Discombobulation/ The meaning of Poetry/Volcanoes and Panenomes- February 8th 2012

Hello again. I just wanted to talk a little about poetry. So many people angst about not understanding poetry. Does it matter if you don’t understand a poem the first time you read it or ever. If you think it does…why is that? Do you feel socially pressured to understand …to say knowledgeably ‘Yes I knew straight away it was about a broken marriage.’ (Well actually it was about the poet’s missing socks…his favourite pair!) or are you a student and you don’t want to feel silly in front of the others?

What I want to say is that poems, as with books, paintings, music and other things are only one person’s response to an experience. Go to a live poets session. How many can honestly say they understand each poem performed? For me I might be enjoying the sounds, the rythmn or a particular phrase. There are poems I remember the gist of from way back but I can’t say I get the whole meaning. If you are required to study a particular poem, be honest with yourself. If you don’t get the meaning so what…ask yourself what appealed to you in this poem.  Give it a chance,there might be something …a word, a nice piece of alliteration.. And when you get to the what is poetry anyway stage here’s a quote which I found helpful.

Poetry is an imaginative awareness of experience expressed through meaning sound and rhythmic language choices so as to evoke an emotional response

Poetry has been known to employ meter and rhyme but this is by no means necessary. Poetry is an ancient form that has gone through numerous and drastic reinvention over time. The very nature of poetry as an authentic and individual mode of expression makes it nearly impossible to define.Thanks to Mark Flanagan for permission to use this definition and also see more from him on the topic at …


So next time you listen to or read a poem ask yourself what stands out for me? Is is an image..is it the sound is it the rhythm? And if you think you understood it as well, congratulations!  And by the way re the quote from Kahlil Gibran in my left hand sidebar…it is possible to feel a feeling without understanding it.  And though it is a beautiful phrase…and often quite true for readers, it isn’t necessarily so!  Confused? See what you make of the poem below. Meaning isn’t all and nor are feelings 🙂 Enjoy.



Generally I prefer modern poetry but here is a poem (written 1939) which I have had a soft spot for for years. I get most of the meaning , I think, but it’s the rhythm and sounds of the volcanoes he talks about, which does it for me.


W.J. Turner’s poem “Romance”

   When I was but thirteen or so,
I went into a golden land,
Chimborazo, Cotopaxi,
took me by the hand.

My father died, my brother too,
they passed like fleeting dreams,
I stood where Popocatapetl
in the sunlight gleams.

I dimly heard the master’s voice
and boys’ far-off at play,
Chimborazo, Cocopaxi
had stolen me away.

I walked in a great golden dream
to and fro from school –
shining Popocatapetl
the dusty streets did rule.

I walked home with a gold dark boy
and never a word I’d say
Chimborazo, Cotopaxi
had taken my speech away:

I gazed entranced upon his face
fairer than any flower –
O shining Popocatepetl
it was thy magic hour:

The houses, people, traffic seemed
thin, fading dreams by day,

Chimborazo, Cotopaxi.

They had stolen my soul away.


The volcano, Mount Popocatapetl

And talking of rhythm and sounds here is a word for you, DISCOMBOBULATION, meaning confusion. I was reminded of it today when I came across my friend Susan. The first words she ever spoke to me were, ‘sorry to discombobulate you.’ She had got caught in the curtains of the French doors and I couldn’t see who was knocking.

And here’s another lovely word, PANENOME (pronounced like the flower, anenome). Below is Albie’s PANEMONE My friends Fil and Albie live on a farm in Kotinga, Golden Bay where they grow cattle and sheep and try to live self sufficiently. They have just built a large new solar power structure which will produce enough for them to sell back to the network. Albie likes to invent things. His website, where he explains the Panenome is



8 thoughts on “Discombobulation/ The meaning of Poetry/Volcanoes and Panenomes- February 8th 2012”

  1. I like your ‘give it a chance’. We can get so hung up on defining every little thing. I’ve just been reading Annie Dillard on her own writing: ‘…I knock myself out trying to do art – not that it is so good – but by its very nature it is not reducible to a sealed system. It’s not so airtight.’

    1. This is so true. And then there is the idea that if it is pinned down there is no space for the viewer/reader to join in…to use their own imagination and thus extend the meaning of the work.

  2. I love that poem “Romance” too. For me it’s about the mysterious power of sounds and language. First encountered it when I was still at school.

  3. It continues to astonish me that many people I know who are keen readers, people who read novels and non-fiction books far more challenging than I would usually choose to attempt, won’t even try reading poetry – well, perhaps they might read an individual poem from time to time, but the idea of reading a collection of poetry is completely alien to them. As a poet, I would love to get the bottom of why this is – thanks for the excellent suggestions in this post!

    1. Hi Tim,
      Thanks for your encouragement! I think there are a few social stigmas still attached to the thought of reading poetry…and writing it….as well as the problem of understanding it.

  4. The reaction I got recently – and this is from someone well-read and knowledgeable about fiction – was one of astonishment: “You actually read poetry collections?!” When I said that I sometimes read them from cover to cover, I thought I was going to have to fetch the smelling salts for a minute. It seems even people who will tackle ‘difficult’ novels wouldn’t think of cracking open a poetry collection. Grrrrgh, I say to that, and also Aaaargh! No idea what if anything can be done about that, though.

  5. Hi Tim,
    Well the nice thing about reading poetry collections is that they can be read many ways…forwards, backwards,and every which way, You ponder on one line, skim the ones that aren’t your thing etc. With a novel I feel I want to start at the beginning and I never peek at the end pages.

    Admittedly some poems are as long as a novel…the other day I peered into Lewis Carroll’s long poem, The Hunting of the Snark and put it aside until I have more time. 🙂

    Lastly I’m not sure that we give ourselves permission to read one page in a ‘book’ ten times in a row. It’s’s ok to linger over a poem however!

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