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Tone or Interpretation?
Today in class we dove down on the topic of what tone can do to a poem. I believe that tone is directly related to interpretation, but like we said today by doing research there is fact behind some poetry and it is not left to the readers imagination. My though here is, do you think that even with research poetry can still have hidden meaning? and if so how far do you think one should or can go with assumptions about the piece?
Today we talked about how tone changes the way a poem is interpreted. Sylvia Plath's poem 'Cut' was morbid as is, and then when you read it in a psychotic way, it became even more creepy. However because we knew her back story, and what she was like, it didn't have the same effect it would have has we no prior information about her. The tone impacts the interpretation for this reason. Or maybe the interpretation impacts the tone?
Poetry is great in a way that we will never truly understand the depth or perception of the words given. In a way poetry is like a code of emotion, hiding multiple meanings in one line or a couple lines. Research will only do so much. Everyone will perceive a poem in their own way, and that's great! No matter how far you go there will still be a path that reaches further out. With a poem you might never know the "true" meaning, but you will always have your first initial take on it. Its almost as if poetry is a choose your own ending sort of game. The way you interpret it is based not only on the authors writing and grammar but how you might feel at that time. I believe there are many external factors that can lead you to interpret a piece in multiple ways. There is not one right answer to poetry, like I said its almost as if its a way of coding a secret or in capturing a certain emotion the author felt writing the piece.
Research is nothing compared to the depth of a poem. Its not as if its a topic out of a textbook, its human emotion in short stanzas. The amount of research dosent really compare to how you interpret a piece. Its hard to capture a poem in just facts. You may find some facts but there will always be meaning that we will never find in that piece.
Assumptions are great when it comes to poetry. Make as many as you would like and talk to people about your ideas. Like I said everyone will perceive a piece in a slightly different way. Putting these ideas together just further unlock some more of those unknown meanings. Poetry is like a black hole at times. Can we really decide on one meaning of a certain piece? How do we all agree on one meaning?
I think that in poetry there is illicit purpose and meaning in each work. There is always a reason that poem was written, explicit or not. It is valuable to see the author's perspective and their background and what writing the poem meant to them. As readers we can see that, sometimes more clearly in certain works than others. I find poetry to be similar to paintings, and painting I have more experience in. When I see a painting, my first impression is what it means to me. Maybe, it was made to sit in an officers parlor. Maybe, it was an emotional expressions of a person in a dark time. But I don't see that at first, I only see what I can relate about my life to that piece. I think that poetry works in a very similar way, and perhaps in some pieces of poetry the author's tone is more valid than mine. On the flip side, perhaps the author's tone is trivial in a different work. If I were to read a poem about class struggles or racial divides it would be pertinent to understand where the author comes from and to interpret their poem in the tone they addressed the topic in. For a poem describing the intricacies of a certain leaf, I think how I address it is okay. My belief is that the importance of tone or interpretation is circumstantial. Do you think that the author's tone should always influence the readers interpretation?
I think that since we knew the mental state of Sylvia Plath the poem we read was made more meaningful. It was easier and more clear on what her purpose was by knowing her background. This may seem like kind of a stretch, but thinking about the background of writers playing into interpretations, it made me think of this band Linkin Park. For those of you unfamiliar with the band, their lead singer commited suicide a few years ago. I don’t know much about them but I do remember hearing one of the songs he had written before he died, called “Heavy”. At the time, the lyrics seemed yes, upsetting lyrics, but it’s just a song. Once he died, hearing the song again I saw a deeper, more serious meaning. For example, here is some of the first verse,
"I don't like my mind right now
Stacking up problems that are so unnecessary
Wish that I could slow things down
I wanna let go but there's comfort in the panic
And I drive myself crazy
Thinking everything's about me
Yeah, I drive myself crazy
'Cause I can't escape the gravity"
Is it concerning that it doesn’t seem as meaningful without these drastic measures? Shouldn’t the writing be concern enough without the background of the writer?
In class, we discussed Sylvia Plath's poem and how we should interpret it. To me, the tone that I got from the poem was very objective and numb. It seems like she was out of her body looking down at herself as a sort of experiment. The lack of emotion is clear. But I think something that really stood out to me was the fact that by us knowing her background and her emotional state, it heavily influenced our interpretation. It strikes the question of what interpretation is technically correct? I mean, did Plath mean for us to understand it in this context?
Another thing that stood out to me was the first line of the poem - "What a thrill" - and how it could throw people off. For example, if I didn't know Plath's background story, I would've assumed she was getting enjoyment from her cutting her thumb and that she was in some kind of psychotic state. It's interesting to play around with interpretations and how fast it can change based on a little extra knowledge.
