Discovering the Relevance of Words
Poetic talent is really easy to fake
when thy sentences doth no f**king sense make. – Bo Burnham
The above quote was taken from a Bo Burnham stand up. In it, he’s talking about the work of William Shakespeare. Bo Burnham is doing this ironically; he is actually a fan of Shakespeare’s work. He manages a beautiful reading of his work and creates a very risqué and clever poem called “Sonnet 155 or If Shakespeare Had Written a Porn.” However, a lot of people “hate Shakespeare” because they do not have the appropriate reading level to understand complicated works. This isn’t meant as an insult to certain readers; it is simply an observation. This isn’t only limited to the work of Shakespeare. Most people read over the words they see on paper, not looking anything up and not putting any notes in the margins; basically, no advanced thought/effort of any kind. Then, when they don’t understand, they just say “what on Earth was that dude talking about?” I’m sure that question has been around since the creation of the first poem. If the message is not sticking out like a sore thumb then it must not make any sense.
People spend hours, days, sometimes much longer, in the pursuit of unravelling some of the greatest writing in the world. Is it even possible to truly understand another person’s creation? Are all literary critics wasting their time by trying to put another person’s work inside of a box; generally, a mislabeled box? This is an extremely complicated question. The poetry may physically exist on the page but the characters laugh and dance and breathe inside of the poet’s mind. That’s where they truly exist. The grandiose scene can be described on the paper but it’s a tangible, ever-changing world inside the mind of the poet. A poet gives us a brief view inside of the world that they create; they take a snapshot of what is actually a much larger universe all its own.
Some people read their favorite piece of writing and they come away with something new every time they read it. Other people “know for a fact that this is what the writer was talking about when they wrote it!” Students and adults alike, all over the world, approach the work of one William Shakespeare completely and hopelessly lost. We actually have to create “translated” versions of Shakespeare’s work from English to English. This is a little extreme. I can understand a translation of a word that is no longer in use, or one that Shakespeare just decided to make up for the piece, but doesn’t translating the entire work on the opposite page take from the beauty of the work? The entire flow of the piece is lost. A vast majority of the beauty is hacked off and nothing but simple words now exist. If a reader cannot understand a piece, any piece, perhaps they should work harder for that understanding. They should look up more words. They should look up the historical references. They should discuss it in groups; perhaps someone has thought of something they didn’t.
A poem can only be fully understood by the poet. Sometimes, even the poet doesn’t know what they’re talking about. Sometimes, the scenes they paint are exactly that, scenes. The scenes have no hidden meaning; they are just transporting you to a different time and place. If you find yourself really in need of a deep understanding of a poem, perhaps more effort is needed to break the code, if there is indeed a hidden code. If, on the other hand, you read a piece and accept it for what it is and all you take from it is beauty, well, that’s ok too. Don’t write off someone else’s work because you don’t understand the message. Some writing is beautiful. Some writing is complicated. Some writing is terse. All writing transcends.