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Images and Poetry

Poetry is a beautiful field in literature for it does not only involve the author and the production, but also the reader. As with many kinds of literature and art, poetry relies heavily on the understanding of the audience and can be interpreted in many ways by different kinds of readers. Reading between the lines is a technique commonly used to depict hidden messages of the poem. Another is by taking into consideration the different elements of the poem – like structure, title, mood – and incorporating it into the reading. Still, probably the most challenging is learning to read ‘images’ within a poem.

Imagery in poetry is described as pictures depicted by the author and used in the poem as plain words (Abriza 1). These are suggested by the poet in his poem and must be read and understand in a non-literal fashion. In other words, they would stand for something different from their dictionary meaning. The challenge here is locating such elements. Sometimes, an image’s literal meaning might be appropriate and fit perfectly in the sense of the sentence that they sit in. But it is only upon further scrutiny that the reader can fully understand the purpose of the image, and in effect, gain the complete message of the poem.

In the poem “Joe Lawson’s Wife”, there are some objects that the author used as images to portray his message better. One of this is the word ‘sun’, and the other is ‘milk’. The word ‘sun’ can be found twice in the poem, at the third and at the last paragraph, both of which literally depicts sun as the celestial object giving light during the day. But, reading out of context, the sun becomes another thing, an image that the poet uses in the poem. In the third paragraph, ‘sun’ was used in the phrase “the sun was rising, its splinters from the cracks in the walls falling around her.

” This fits perfect in the paragraph’s sense, for it displays the appearance of light, probably as the dawn breaks in the scene. However, it is not common to associate the sun’s rays with splinters, as it was done in this phrase. Splinters are something that hurt someone, piercing directly to the skin and hard to remove. By relating ‘splinters’ to ‘sun’, the heavenly star becomes another thing, something that causes harm. And in this case, ‘sun’ becomes an image of the harsh, painful reality that slowly rises unto the consciousness of Joe’s wife.

It seems that Joe’ wife was still on a state of shock, and as the truth climbs to her, it causes her pain and anguish. In the last paragraph, the word ‘sun’ was again used, this time in the phrase “the sun’s bright nails pounding through. ” Again, sun here is used as another image. Although it still conveys the message of pain, it is of a higher degree this time. Nails are used instead of splinters, and nails are far more deadly and painful than any splinter. Also, the word pounding is related to this sun, showing a more exemplified type of pain and grief experienced by the woman.

In the same way, ‘milk’ is also used in the poem as an image. The first instance of the author stating ‘milk’ alone was in the phrase “milk streamed out and hit the ground”, after implying that Joe’s wife “milked the cow. ” In this phrase, and in this part of the poem, milk is something more than the fluid coming from the cow. It is simply an image pertaining to another fluid, the tears of the wife. Crying and letting go of tears is way to at least comfort oneself, as milk is a way to feed the hungry. The wife, being empty and hurt deep inside, cried tears (or milked the cow) as a response to this emptiness.

The author also used the phrase “there was no pail”, which is another relation to the milk or tears being plentiful. Another way to put it is that there was no pail that would catch all the tears, or no easy process of consoling the crying wife. The word was again used at the last paragraph of the poem in the phrase “milk puddling at her feet. ” This is like describing a scene where so many tears were cried that they simply created a pool at the woman’s feet. Another interesting thing about the poem is that the author used ‘milking stool’ aside from the milk. The first paragraph states “the milking stool the man had kicked away.

” Literally, the poem is referring to a stool on which the man climbed, tied himself with a rope and then kicked away, leaving him hanging by the neck. But if ‘milk’ was used in the other parts of the poem as the lady’s tears, then relating it to a stool can also mean a different thing. A milking stool is a piece of furniture where someone seats to milk a cow, or in the previous context, to shed tears. The milking stool was then probably not just any ladder the man used, it signifies a reason to cry, a reason to be sad and probably a reason to commit suicide.

To support the milk-tear theory, the milking stool can then be seen as problems, circumstances, and probably fights that caused to much tension in Joe, making him kill himself. And he figured out the solution would be by “kicking” it away. This is an example on which the image of ‘milk’ is not only used as a single word, but it can also be related to many other things and ideas in the poem. Images in poems must be seen in the context of the whole poem, not only on the paragraph where it is stated.

Usually, some authors would make readers think normally on the first parts of their poem, but upon reaching certain segments, different meanings would arise regarding different characters, or objects, or events. It is then always a good idea to read back or even better to read the poem again from the beginning. This way, the images can be picked out from the work, and the element of imagery be understand better in the context of the poem.

Works Cited

Abriza, Christine. “Imagery”. From DLSU Litera1. 5 April 2008, from < http://litera1no4. tripod. com/imagery_frame. html>

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