So, how do we figure out what’s going on,
in a poem, what it’s really about? Well, obviously, we have to look at the text. The first thing
we look for in the text is, does it have a form? Not all poetry has a specific form,
but a lot of it does. For example, the poem we’re looking at today, is a sonnet, I being
born a woman and distressed, by Edna St. Vincent Millay. Does this mean anything? Why has the
author chosen to use this particular form? and in the case of this particular poem, there
are a lot of good reasons, because of the history of the sonnet, which is a little song
of love, usually of courtly, platonic love, unfulfilled love, so when she writes this
poem, which is about love. Well, it’s not really about love, but it is definitely fulfilled.
She’s commenting on the nature of the form, and using that form, to comment on society
as well, so we look at the form first. Then, we look at the story. What is happening in
the poem? Something is going to change at some point, even in the most abstract poems,
something changes, at some point, so what’s that story? Who is being changed? What is
being changed? In this particular poem, what is being changed is the man’s perception,
of what’s going on, what is about to happen, and how she is supposed to feel about it.
If nothing changes in a poem, then basically what we have is a bad poem, and we can move
on. We can go to something else. It shouldn’t be just a rock. A rock sits there. A poem
doesn’t just sit there, it should change. We look for images. We look at the language.
In this particular poem, one of the reasons I’ve chosen it, is because it’s got one of
my favorite words in a poem. I being born a woman and distressed, By all the needs and
notions of my kind, and that word notions, it’s the notions that women have about their
place in the world. Notions that men have, particularly in the 1920’s, when the poem
was written, about women’s place in the world, and there’s also that hint of notion, the
old notions counter, which is where women bought this stuff, for sewing and for others
of their little household chores, that were beneath men, so she’s bringing in a lot of
different ideas, but using that specific word, so we have to look carefully at what each
word means, what each image means, and how they’re brought together to create that change,
that I was talking about before.