Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 421

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Every statement and every image in this poem functions directly with all the others. Together they are, despite the appearance to the contrary, a unity as well as a variety, a demonstration of the poem’s “teaching” about what a poem should be. The poem is a demonstration that making poetry is a complex, difficult task.

It is not odd that poets should write about poetry itself. Of necessity, they must be concerned with the particulars of their craft. Yet poetry is not only a craft; it is also a way of knowing the world, so the poet is caught up in the questions of how one knows. Tomlinson has said that a poem “is a rite of passage through a terrain which, when we look back over it, has been flashed up into consciousness in a way we should scarcely have foreseen.” That is, the poet gains an insight by writing a poem; the reader gains insight by reading the poem. The poem is not static, simply an object to be observed or contemplated with aesthetic delight. It does have an effect upon its audience; Tomlinson here agrees with Horace.

Yet the poem also orders the world around it. Tomlinson connects himself with the Romantic aesthetic, “with roots in Wordsworth and Ruskin,” although his Romanticism is much modified by his modernism. The Romantics were concerned with the shaping power of the imagination. The image by itself is nothing “if it is merely that”; that attitude is at the very center of this poem. The poem is not only about what poetry should be, about its function in the world, but is also a poem about the process of creating poetry.

The “mind” that is “bruised” is the creative mind, acted upon by the external world, but also shaping the world. This “mind,” in facing the actualities of the world, faces the problems of how to treat those actualities. The question, “how shall one say so,” opening the second stanza, is really a question on what the creative process is—how, that is, the poet writes a poem that is true. The answer is given in the two-word sentence that connects the second and third stanzas: “Proportions/ Matter.” The mind of the poet must find the balances in the world, but finding those balances is not easy—“It is difficult to get them right.” The last two stanzas, then, seemingly pure images, are not only about nature; they also show what the creative mind can and must do with the realities.