Exercise: Metaphorical and Visceral Interpretations

For this exercise we are asked to select a poem and then interpret it through photographs by giving a sense of the feeling of the poem and the essence it exudes.

We are asked to read the poem a few times, making notes of the feelings and ideas that emerge, how we respond to it and what it means to us and the mental images that arise. Then we are to think how to interpret this visually.

After searching high and low for a suitable poem (I haven’t studied poetry since my high school years so I’m woefully out of practise) I settled on Robert Frost’s Leaves Compared with Flowers.

Robert Frost (March 26, 1874 – January 29, 1963) was an American poet and Pulitzer prize winner for poetry. His initial works were published in England and then only later in America. He experienced lots of grief and loss in his life. His father died of TB when he was 8, his mother died of cancer and his sister was committed to a mental institution where she too later died. Both he and his wife suffered from depression. Four of his children predeceased him, one from cholera, one after child birth, one after giving birth to her own child and one committed suicide.

Leaves Compared with Flowers by Robert Frost

A tree’s leaves may be ever so good,
So may its bar, so may its wood;
But unless you put the right thing to its root
It never will show much flower or fruit.

But I may be one who does not care
Ever to have tree bloom or bear.
Leaves for smooth and bark for rough,
Leaves and bark may be tree enough.

Some giant trees have bloom so small
They might as well have none at all.
Late in life I have come on fern.
Now lichens are due to have their turn.

I bade men tell me which in brief,
Which is fairer, flower or leaf.
They did not have the wit to say,
Leaves by night and flowers by day.

Leaves and bar, leaves and bark,
To lean against and hear in the dark.
Petals I may have once pursued.
Leaves are all my darker mood.

Initially what stands out for me visually are the visual prompts of the poem: leaves, bark, fruit, flowers, fern, lichen, giant tree, men, petals and time of day.  It is a also poem of opposites – rough/smooth; leaves/petals; flowers/trees; giant trees/lichen. I believe it is about the poet’s experiences in his life that have led him down the road of depression to have an affinity for the darker aspects of his life which are represented in the bark and leaves.

My interpretation of this poem is that it is one of sincerity and disillusionment in mankind and the flowers and leaves are metaphors for people. In the first verse, the reference to ‘put(ing) the right thing to its root/It never will show much flower or fruit’ can be linked to a Biblical reference: Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit (Matthew 12:33 ). A person’s character depends very much upon his upbringing.  A lot of love goes into raising a child (or a tree). The second verse hints at personal experiences, disillusionment has set in. Superficiality in mankind is not a prized attribute. The mad chase for achievement in life (giant trees = today’s yuppies) is followed by simpler needs when one ages (the fern and lichen). And for me this is where the poet’s depression sets in ‘Now lichens are due to have their turn.’ Man is fickle, wavering in opinions, not having the courage of their own convictions. The mood then shifts once more when the poet says ‘Petals I may have once pursued./Leaves are all my darker mood.’  Once he was optimistic and enjoyed the company of frivolous people, but now he is given over to his depression.

But unless you put the right thing to its root It never will show much flower or fruit.

Leaves for smooth and bark for rough, Leaves and bark may be tree enough.

Some giant trees have bloom so small They might as well have none at all.

Late in life I have come on fern. Now lichens are due to have their turn.

I bade me tell me which in brief, Which is fairer, flower or leaf.

Leaves are all my darker mood.

Reference List

Bible Gateway [online]. Available from: https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew+12:33-37 [Accessed 26, 2015]

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