Donald Justice

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How does Donald Justice's poem "Poem" express a view of poetry? Is it sincere or ironic?

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According to Donald Justice, poetry is an inanimate conglomeration of words. Its meaning is often obscure, perhaps intentionally so. The implication is that poets write for themselves, not the reader:

This poem is not addressed to you.
You may come into it briefly,
But no one will find you here, no one.
You will have changed before the poem will.

His view of poetry is that it doesn't matter whether anyone understands what a poem means: "You neither can nor should understand what it means." To Donald Justice, poems are not meant to be admired nor to be thought of as a universal panacea for life's ills:

Listen, it comes without guitar,
Neither in rags nor any purple fashion.
And there is nothing in it to comfort you.

Basically, poetry can't really entertain us because it is often obscure in meaning. It also can't arouse our sympathies because it isn't clad in the robes of poverty. Furthermore, Donald Justice claims that poetry doesn't come in "purple fashion," perhaps referring to the phrase "purple prose." The phrase itself refers to any piece of writing that is so complicated that it renders comprehension difficult. Donald Justice contends that one may as well take a moment to forget what one has just read ("Close your eyes, yawn. It will be over soon. You will forget the poem..."); after all, trying to understand any poem is a waste of time, as the exercise doesn't mean anything in the larger scheme of life.

Justice's view of poetry is certainly ironic, considering that he's the author of the poem. If he wants us to agree with the points he's making, it is imperative that we should understand him. However, if we follow his advice to the letter, we will end up ignoring the message of his poem; his advice will have "the spurious glamor of certain voids," an irony indeed.

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Justice is quietly disagreeing with those who attribute living qualities to a poem. He is simply stating the facts:

The poem will go on without you...It is not sad, really, only empty...there is nothing in it to comfort does not matter what you think.

This poem, as with any poem, is an unchanging combination of words; there is no glamorous interpretation, no nostalgic hidden meaning, no colorful imagery to change a life, no comfort to console a reader's sorrow.

Justice is telling the reader that it is a mistake to come to poetry in hopes of finding deep meanings and answers to life's questions or challenges. The poem exists-accept it as it is but don't try to read into it messages that were never intended.

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