I'm sharing a poem that I read on The Writer's Almanac this morning by Billy Collins, who really is a genius. I was first introduced to him by my friend Tiffany, and have been grateful to her ever since. The thing that I especially like about this poem is that I've often wondered the same thing while struggling through an English class - how am I suppose to know what the poet meant when he/she wrote this line? Only the author can really know that, and according to Billy maybe not even him. Here it is:
by Billy Collins
Would anyone care to join me
in flicking a few pebbles in the direction
of teachers who are fond of asking the question:
"What is the poet trying to say?"
as if Thomas Hardy and Emily Dickinson
had struggled but ultimately failed in their efforts—
inarticulate wretches that they were,
biting their pens and staring out the window for a clue.
Yes, it seems that Whitman, Amy Lowell
and the rest could only try and fail
but we in Mrs. Parker's third-period English class
here at Springfield High will succeed
with the help of these study questions
in saying what the poor poet could not,
and we will get all this done before
that orgy of egg salad and tuna fish known as lunch.
Tonight, however, I am the one trying
to say what it is this absence means,
the two of us sleeping and waking under different roofs.
The image of this vase of cut flowers,
not from our garden, is no help.
And the same goes for the single plate,
the solitary lamp, and the weather that presses its face
against these new windows--the drizzle and the
So I will leave it up to Mrs. Parker,
who is tapping a piece of chalk against the blackboard,
and her students—a few with their hands up,
others slouching with their caps on backwards—
to figure out what it is I am trying to say
about this place where I find myself
and to do it before the noon bell rings
and that whirlwind of meatloaf is unleashed.
"The Effort" by Billy Collins, from Ballistics. © Random House, 2008.
PS - You should go to today's Writer's Almanac page for a very interesting story on Margaret Mitchell and Gone With the Wind.