Please explain "Burning a Book" By William Stafford.

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gbeatty | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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Poetry is challenging, that's for sure. However, figurative language may not be as mysterious as it sometimes seems. When working with figurative language, start first with the literal meaning, and then let yourself visualize what the poet describes. After that, let images and associations spill out, and you'll go a long ways.

In this case, the entire first stanza is an image of a book burning. There's not much theme there, just a shocking image of this burning. Book burning is associated with censorship: it is the most extreme form of censorship. Let that image stand for a while, then look at how the second stanza starts: "And some books ought to burn..."

A poet saying some books deserve to burn? That's another shocker. From that moment, the poem turns to its real purpose, which is talking about how not writing a book is a kind of censorship. Burning a book (the title) is unthinking it, letting your idea fall to ash, or go unlit.


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