How do you interpret poetry?

Jane Nitschke
Poetry is a gift
Poetry Lifts the veil from the hidden beauty of the world, and makes familiar objects be as if they were
not familiar.
Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822), English poet. A Defense of Poetry (written 1821; published 1840)
A prose writer gets tired of writing prose, and wants to be a poet. So he begins every line with a capital
letter, and keeps on writing prose. ~Samuel McChord Crothers, "Every Man's Natural Desire to Be Somebody Else"
The Dame
School of Experience, 1920
Poetry is life distilled. ~Gwendolyn Brooks,
Harlem Renaissance poet
Jane Nitschke
How do you unwrap a poem?
•Look at a poem
•Read the poem. What can you find:
•Metaphors? Similes? Imagery?
Symbolism? Rhythm? Meter?
•Listen to a poem. Do you hear or feel:
•Rhythm? Rhyme?
•Fear? Sadness? Happiness? Anger?
Jane Nitschke
• compares two things using the words
“like” or “as”
• compares two things that are not similar.
• Example: She was as cool as a cucumber!
• compares two things but does NOT
use “like” or “as
• Can use the words “is” or “are.”
• Example: LOVE STINKS!
Jane Nitschke & Loretta Hunt
Symbolism & Imagery
Poets use images & symbols” to describe feelings
and impressions.
• Symbols stand for more than the words:
The United States,
Old Glory
• Images are descriptive
“My daughter’s hugs warm my heart”
Loretta Hunt
A boom of African American
Art, Music, and Literature in the 20’s and 30’s in
Harlem, New York
Jane Nitschke
Harlem Renaissance & Poetry
•What is the Harlem Renaissance and why is
it important?
Some amazing poets: Langston Hughes,
Countee Cullen, Gwendolyn B. Bennett and
Georgia Douglas Johnson, Claude McKay,
Arna Bontemps, James Weldon Johnson
Harlem Wine
By Countée Cullen
This is not water running here,
These thick rebellious streams
That hurtle flesh and bone past fear
Down alleyways of dreams
This is a wine that must flow on
Not caring how or where
So it has ways to flow upon
Where song is in the air.
So it can woo an artful flute
With loose elastic lips
Its measurements of joy compute
With blithe, ecstatic hips.
Loretta Hunt
"imagery" = mental pictures using your 5 senses
"symbolism" = the meanings those images have
beyond their literal elements.
Both are used to express emotions.
The wine symbolizes the blood of African
Images of flowing water, flesh, music…
Scanning “Harlem Wine”
The Pattern:
Each line alternates
iambic tetrameter
with iambic trimeter.
The Exception:
“This is a wine that
must flow on” (line 5)
“flow on” is a spondee
The Question:
Why did Cullen
choose to
emphasize the
words in line 5?
Janice Teel
The Rhyme Scheme
Question: If the poem were to
continue, can you predict the
rhyme scheme of the next stanza?
Janice Teel
Types of Rhyme
Perfect Rhymes
Sight Rhymes
Internal Rhymes
flow/how (also sight)
woo/loose (also slant)
Janice Teel
Enjambment occurs when a
sentence continues from one line to
the next.
That hurtle flesh and bone past fear
Down alleyways of dreams...(lines 3 4)
Questions: How does enjambment
emphasize words and ideas? How
many sentences do you see?
By Langston Hughes
Good morning, daddy!
Daddy could symbolize the
Ain't you heard
white patron that African
The boogie-woogie rumble
Americans relied on to pursue
Of a dream deferred?
their art.
Listen closely:
You'll hear their feet
Beating out and Beating out a -You think
It's a happy beat?
Listen to it closely:
Ain't you heard
something underneath
like a -What did I say?
I'm happy!
Take it away!
An example of musical Imagery used to express emotion of the
Hey, pop!
Loretta Hunt
Loretta Hunt
By Langston Hughes
(sometimes referred to as “Dream Deferred”)
Simile - likens the original dream
What happens to a dream deferred?
to a round, juicy, green, fresh grape
–once neglected it dries up
Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore— And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Imagery of touch; a wound
that is not healing symbolizes
Or crust and sugar over—like a syrupy sweet?
growing resentment
Maybe it just sags like a heavy load.
Imagery of taste, sight,
Or does it explode?
decay and waste
Metaphor: compares the dream
to something that blows up.
Jane Nitschke
Poetry is a gift
Examine the bright wrapping paper,
Carefully unwrap the tissue paper inside
Share the gift
of your poetry