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Billy Collin’s poem, Introduction to Poetry, dramatizes conflict of poets’ frustration when their work is overanalyzed instead of being enjoyed. More specifically, this poem’s narrator stresses the author’s intent of providing open-ended messages when writing poetry while audiences fail to appreciate poetry properly, instead seeing them as intellectual burdens. This struggle is shown by the shocking personifications and imagery in the final two stanzas of “[tying] the poem to a chair with rope/and [torturing] a confession out of it… and [torturing] a confession out of it.” These highly charged descriptions show how disappointed poets become when they realize that their poetry stresses student readers in understanding the poems rather than taking time to enjoy the poems.
The first and second stanzas provide sensory imagery to reflect the variety of poetry there is in the world. By using visual imagery to note that students “hold [poems] up to the light/like a color slide” or auditory imagery like “[pressing] an ear against its hive,” the poem’s persona illustrates how subjective poems can be. Similar to how there are millions of colors, there are millions of interpretations for poems and one should be excited by all these possibilities instead of draining oneself to find the “one true meaning.” This painful but pointless search for the supposed one true meaning that literary persons prescribe is further outlined by comparing readers’ analyses to “[dropping a mouse] and watching him probe his way out.” This metaphor effectively explains how lost readers are when examining poetry. Currently, poetry is a labyrinth to many readers, which can be great for rereading and trying new options to discover new interpretations like “[feeling] the walls for a light switch” but should also be avoided because of the confusion audiences dislike. The particular usage of “switch” emphasizes how poems can change meaning and expose new details the more times one reads it.
The poem’s persona directly states their purpose for poetry by “[wanting] them [the readers] to waterski across the surface of a poem.” The diction of “waterski” demonstrates how audiences should enjoy the poem for what it is, on-the-surface like a wave, and under-the-surface like the ocean but not systemically dive deep into the ocean right away. Readers should wade through the waves for a while first and fully absorb the poem’s beauty first and then take on the fun of individualistic analysis, as highlighted by the comparison to the exciting sport of waterskiing.
The poem finally features unique structural features such as multiple short stanzas and free verse. The lack of rigid organization or adherence to a rhyme scheme may imply the freeness that poets want to express in their works, that each poem can have multiple meanings and should not be boiled down into one particular analysis, unlike how some teachers or professors would force students to “dig deeper” for meaning that was never really there. The narrator, who probably reflects Collins himself, wants to reveal that their poems are not meant to trick readers but to provide a sense of enjoyment. It is even simply feels free to skip lines so often rather than keeping the long complete sentences required by proper English grammar. All in all, this poem conveys that making effortful unnecessary reaches as to what each line means can disrespect the purpose of a poem, which is to find one’s own meaning for leisure.
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