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What this simple scheme tells us is that words come before meaning, words give rise to meaning.
It seems that today's readers of poetry are other poets.
(And if "hell is other people" - as Sartre would have it - how could other poets be the salvation of poetry?
I called the one most people assume to be true the Expressive Theory, and I called the one I still think is true the Creative Theory.
According to both, of course, "things are what we say they are." But in the case of the Expressive Theory the emphasis is on "are" ("things are what we say they are"), whereas in the case of the Creative Theory the emphasis is on "say" ("things are what we say they are").
One problem that lots of people have with poetry is that poets don't "tell it like it is," they use strange and incomprehensible language, full of "quaint and curious" metaphors (not to mention metonymies and synecdoches). The same old same old deadens our senses and our perceptions, so that using the same old words for new feelings would render the new feelings prematurely old.
Poets use new metaphors (or put things in new perspectives) in an attempt to make us see and feel things as if for the first time.The difference between such commonplaces and "difficult" poetry is a difference in degree and not in kind.One way I used to illustrate this in beginning literature classes was by means of a comparison between a popular song and a poem that students might have found too difficult to understand.In a good poem the head is the head of the heart, even as it is the heart that gives life to the head. emotions recollected in tranquility," whereas for Shelley poets were the "unacknowledged legislators of the world." Coleridge was perhaps the most ambitious in asserting that in writing poetry the human mind imitates the divine mind in a god-like act of creation (by a kind of human fiat, which is thus an imitative repetition of its original counterpart).And this is true even if we accept Pascal's famous dictum about the heart having reasons that reason will not understand. For Alexander Pope, for example, the essence of it came from what "oft was thought but never so well expressed," for Wordsworth it was a matter of the "overflow of powerful feelings . My own attempt at getting at the essence of poetry will be more humble: poetry is the creation of meaningful beauty (or beautiful meaning) by means of words, which thus both create and express who or what we are.We even interpret our most important experiences (like falling in love) in terms of the words our culture uses to talk about them.When I taught my composition courses in college, I presented my classes with two theories about the relationship between language and reality.They renew the old so that we may, like children, have that sense of wonder again about what's around us or in us, for that matter.Of course, famous poems, poems that we love and perhaps even know by heart ("knowing by heart" is an interesting phrase, is it not?Trying to define poetry is probably a useless enterprise. There are no limits as to the subject matter of poetry (today's poets even use so-called obscene language in their poems).Whatever our human hearts and minds can contemplate or brood over or entertain (pun intended? Love & death & sex & marriage - even the price of tea in China. This was especially evident in the nineteenth century.