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Last Updated on May 10, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 571

Language and its Meaning The effect of Kooser's poem "The Constellation Orion" rests on two puns. The first one is intentional, the second one accidental. These puns focus our attention on the practice of naming, something that human beings do to make sense of their world, but also something that...

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Language and its Meaning
The effect of Kooser's poem "The Constellation Orion" rests on two puns. The first one is intentional, the second one accidental. These puns focus our attention on the practice of naming, something that human beings do to make sense of their world, but also something that poets especially have been noted for doing. Foreshadowing his son's mistake, the father says that the boy's head is "like a sun." Such punning underscores the slippery nature of language itself, emphasizing the fact that there is no inherently natural relationship between the idea of the thing named (the signified) and the word (either speech sounds or marks on the page) used to name it (the signifier), but that meaning in language resides in how linguistic elements are different from one another in a given system. Such a view of language, first theorized by linguist Ferdinand de Saussure, suggests that reality, rather than being "out there" waiting to be seen and named, is in large part constructed by the act of naming itself. The son's mispronunciation can also be read as a malapropism, a term derived from the character Mrs. Malaprop in Sheridan's The Rivals (1775). A malapropism occurs when a speaker misuses words, most often unintentionally, because they sound alike. Usually the malapropism is close enough to the correct word that the listener knows what the speaker intended. This is certainly the case with the speaker of Kooser's poem, who understands what his son means when he says "Old Ryan." Someone not close to the child and with no relationship to him might not understand the mistake, so in this case, the malapropism and the speaker's recognition of it serve as evidence of the father and son's closeness.

Imagination
"The Constellation Orion" is an act of imagination. It also describes an imaginative act: that is, the speaker having a conversation with the stars, as well as with his sleeping son. Although some critics consider Kooser to be a realist, he is, in fact, a romantic. Before the Romantics, poetry was considered an art designed to mirror human activity. Good poetry also mirrored, or modeled itself after great poetry of the past, specifically poetry of ancient Greece and Rome. William Wordsworth, however, helped initiate a change in how people began to think of poetry. In his Preface to Lyrical Ballads he claimed that poetry's primary material was a poet's feelings, and that poems arose out of "a spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings." Samuel Taylor Coleridge elaborated on this, claiming that the poems grew organically, much like a plant, rather than being plotted according to rules of past works. The imagination, Coleridge argued, had laws which developed along the lines of its own internal principles. Nature, as well, became a favored subject of poetry, meditation on which often prompted the poet to think about other common human experiences or problems. Kooser's poem, then, can be seen as a quintessential^ romantic poem. Like much romantic poetry, it employs the lyric "I," and uses inspiration from nature, in the form of the stars, to meditate on the love of a parent for his child, a universal human experience. The organic nature of Kooser's poem is embodied in its loose conversational style and, as if to underscore the primacy of the imagination itself, the speaker, rather than talking directly to his son who is right next to him, engages in a fantasized dialogue with the youngster.

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