Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Thematically, “beware: do not read this poem” is a complex case. It is about language, about art, about people, and about politics. Language and art are intimately bound to one another, and they are central aspects of culture. Culture, at least in part, makes people. The poem is therefore about how people are made by, and lost to (other), cultures. It is a protest against cultural dominance, and it works by concrete demonstration.

In the immediate sense, the poem’s theme is about how the poem itself affects, even creates its reader by involving the reader in the world created by the poem. That concept is an exhibition of the power of poetry, for poetry is an act of speech, showing that language, how one uses language, is vital to one’s existence. The poem also shows how a culture can swallow one up, denying one’s real existence. It rejects the idea of art as a simple mirror reflecting life; art is, rather, a living experience.

There are some generic conventions in the poem that may seem at first to be merely decorative or entertaining, but they actually represent essential elements of the theme. In the first section, the convention of the European folktale is derived from a literary, European tradition. This folktale is presented as the product of modern technology—a television plot—which makes it very European American, mechanical and hypnotizing in a negative way. Too, the tale, with its “ol woman,” essentially a witch, in...

(The entire section is 545 words.)