Change Your Poetry Reading Philosophy Now!

Photograph of The Collection of Robert Frost's Poems with a caption of How to Read A Poem

There is a reason why poetry can be difficult to read. It demands your complete attention and would not settle for less. So many of us are curious about classic and old poetry but have no idea what techniques or ways will help us really be the readers we want to be. Be it a mock practice for your next public recitals or a personal read, the answer is hidden in your perspective of poetry. The answer is in how you perceive it.
How can you make sure to read your favourite poem with, not just perfection but, beauty and feel? Sounds like a great deal and something that would only come with months or at least weeks of hardcore practicing. However, it is easier than that. All you have to do is a shift in your philosophy about reading poetry.

Thou reader throbbest life and pride and love the same as I,
Therefore for thee the following chants.


Initiate – Get in the silent bubble

“Reading poetry is an adventure in renewal, a creative act, a perpetual beginning, a rebirth of wonder.”

– Edward Hirsch

To read a poem, set a mood. Be it classic poetry or modern poetry, these poems have messages. Inspired by deeper emotions and personal experiences, they are like letters sent out to find a recipient. They demand a sincere read. So, the best time to read them is when you are alone. Read them at night, with a single/dimmed down lamp switched on beside you. Take a deep breath and exhale to let out all the expectations you have from the poem. Exhale all personal feelings. Empty yourself. Do it when you are wide awake. Cut yourself out from the hustle & bustle, the buzzing noise of our everyday encounters. Escape for the poem, in the poem, with the poem. Poetidate.

You can also go the balcony, to the mountains, on the beach or on the terrace. Sometimes a simple change of scenery can help the poem come alive.


Understand the intimacy of the moment

Imagine finding an unknown post on your door, without the name of the sender. You open it casually but soon realise how precious and personal are the things mentioned in the letter. Reading a poem is no less than reading that letter.

It is intimate.

The lyrics of the poem go way beyond the skin. They are more than just their literal meaning. They are not just about emotions but experiences and the knowledge those experiences bore. In his articles and books, poet and author Edward Hirsch writes, “I am convinced the kind of experience—the kind of knowledge—one gets from poetry cannot be duplicated elsewhere.” An impetuous read will do no justice to such a worthy piece.

You sit down and listen with both concentration and intent to what the poem has to say.



Do not refrain from getting carried away

Many readers are afraid of being getting carried away and refrain from getting into the trance of reading a poem. Not understanding the beauty of it, they try not get effected by poetry, thus taking away an essential aspect of the reading experience away from them. Let the poem pave the road. Let the feelings and thoughts flow uninterrupted. Do not fear the effect when you get goosebumps or feel a pang in your heart. When the poem has taken over you, has blown your mind, given you a perspective you never knew existed, and has left you craving for more – that is poetry read right. This can be achieved by engaging yourself completely into the poem. By engrossing your mind and heart in it. Because if you won’t make room for the experience, you probably would have none.

While, stronger poetry would inculcate such a response, the softer ones will invoke different but equally essential responses. Maybe a frown or a smile, let yourself go with it.



A broader perspective

Reading a poem might be time-traveling for some and voyage to other countries to others.

Picking one from the 19th century means getting into the mind of someone who lived in those times, has seen a world you would never see, and knows something that you probably never would. It brings you the first-hand experience of how people’s perspective, minds, lifestyle, and their culture were in those days. Such experiences and knowledge are to be treasured through your method of reading them. You travel to places that you have never visited yet. You replace yourself with someone who is more learned and has a broader idea of the world and its people.


Liberate yourself, Derive Pleasure

“What we read with pleasure we can read many times with pleasure.”

– Arte Poetica, Horace

Poetry, is an art form, and the predominant ambition of any art form is to make you feel something. It is not created to preach ethics or a lifestyle (be it virtuous or immoral). The best way to read a poem is to shed the worldly, taught concepts because the words in any poem move far ahead that thoughts. They are well-constructed reveries, that were written (or recited) for pleasure or as an outlet of someone’s own sentiments.

The second most important motive of a poem is to get hold of your inner self and let a new world grow into you. Take a simple example of Mahabharata. It does not preach you to be virtuous in every sense of it. Nor does not ask of you a new lifestyle. It simply explores a story from ages ago and triggers your own preformed perceptions towards people and situations. It moulds your concepts and give them a concrete foundation. However, those are your responses towards the poem and those responses tell something about you. This is why poems are interpretative and do not have a well-defined box where you could fit its meaning.

So, it is essential that you liberate yourself from all judgements, before you begin to read a poem. Let the mind wander within. Allow the lyrics to set your imagination in motion. Let the creative juices flow.

And when I say liberate, it also implies to the conventional grammar. While, poetry chooses its words cautiously, it sure is liberal with our conventional grammatical rules. It uses language solely as medium of communication and expression, nothing more than that. It might as well pick a word and mould it to its own advantage, change it, reform it, and represent it anew.


Finally, be patient and let it come to you

Let’s face it – poems are intricate in their messages and are difficult to understand. It may take several reads before the poem begins to make sense. Until then, be patient and enjoy the process. Try reading other poems before you re-read this tough one. Most popular for the subject of Love, it is not very different from the emotion. You feel it before you understand it. It might take days, weeks or even months, but it comes back to you – clearer and better.


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