How ambiguity and multiplicity of meanings contribute to the richness  of poetic language?How ambiguity and multiplicity of meanings contribute to the richness  of poetic language?

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ask996 | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Senior Educator

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When we discuss poetry, I always remind my kids that in poetry there is a literal meaning. For example in "My Papa’s Waltz" by Theodore Roethe, the narrator is sharing a literal moment from his life. However, there is a deeper meaning in that many think the "waltz" is a metaphor for the narrator’s relationship with his father. This deeper meaning is frequently created through ambiguity which be be as simple as using the word "beat" instead of tapped or kept.

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ask996 | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Senior Educator

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I agree with the poster who said that not all poetry had to have ambiguity and multiple meaning in order for it to use rich language. Sometimes poetry is meaningful simply because of the beautifully constructed language contained within. However, ambiguity and multiple levels of meaning allow the reader to discover meaning on his or her own much like a treasure hunter making that amazing find after sifting through layers of matter.

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Susan Hurn | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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One of the differences between poetry and verse is ambiguity and multiplicity of meaning. Poetry is made rich by connotative language because interpretation leads to different truths and levels of truth. Some poems are so rich in language that we can return to them again and again, especially at different ages, and find new meanings and nuances. The poem doesn't change, but we have changed, and we find truth we did not recognize when we were younger. For instance, when I was 17, I read "Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening," Robert Frost's beautiful poem. I loved it and found meaning in it. Now, several decades later, I still love the poem, but it reaches me in a different way, especially the metaphorical last stanza.

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scarletpimpernel | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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One of the primary reasons that I enjoy teaching literature is because of the qualities you mentioned in your question. I cannot count how many times my students and I have been discussing a literary work (even one that I have taught many times), and a student interprets the work in a valid way that I had not previously considered.  If teachers can encourage their students to move past the idea that there is only one right answer when it comes to analyzing multiple meanings and ambiguity, then I believe that students will begin to appreciate their language in a new-found way.

I enjoy eNotes for this very reason.  Sometimes I'll answer a literature question or respond to a post about literature, and another editor will post an answer or comment that interprets the same work in a completely different way.  It causes me to go back and look at the language of that particular work and appreciate it even more because of the multiple themes it explores.

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readerofbooks | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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All good literature has many levels. This is one of the reasons why good literature lasts from one generation to another generation; it is able to speak to different people at different times. In other words, there is an enduring quality. One of the reasons for this is because these texts or poems have multiplicity of meanings. From this perspective, a good poem may tell more about what a person believes rather than what the poem is about. In short, ambiguity leads to extraordinary richness of meaning.

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pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Not all poems must have ambiguous language and multiple meanings to be rich in language.  But having such language allows the poet to evoke many thoughts and emotions in us with just a few words.  The ambiguity also invites us to think, rather than to just accept what is said.

Take, for example, the last stanza of "Desert Places" by Robert Frost:

They cannot scare me with their empty spaces
Between stars--on stars where no human race is.
I have it in me so much nearer home
To scare myself with my own desert places.

The ambiguity of the words in this stanza allow us each to give it our own meaning.  Who are "they" that cannot scare him?  And what is it that does scare him -- what are the "desert places?"  Because it is left ambiguous, we can each decide what it means for ourselves.  This is the great advantage that poetic language has.

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ebi | (Level 2) Honors

Posted on

Not all poems must have ambiguous language and multiple meanings to be rich in language.  But having such language allows the poet to evoke many thoughts and emotions in us with just a few words.  The ambiguity also invites us to think, rather than to just accept what is said.

Take, for example, the last stanza of "Desert Places" by Robert Frost:

They cannot scare me with their empty spaces
Between stars--on stars where no human race is.
I have it in me so much nearer home
To scare myself with my own desert places.

The ambiguity of the words in this stanza allow us each to give it our own meaning.  Who are "they" that cannot scare him?  And what is it that does scare him -- what are the "desert places?"  Because it is left ambiguous, we can each decide what it means for ourselves.  This is the great advantage that poetic language has.

You are right . according to your example " desert places " i got the matter.

thank you

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epollock | (Level 3) Valedictorian

Posted on

A great example of ambiguity and multiplicity is the poem In a Station of the Metro by Ezra Pound:

The apparition of these faces in the crowd ;Petals on a wet, black bough.
Are the people there or are they not, is the first sentence subordinate to the second? Repeated images of fragility and transiency add to a rich discussion of this poem.

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