How does a poet transform common objects or experiences in their poems?

A poet transforms common objects or experiences in their poems through the use of imagery and metaphors that help us see these common things in a new way. A poet also transforms the world through the very act of stopping to notice and being emotionally moved by experiences others might miss.

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A poet, first, transforms common objects or experiences through the use of imagery and metaphor. Imagery is description that uses any of the five senses of sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell, while a metaphor is a comparison.

One example of a transformative poem would be D. H. Lawrence's poem "Snake." He opens it with visual imagery—it's an exceedingly hot day, and the speaker is standing in his pajamas when he sees a snake drinking from his water trough. We can picture this scene and feel the heat. Normally, the intrusion of a snake would be frightening or repulsive—it is in a class of creatures like bats, rats, and wolves that we tend to recoil from. However, the poet transforms how we see the snake by using imagery and metaphor that humanizes it and helps us move beyond stereotypes. Lawrence's snake has a kinship to us: it drinks with a "straight mouth," as if it is serious, and rather than threatening, the imagery that Lawrence uses to describe it is tender:

[The snake] trailed his yellow-brown slackness soft-bellied down.

Lawrence's similes show us the snake in a positive and peaceful light:

[The snake] lifted his head, dreamily, as one who has drunken,
And flickered his tongue like a forked night on the air, so black,
Seeming to lick his lips,
And looked around like a god, unseeing, into the air.

Words such as "dreamily," and "like a god" help us to reframe how we perceive snakes, and the next time we see one, we might feel some shared sympathy, rather than plain revulsion. This is what poets do, by using language in unexpected ways.

Poets also transform common experiences or objects by stopping to notice and observe them carefully. They don't just go through life in a blur—and this very act of paying attention and then recording it in words can help transform it for us. For example, when Wordsworth stops to really see a field of daffodils blowing in the wind as if they are dancing, the daffodils become more than just some flowers. They have a new life and energy, and perhaps the next time we see some, we will pay attention. Likewise, when Housman ruminates on the cherry blossoms blooming in early spring and looking like snow, then notes that the fifty years of life he has left to see them will rush by too fast, we are reminded that these common sights are miracles we should not miss. Frost does the same, when his speaker stops on a snowy evening to watch the flakes of snow slowly falling against a black sky. This moment is a minor miracle to him, one he wants to preserve and, in passing it on to us, helps ensure at least a few of us will look at a snowfall in a transformed way.

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