Thematic Guide to American Poetry

Thematic Guide to American Poetry

Thematic Guide to American Poetry

Thematic Guide to American Poetry

Synopsis

This unique poetry resource offers interpretations of 250 poems, representing the work of 86 poets from a wide spectrum of historical, contemporary, ethnic, and canonical writers. Organization of this volume facilitates easy access to information on poetry for users' individual purposes. The main section of the guide contains narrative essays on 21 alphabetically arranged themes that recur throughout the rich history of American poetry. In each section, the explications of individual poems are arranged chronologically to trace the evolution of a particular theme over time. Educators teaching thematic units will find relevant essays here appropriate as either background presentation, discussion ideas, or student assignments. Following each entry, the poems are listed with information about the anthologies in which they may be found. Most of the abbreviations used here correspond to the codes used in The Columbia Granger's Index to Poetry in Anthology, familiar to most librarians. This guide is ideal for librarians and teachers who need to identify and locate poems on a given theme, and for students and lovers of poetry who wish to enrich their understanding of the thematic meanings of poems.

Excerpt

A “theme” is the central idea or unifying concept stated or implied by a poem. It is usually an abstraction made immediate and particular by concrete representation. Often, one can distinguish between a poem's abstract theme and its concrete subject. An example will help to clarify this distinction. In Philip Freneau's well-known poem “The Wild Honey Suckle,” the subject is the wild honeysuckle itself (titles often indicate subjects). The theme, or main idea of the poem, on the other hand, is the transience of life, which the concrete honeysuckle illustrates.

Not all poems, of course, present such straightforward illustrations. In some cases, even careful, informed readers may disagree on the question of what a poem is “really” about. So, from a theoretical standpoint, it is useful to conceptualize the theme less as an intrinsic part of the poem and more as part of a reader's interpretation of a poem. When we pose the question, What is the theme of this particular poem? (which is identical to the question, What is this poem really about?), we are beginning to interpret the poem. The validity of any interpretation, however, will have to be supported by evidence and argument based on close reading—that is, careful consideration of all the poem's details and overall design. In addition, knowledge of the poet's life, times, viewpoint, and other poems is indispensable to one's understanding of what a poem says and means.

This Thematic Guide offers 250 interpretations, representing the work of 86 poets, divided into 21 thematic categories. The categories are organized alphabetically, and within each category, the individual explications are arranged chronologically, to emphasize the evolution of a particular theme over time. Chronology has been violated in a few instances to discuss multiple poems by a single author as a group or to effect smoother transitions. The book draws upon the full range of Amer-

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