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zombo's avatar

Why do poets sometimes have hidden messages in their poems?

Asked by zombo (132points) March 11th, 2008 from iPhone
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12 Answers

Riser's avatar

It applies a deeper value to the work. For example:

When I write my characters always have names that mean something, like main character’s love interest is David Lennon, in their respective languages they are translated Beloved Lover.

No will will watch it knowing “David Lennon” means “Beloved Lover” but I will and my work becomes valuable in my eyes.

paulc's avatar

For lazily under the hedge, Edgar reclined looking over vindaloo entrées.

I slaved over that so you better get my bloody hidden message.

gailcalled's avatar

Ah, Paul, Eye heart ewe to.

iSteve's avatar

Because they can!!!

Randy's avatar

Maybe its because all poets are held prisoners and so to make the effort to escape they put secret messages in their work in hopes that someone will realize what they mean and come rescue them. Lol, I ment that literally but I guess it could be something similar to some of them.

cwilbur's avatar

The idea that working out what the hidden message of the poem is, so that then you can go on to the next one, is a particularly pernicious fraud that is entirely the responsibility of bad high school English teachers.

Good poems say what they mean in several ways at the same time, and sometimes what they mean is subtle and nuanced.

gailcalled's avatar

And following cwilbur’s wise (as always) comment, I would add that all wonderful poems have layers of subtext which include not only language but meter and form. Frost and Auden said that meter was always more interesting to them than the words.

The bible, for those interested, is;


cwilbur's avatar

Oh, I’d have said that the authority was The New Book of Forms, by Lewis Turco.

And I suspect Auden and Frost were overstating the case. The words are the warp; the meter is the weft. You need both of them together to have a poem.

Look at – “Going, going” by Philip Larkin. There’s a magical bit in the next to last stanza, where he writes: “And that will be England gone / The shadows, the meadows, the lanes / The guildhalls, the carved choirs”—and the tripping triple rhythm of the first two lines comes to a thudding stop with “carved choirs.” The meter reiterates what the words say.

Or, to take examples from the two people who claim meter is more important—Auden’s “Musee des Beaux-Arts.” I’ll not claim that the meter in this poem is unimportant, but there doesn’t seem to be a regular meter; the stresses don’t seem to recur with any particular pattern. (It wouldn’t surprise me if it were some Greek or Latin meter that I’m just not recognizing, especially given the content of the poem, though.)

And Frost – this may not be a counterexample, but when he writes “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall / That sends the frozen ground-swell under it” (“Mending Wall,” he’s using the meter in the service of the words. The poem is fairly regular iambic pentameter, but that brilliant first word—“SOMEthing”—is the reverse of what the meter calls for.

None of these metric things are hidden messages; the message the poet wants you to read is right there in the words. But they reinforce the message elegantly.

gailcalled's avatar

Ah, cwilbur. I have both Fussell and Turco in front of me. In PF’s first chapter, first page; he quotes Auden. “Themes and subjects for poems, Auden maintains, are less interesting to the real poet than technique, and ‘all my life,’ he says, ‘I have been more interested in poetic technique than anything else.’

And ‘Every poet has his dream reader; mine keeps a look out for curious prosodic fauna like bacchics and choriambs.”

I use the Form-Finder Index in Turco all the time, but rarely the rest of it.

And you are absolutely right about Frost’s use of the variations from iamb.pent. to make a poetic point. Whenever I reread Frost, I start w. the scansion. That is hidden information until one learns about it. And a wordless poem would certainy be an oddity.

gailcalled's avatar

And “Musee des Beaus-Arts,” along w. the painting Icarus by Pieter Brueg(h)el the Elder have powerful meanings in my life, so your choice of that gave me a frisson..

tiffyandthewall's avatar

if you can’t hide your message in a poem, where can you hide it?
i swear that wasn’t meant as a riddle, but as soon as i typed it, the other part of my brain that used to listen to the police too often wanted me to answer it with “in a bottle!”

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