The poem is a little myth of man’s capacity of making life meaningful. And in the end, the poem is not a thing we see-it is, rather, a light by which we may see-and what we see is life.(Robert Penn Warren, “Essays”)
In the excerpt from Robert Penn Warren’s “Essays”, poetry is likened to a beacon that illuminates the essence of human existence. It implies that through the creation and consumption of poetry, one can transcend the mundane and attach deeper meaning to life. The poem is depicted not as a physical entity but as a medium that offers insights into the profound aspects of life. Evaluating this notion, it becomes apparent that poetry serves as a vehicle to explore the human experience, often exposing emotions, themes, and motifs that might otherwise remain buried. The thematic and formal elements of poems accentuate their capacity to mold meaning and bring life into focus. Essentially, a poem is not something tangible or visible like an object; rather, it acts as an illuminator, a lens through which we can perceive life with depth and insight.
W.B. Yeats’s “The Lake Isle of Innisfree” is a shining example of how poetry serves as a lens through which we perceive life, as stated by Robert Penn Warren. The poem captures the speaker’s yearning for an escape from the dreariness of modern life to a more peaceful, natural setting, which mirrors the universal human longing for simplicity and serenity. The speaker in “The Lake Isle of Innisfree” seeks refuge in the idyllic space, where nature’s sounds and sights offer solace. This poem, through its vivid imagery and lyricism, creates a space where the reader can reflect on their own aspirations and desires. It highlights the significance of peace, simplicity, and connection with nature, elements that are often lost in the hustle of everyday life. In the context of Warren’s statement, “The Lake Isle of Innisfree” acts as that “light” by which we can see life. It is not merely words on a page, but a portal into the introspective aspects of human experience. Through the poem, we recognize our intrinsic affinity with nature and the inherent desire to find meaning beyond the material world. This reflects Warren’s idea that poetry is a myth or story that reflects the human capacity to make life meaningful. Through its use of imagery, repetition, and symbolism, Yeats’s poem demonstrates how poetry can illuminate the essential qualities of human life, highlighting our deepest desires for peace, simplicity, and connection.
Audre Lorde’s “Coal” exemplifies the depth and insight that Robert Penn Warren alludes to in his statement about poetry. In “Coal,” Lorde explores the facets of identity, expression, and the transformative power of language. The poem becomes a light that guides us through the complex interplay of identity and words, shedding light on aspects of human existence. The imagery and metaphors used by Lorde are particularly striking. She presents her identity as the “total black, being spoken/ From the earth’s inside.” Here, blackness is depicted as something elemental, originating from the depths of the earth. This connects with the idea of poetry being an inner light that exposes what’s within. The earth’s interior is not something that can be seen with the naked eye, but through the poem, it is brought to life. The poem also deals with the nature of words and how they can be both empowering and entrapping. Lorde uses the metaphor of a diamond to symbolize words that are clear, powerful, and capable of cutting through barriers, which aligns with Warren’s depiction of a poem as a light. On the other hand, she also talks about words that are like “stapled wagers,” restricted and confined. The contrasting imagery of words being like diamonds or like an “ill-pulled tooth with a ragged edge” shows how words can have different textures and qualities. What is particularly noteworthy is the transformative nature of words in the poem. Lorde talks about words breeding in her throat “like adders” but also seeking the sun and exploding through her lips “like young sparrows bursting from the shell.” This transformation and release of words serve as a metaphor for self-realization and expression, and the poem acts as a vessel that brings this transformation to light for the reader. In the context of Warren’s statement, “Coal” effectively illuminates the interiority of the human experience, particularly in the context of identity and expression. Through its rich metaphors and imagery, the poem provides the light that allows the reader to see life’s depth and the capacity to make it meaningful. The poem’s very fabric reveals the essence and complexities of human existence, mirroring the illuminative nature of poetry that Warren eloquently captures in his excerpt.
In conclusion, both W.B. Yeats’s “The Lake Isle of Innisfree” and Audre Lorde’s “Coal” vividly illustrate Robert Penn Warren’s assertion about poetry being a light by which we perceive life. In essence, poetry’s capacity to bring life into focus and to explore themes of longing, identity, and expression affirm its role as a lens for viewing life with depth and insight. Through the art of poetry, we are gifted a pathway to attach profound meaning to life, exploring the subtle nuances of our existence and transcending beyond the mundane to perceive life in its fullest depth and complexity. The light that poetry provides not only illuminates our understanding of life but also underscores the potential of human capacity to create, express, and interpret meaning in the world around us.