I think historical context as well as our interpretation can both shape how we view the tone. For instance, we know Sylvia isn't some psycho like @klynnph had mentioned, so therefore were not gonna read this poem with that mindset, which would absolutely change the tone for the poem for us. With that in mind, I think tone itself is somewhat of an interpretation, whether there is a tone that were supposed to get out of a poem or not.
I think the conversation we had in class about "Cut" was so interesting because of the many different interpretations people had when reading it. I had first thought she was psychotic and somehow thrilled by the fact she had cut her finger. I had not even imagined this poem could have been in a different tone. Then, people shared that they knew some history about Sylvia Plath and that they interpreted the poem as sarcastic. I think this is the coolest part of poetry - that different people can interpret the poem to mean completely different things, even when reading the same exact thing. Tone has a lot of power in determining this interpretation that readers take away. When Mr. Chisnell read the poem once with each tone, I found myself believing and understanding the poem in whatever context his tone had suggested. This shows the great power tone has in influencing reader's takeaways from various texts.
I interpreted the poem as almost Plath doing a science experiment. Her use of "What a thrill" to me seemed like grotesque curiosity more than psychotic enjoyment, similar to how if you're doing a chem experiment and something goes wrong and you just kinda sit there going "That's neat" as your work is undone in front of you. Especially considering the background of mental health issues that Plath had, I think it is likely that she felt detached from the feeling of cutting her finger, which is why the poem is written with such an objective and almost experimental tone.
I find personally reading poetry hard, and that's not because I find it boring or don't like it. I just find it really hard for me to understand it. Anyone can read something and recite information back about it but are they able to completely understand and interpret it? In a normal piece of literature or novel I have no trouble identifying the tone and meaning but when it comes to poetry, I seem to read it in how I think it's supposed to be read (my interpretation) which then at times leads me to the wrong idea. So I do believe that the tone you might read something in gives you a complete different interpretation. For example in class when we read the short poem about the author cutting their thumb, when we read it in two different tones it gave them a different meaning.
@alechayosh07 I completely agree with you on this. Poetry is hard for me to read and understand too. I never really realized what was hard for me about it but I think tone is what I struggle with. I have always read poetry in the tone that I see fit but I dont think this is always the right thing to do. After reading the poem by Plath, I realized that based on the tone you choose to read it with, it completely changes the meaning of the poem. I think that I should really consider the language used to figure out the tone and get the interpretation the author was going for instead of the one that I see.
@mangoman Poetry can definitely still have hidden meaning after an insufferable amount of research and interpretation, because every single person that reads the poem will think of it in a slightly different way. Poetry holds a different meaning to every single person that reads it, and that's what makes it so beautiful! There is no way to fully understand and research poetry. Sure, you can delve into the background and most of what the writer intended, but you can never find the 100% true meaning, as there is not one.
@gil I completely understand your thinking and the ideas are great! with the ultimate perception of a poem I think it equally lies in the authors and audiences state of mind/being. Even if someone didn't know about Chester's death, they too could be struggling in the ways he was and closely relate to those lyrics. Background info on a poem can be necessary at times to further understand the meaning but sometimes the reader can interpret the meaning just as they would with the information at hand. I feel like most who listen to their music know they bring up serious topics, whether it resonates with them or not. I feel as though the meaning is still very drastic to those even if they don't know the full story behind the words. To be honest my thoughts here are all over the place. Your thought is great but can we ask how much of this power of interpretation leans on the reader vs the author?
@ahayo - I agree with many of the points you brought up here. I have always struggled with poetry as well and have often found myself thinking one thing and then when hearing the class discussion of the poem, I find that my thoughts are a lot different from others. I think this speaks a lot about how a person reads a poem and the meaning that they perceive from the writing. However, a perceived meaning is just that a perception. How do we know if our takeaways from a piece are accurate? Where is the line drawn in "wrong" answers about the meaning of a poem?
Last week in class, we read Plaths poem and learned how our interpretation impacts the meaning of literature. With knowing her background, we understood that she was most likely in a very dark place while writing this poem, even without the background knowledge of her past, I would still interpret her poem the same way. The tone I felt from her poem was very numb, cold, and depressed. She managed to express the feeling of being emotionless, while also making her dark emotions very vibrant and clear. What I find interesting about this poem is that interpretation is all subjective, and the author could of planned the tone to be received a completely different way. I question if Plath meant for her readers to read her poem in a dark way, or in a different tone.
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