POETRY ANALYSIS: THE SENSORY-IMPRESSIONISTIC LEVEL
The poem, as an objective result, must preferably be confronted as a physical (printed) structure capable of suggesting meaning from its visual appearance. The sensory-impressionistic level in analysis, therefore, is the appreciator’s first concession to the oft-neglected premise that the work of art is itself an independent entity with a structure defining (physically) its “being”. It is a formal appearance. Just as the physical appearance of a man can exude all types of impressions about his character, so can the poem which appears on the page (assuming that the artist has shaped up his work’s structure to functionally concretize the experience or reality he is creating.)
What is involved in this level of analysis?
The Sensory-Impressionistic Level
This analytical level consists of:
1. Impressions from the printed text on the page can be derived from: a) the use of typographic symbols—the arrangement of the letters in the words of the poem; b) the arrangement of lines; c) length of lines and words; d) punctuations; e) ideographic aspirations resembling those of Chinese or Japanese characters; f) other visual devices peculiar to architecture, sculpture, and painting.
2. Impressions from the verbal composition of the poem: (In reading a poem, one is assumed to read it aloud first so that its melodic character may be appreciated. This simply follows the literary tradition of poems being composed for verbal/oral recitation.) a) sounds of the letters or phonemes (conventional significance of the sounds attached by the users of the language; viz., sibilant sounds like “s”, “sh”, “z” suggest silence, solemnity, sarcasm, etc.; b) organized sounds used as melodic devices in the poem: alliteration, onomatopoeia, assonance, consonance, reversed assonance and consonance; c) rhyme as a melodic element (differs from rhyme as a structural element unifying the poem into stanzas); d) rhythm as a melodic element (differs from its structural function – poetic feet and meter; viz, iambic pentameter, etc.)
To illustrate the above, take a look at the following poem by e.e. cummings (Barry Marks, E.E. Cummings, pg. 21, College and University Press, New Haven, Conn, 1964):
Impressions: From the appearance of the typographic symbols on the page (medium), one is obviously impressed about something going down, something descending rather gracefully (not a plummeting because of the spaces between letter-symbols). Visually, therefore, the beholder can see a descent of typographic symbols resembling the figure “L” or “l” (one) and the article “a” (one), the preponderance of the liquid sound of “L”, the continuant sound of “F” and the sibilant “S”. What do these mean? One can get the impression that “one” is being wafted by something in “F”, “S”, “L”.
Looking at the Cummings poem as a structural appearance, the beholder may get any of the following impressions from both the printed text on the page and the sounds: impression of a state of feeling or mood characterized by “one-ness” or being alone, therefore, lonely; impressions of a falling of something carried as it were by some wind or breeze which is suggested by the predominance of the continuant, sibilant, and liquid sounds (f, s, l).
One gets these impressions from the associations he makes of these visual and auditory elements. What does “one-ness” or “alone-ness” suggest? What does a “fall” or a “falling” mean? But these are questions properly answered in the associative level of analysis.
Would the following version give the same impressions mentioned above?
l (a leaf falls) oneliness
What about the following version?
If Cummings was tracing the descent of a falling leaf, would the above version not be better than the original version? Why or why not?
Can the following be analyzed on this level?
The Emperor’s New Sonnet
The Bashful One
Both the above were created by Jose Garcia Villa, a Philippine-born poet who is considered that country’s foremost exponent of the ars gratia artis dictum. The first one above is an empty page save for the title and the page number. The following figure bears the title, a solitary comma on a corner of the page and the page number. Would analysis result into a recognition of that which is artistic in these creations?
Of course, not all poems deliberately intend their structure to concretize the experience of the poet. Some poets, while not deliberately intending the structure to render an impression of a mood or a meaning, may intuitively – or by reason of artistic discipline – infuse such energy. Artistic discipline here refers to the craftsman’s intuitive grasp* of his medium such that his choice of details automatically includes their suggestive values, their functional significance. (*Jacques Maritain, Creative Intuition in Art and Poetry, pp. 75-85 et seq. The World Publishing Co., Ohio, 1961.)
For instance, Robert Frost in “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”** might not have intended his envelope quatrains to give the impression of continuity and movement (which is the physical as well as the psychological situation he used in his dramatic content of a man who rides through the snow, stops by the woods, and realizes that he must go on with his journey). But the rhyme scheme as an element of structural unity may suggest these impressions.
It goes this way: aaba, bbcb, ccdc, dddd. Notice that the unrhymed third line in each stanza is used by Frost to move as well as unify the entire poem. The “b” of the first becomes the tying primary sound in the second, and the “c” in the second becomes the tying sound in the third stanza, and the “d” in the third becomes the continuing “d” in the final stanza to concretize the “moving along” of the persona.
** STOPPING BY WOODS ON A SNOWY EVENING
Whose woods these are I think I know
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch the woods fill up with snow.
My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.
He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
(Next: Part 3: The Cognitive Level of Analysis)
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