Part 8, cont - Fictive Certainties, Expansion of the Parts of a Poem


The fourth section of The Art of Reading Poetry discusses use of allusion in poetry and the apprehension of the allusion. "At issue is how to determine the appropriateness of an allusion, and since great poetry is very nearly as allusive s it is figurative, the question of accuracy in tracing allusiveness is crucial" (13). The use of allusion is a textural thing, but it is also dependent on something outside of the poem in order for it to be fully apprehended.

Duncan's essay "The Truth and Life of Myth" expands the idea of allusiveness into a broad echo; all the myths -- and myth is an inclusive term that refers to poems, plays, and stories -- are a version of the truth. He says, "the meaning and form of any poem is momentous, yes; but has its motive beyond the conscious and personal intent or realization of the poet" (38). Myths in general have a lineage of truth popping up from Truth's suppression in various places and forms. Duncan refers to H.D.'s tracing of the "transmission of the cult of Love" from the heretical Provencal church, troubadours, part of the Roman Catholic Church (elsewhere he talks about Francis of Assisi, John of the Cross and others) then transferred to the theatre after the looting of the churches under Henry VII, so the passing leaps to Spenser, Marlowe and Shakespeare then to Dante to the Romantic to the modernists (42-44).

This lineage brought to my attention a whole realm of parts to poems that I had not included in the first section, though I was aware of some of them from reading "The Flexible Lyric". In that essay, Voigt said that she was focusing on the function of a poem, in contrast to its substance, as the New Critics had done (Voigt 124). In my notes, I wrote about the definition of substance and function underneath my definition of texture, form and structure, but didn't explore those things in the previous section about the parts of poems. When I made my algebraic formula, I didn't mention substance or function in the equation. However, after digesting everything that I read in Fictive Certainties and the peripheral books and essays, I was able to outline the parts I had not previously considered.

In addition to this formula,

ENERGY [TEXTURE (STRUCTURE + FORM) = Interior of a Poem- what the poet creates

I would like to add this

SUBSTANCE + FUNCTION + SPIRIT = Exterior of a Poem - what comes from reading the poem


Substance I define as "what is in a poem". Function is "how a poem works as art" (this was Voigt's focus in “The Flexible Lyric”). Spirit is "why the poem exists" or "the consciousness" in or of the poem. The definitions of substance and function are taken from "The Flexible Lyric". The third part, the spirit, is something I added after reading Fictive Certainties. Specifically from the beginning of “The Truth and Life of Myth,” "Like the poet, the child dwells not in the literal meanings of words but in the spirit that moves behind them...He hears not what his parents mean to say but what that saying is telling about them" (7). Spirit is not the substance of the poem but what the substance is speaking to in a larger sense.

The trouble with substance and spirit is that they are very subjective things. They spawn all the literary theories that abound. For the purpose of this paper, I will only briefly speak to those parts. Otherwise the paper quintuples in size. Having laid out what to look for in a close reading – energy, texture, structure, form, substance, function and spirit – I feel that I am examining the whole, seeing the whole of the poem.

Putting It All Together - The Web of Poetry

Throughout the beginning of the paper, something about the first section on the outlining of the parts of a poem was bothering me. Just this past Thursday night, at the library I work at part-time, I was helping students working on essays about well known allegories and was reminded of the allegory of “The Blind Men and an Elephant.” Each blind man feels a different part of the elephant and bases his description of the elephant on the part he felt. The danger in the close reading of a poem is feeling only the parts and not being able to see the entirety of the work of art. My hope is that by expanding the list of the parts of a poem, reading a poem closely doesn’t narrow the focus too much but helps me take it in it completely.

The Interdependent Web of a Poem

Without the interior and the exterior of a poem, as I have defined them, a poem doesn't really exist in a practical sense. The elements depend on each other for the entirety of the poem to be a poem. So, in furthering of a visual depiction of a poem, I created the "web of a poem." 

  • You have the interior parts, which are created by the poet writing the poem: [energy (texture (form + structure))]
  • The exterior parts, which are created by the reader reading the poem: ((substance) (function) (spirit))
  • Plus you have the whole poem. The sum is greater than the parts. And the whole poem depends on a balance of the interior and exterior parts of the poem and how well everything connects to the other parts to create the existence of the poem. 

Wild Woman

I know this is is kind of far out there! However, for me, this really opened up a lot of possibilities as a writer, especially in the revision process. When something I've written "isn't working" I can think about this web of a poem and check all my parts and how well they're in balance with each other. 

If you are a reader or a writer of poetry or any creative writing, I hope this break down helps you the same way.