper (Wu). All these observations are made as metaphors as opposed to similes, forcing the reader to consider each point as being the same thing as that which it is being compared to.
In doing so, the reader is actually is involved in surmising the meaning of the passage through the metaphor, in collaboration with the author (Hirsch). This allows the reader to have a deeper connection with the work than merely taking in what the author is putting across, in a way that encourages extensive internal processing of the ideas more than just a literal and factual description of the ideas the author wanted to portray may have.
In Poppies, when Oliver says, “…that light is an invitation to happiness…” the reader is invited to think about not just poppies in a field but their own life and how they have the opportunity to make the best of the life they lead before the “curved blade” of the night (Wu). In a slightly different vein, A Martian Sends A Postcard Home is suggesting that we pay closer attention to the world around us, a world in which “Mist is when the sky is tired of flight and rests its soft machine on he ground” and also provokes feelings of nostalgia of when the reader was young and looked up at the clouds, the “soft machines”, for long periods, looking at them in a new way (Williams 454). The poets also have an eye for incredible detail in the world around us that they use to paint a picture of a scene in layers, allowing the reader to form a three dimensional picture of the scene in their head in vivid detail.
In Poppies, for example, the one field of poppies is focused on in at almost every angle; the way they sway in the wind, the way the shine, their “yellow hair” and “rough and spongy gold” leading to almost a baptism of flowers, “washed and washed in the river of earthly delight”. This seeming progression of wonder, joy, light and rebirth through the steady application of description after description of the one object (the field of poppies) give the reader pause to think on their own progression through life.
With the occasional interjection about the “darkness” and the “deep, blue night” we are reminded that death is looming but it is the happiness we can create beforehand that is important, and we should pay attention to that detail (Wu). A Martian Sends A Postcard Home does not have, on the surface, as much of a singular message to communicate; it presents us with a series of common-day objects perceived through an alien lens as completely new and how they would appear to a being with no frame of reference.
However, it is precisely this alien frame of reference that gives the reader a connection between their observations and their inner thoughts. Lines such as, “Adults go to a punishment room with water and nothing to eat”, though describing the base act of going to the toilet in a humorous manner also can lead to reflection on the nature of punishment and our own frame of reference for all things around us which we observe when we don’t quite understand their context.
It encourages the reader to reach harmony between our “inner selves” and the universe around them, which some argue is the entire function of poetry itself. Both these poems utilize this detail to create a living imaginary world for the reader to consider the ideas put forth within (Couch 12). In conclusion, when both metaphor and detail are brought together in this way, with the poetic language that is employed in the two pieces, a powerful representation of “truth” and “harmony” is communicated to the reader in a way that possibly the standard prose form cannot.
In this essay I have shown how the poets, by including the reader in the process of forming the ultimate meaning of what they are reading by the use of metaphor, together with painting their descriptions in great detail but in such a way that obscures instant recognition of what is being described, lead the reader to deeper thought about the issues raised and about their own humanity as it relates to the world around them. Works Cited Couch, Arthur Thomas.
Poetry. New York: E. P. Dutton, 1914. Print. Hirsch, Edward. “Metaphor: A Poet is a Nightingale by Edward Hirsch . ” Poetry Foundation. N. p. , 23 Jan. 2006. Web. 7 Oct. 2012. . Williams, David G. “Elizabeth Bishop and the ‘Martian’ Poetry of Craig Raine and Christopher Reid. ” English Studies: A Journal of English Language and Literature 78. 5 (1997): 451-458. Print. Wu, Alexis. “Mary Oliver’s Poppies. ” alexiswupoetry. N. p. , n. d. Web. 7 Oct. 2012. .