Poetry can be one of the most difficult subjects for University students to grasp. Some dislike it immensly, and that hate for the genre stems from years of being in the dark. The most commonly heard expression from a confused poetry student is "I don't get it." Well, you CAN "get it". You can use songs, limmericks, and other "fun" poems to hone your interpretive skills. It's so easy, I'm gonna show you how, right here, right now.
Consider Gelett Burgess' "The Purple Cow":
Reflections on a Mythic Beast, Who's Quite Remarkable, at Least.
I never saw a Purple Cow;
I never Hope to See One;
But I can Tell you, Anyhow,
I'd rather See that Be One.
Silly, right? Ridiculous, even! But you can use this silly poem to increase your ability to understand more complex poems.
Consider the language, and word choice. The small forward is simple enough, if you don't get it, never fear, here we go;
Use a thesaurus to understand words that seem oddly placed, or for words you don't know the meaning to right off. Change "Reflections on a Mythic Beast" to "Thoughts on an animal that doesn't exist". One is just the same as the other, but if the latter helps you understand, USE IT. It generally doesn't matter if you don't know the poem by heart, but that you understand the deeper message.
Let's move down the poem a little and work on the last two lines; "But I can Tell you, Anyhow, I'd rather See that Be One." Simple enough, right? Ask yourself the same question; would YOU want to BE a purple cow? Probably not, the poor creature would have a hard life, being oohed and ahhed over, and also poked and prodded. So, would you rather see a purple cow, also? I think so.
This is an easy poem to interpret, but some aren't so easy. When you come to complex poetry, use synonyms, change the word order, and remember analogies to help you understand the deeper meaning of the poem
Requests for poems you want help analyzing can be posted in "Comments" or shot directly to my e-mail. Once again, the reference used for this poem is Hazel Felleman's "Poems That Live Forever".