Over the first couple weeks of class, we read quite a few poems. Some of the poets we discussed included H.D. (Hilda Doolittle), William Carlos Williams, e. e. cummings, T. S. Eliot, and many more. However, these specific poets had works that drew me in. Today, I will be diving deeper into the works of these writers while explaining my interpretations and thoughts.
First, let's discuss H.D.’s poem “The Garden” (1916). The first stanza automatically leaves the reader puzzled. What does she mean? There are many interpretations – as there should be when it comes to poetry – but I saw it as a metaphor for people. I am a hopeless romantic. I have read many novels where the male character has built a wall around his heart, never letting anyone in until the female lead strolls into his life and breaks that wall down. That is exactly how I saw this stanza, as well as the entirety of part I. Let’s look at this stanza-by-stanza:
“You are clear
O rose, cut in rock,
hard as the descent of hail.”
The speaker can see through the wall (rock) the person has built around their heart. The speaker can clearly see the beauty (rose) even though it is being hidden behind a hard exterior.
“I could scrape the colour
from the petals
like spilt dye from a rock.”
The speaker is able scrape back the layers of defense the person has built and see their true colors – the good and the bad.
“If I could break you
I could break a tree.”
The person who has built the wall is so stubborn and strong-willed that if the speaker can break their walls down, they can break a tree or anything physically stronger than them.
"If I could stir
I could break a tree--
I could break you."
Although the speaker can see through the other’s walls, they themselves have their own defenses. If they are pushed to the edge, their inner army will break loose and could cause more damage than the other person, or anyone, could imagine. They are stronger than they appear.
Next, let’s take a look at Williams’ “The Red Wheelbarrow” (1923). When I read the poem, I imagined a farm scene where it had just rained. Personally, I find rain very peaceful, especially after the storm has passed and everything drips themselves dry. The scene I see is very quiet, calm. When the rain began, those working went inside to avoid getting drenched, so everything is left untouched.
After it rains, colors seem to stand out. The green of grass and trees pierce through the misty atmosphere, making anything against it stand out like a sore thumb. When I imagine the wheelbarrow and its red color, I imagine fire-engine red. It catches my attention, causing me to stop in my tracks. The white of the chicken stands out most of all. The white chicken is a stark contrast to the bright green, and dark mud. Williams’ use of red and white are very “in-your-face.” They bring the reader’s attention to the importance of what few things are described. The wheelbarrow represents everything people can carry, and how everyone has limited space and limited strength. The chicken represents a few things humans need in order to survive: food, company, and a purpose. Obviously, humans can cook chicken and eat it as the main part of a meal. However, a chicken is a living creature and can be very similar to a pet. Most people get pets because they want a companion, something to keep them company. Pets need to survive so they become dependent on their owner. The owner provides for them, giving the human a purpose.
Now, let's focus on cummings and his poem “My Sweet Old Etcetera” (1926). There is one main question nagging at the back of the reader’s mind and that question is, “What is ‘etcetera’?” Everyone who dissects the poem has a different answer. However, there is one thing most people agree on: the poem is critiquing war, as well as the beliefs of older generations and the different genders. Due to this, my answer for the previously proposed question is that everything continues on. By everything I mean the war, the lifestyles, and the ideas continue on. Although there are efforts to end the war and the stigma around it, nothing changes. Etcetera is commonly used when listing things that relate back to or mean the same thing as something else stated. At the end, the speaker sees and dreams of a world with peace and harmony. Nevertheless, no matter how many years go by, or how many different ways something is being said, it all means the same thing and people have stopped listening.
Finally, let's discuss Eliot’s The Waste Land (1922). One of the most known lines from this poem is “I will show you fear in a handful of dust.” Commonly, this is viewed as the ashes of those who have died during the war. This single line makes everyone understand what point Eliot is trying to get across. It is a direct jab at those reading the poem, as if he is saying, “You should feel guilty, you should feel sick. The way you’re feeling is correct, don’t hide from it, or push it away. I will show the aftermath you whether you want to see it or not.”
Death makes us feel disgusting, and guilty no matter who or what it is. No one wants to confront death face on. People like to turn their heads and look the other way. They like to send their thoughts and prayers, but they never want to take action. They don’t want to change their minds. Just like “My Sweet Old Etcertera,” that is why nothing has changed.
I will leave you with this: when I was young, my grandma said to me, “For you were made from stardust, and to stardust you will return.” No matter how sickening or saddening death is, we will return to the earth the same way we came: dust.