I tell my students I do not like poetry, and honestly, I do not like it one bit. They hear me in class and probably think I am lying, though.
What I hate about poetry is that (when it is done right) there is always a literal meaning, and then there is the real meaning, which is never quite so obvious. I ask the students to read poetry outside of class, and then I ask them to discuss with me in class about the various likes and dislikes of what they have read.
Even though I do not enjoy the poetry itself, I have to confess that analyzing, discussing, and delving deep into the meaning of the words is completely energizing to me. Poetry wears me out! It takes so much out of me to get to any kind of meaning that both makes sense AND holds value for me as the reader.
A couple classes ago, I gave students some handouts with a collection of various poems by Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot. Now, there is absolutely no denying, if I hate poetry, I REALLY hate the poetry of these guys. Sadly, it is a class that requires the study, at least for a little while, of these two writers. They are, after all, attributed to being the fathers of Modern poetry.
Fully expecting someone, anyone, to enjoy some of the poetry assigned, I started class in my typical manner, asking, “What did you like?”– no response. So I asked the next obvious question, “What did you hate?”
Thank you, Doug, for your honesty. — This young man boldly proclaimed his disdain for Ezra Pound’s “Papyrus.”
It goes like this:
Papyrus by Ezra Pound
And all I can think is that I hate this one too. But for some ridiculous reason, I cannot shake this poem from my mind. So I start looking into what the meaning of this could possibly be. With a quick internet search, I discover that Gongula is a real place. Yep, it really exists– in Africa. It is a place where seasons are very long. There is a very long dry, hot season, and there is a very long wet, rainy season. I wonder for a while whether Spring is the dry, hot season in Gongula, or whether Spring is the long, rainy season. Ultimately, I decide, it does not matter one bit.
I have no idea what Pound was thinking. I have zero desire to investigate his motivation for writing this poem. What I want, though, is to redeem this wretched text and give it some value that I can relate to. I decided that this poem can be read as symbolic of the seasons of life. In life, we go through seasons of childhood, adolescence, young adulthood, perhaps marriage, raising a family, and so on. It frequently can feel as if we are looking forward to the next season rather than enjoying the highlights of the season God has us in for now.
Papyrus is used to write on. Perhaps this symbolizes the product that speaker is looking forward to, though he first must await the growing season to pass and conclude into a time of harvest. But this growing season is too long, and we might as well be on the other side of the world waiting to see the fruit of our labors when we are waiting to move forward into the next season or the next stage of life.
I aim not for exactness in my analysis of this poem. I aim to bring something unknown into the realm of the known. As the human race, we are all connected. This 35 year-old mother of four; a Christian, an English professor, lover of all things literary, surely must be connected in some way to Ezra Pound.
Maybe the link we share is simply the human condition. We live in seasons; seasons are all too long sometimes. In the summer, we cannot wait for the cool Autumn evenings; in the winter, we cannot wait for the warm Spring mornings. In the Spring, we await the growth, the lessons to be learned, the fruit to grow, the circumstances of life to work themselves out. We await the harvest time when we will consume the desires of our hearts.
As we await the end of this season, we must keep the Word of God close to our hearts. Psalm 37:4 reminds us to “take delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart” (NIV).