Interpreting Poetry

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Interpreting Poetry Poetry is, more or less, up for interpretation. Most poetry is not written like a novel, it does not tell a specific story and give you all of the details you need to decipher it. A poem is there for the reader to interpret on his or her own. After recently reading Seamus Heaney’s poem, St. Kevin and the Blackbird, I have taken my own understanding of it, which could be completely different from any one of my classmates’ understandings. Coming from a Christian background, rather than a Catholic background, I will have a different interpretation than my Catholic classmates. Catholicism and Christianity are similar, but in Christianity, there are no prominents saints, therefore I have very little background on the actual story of St. Kevin. This is the first, and probably biggest difference in interpretation between readers. In the first four stanzas, the reader is put in St. Kevin’s place. All the sensations, the thoughts, that are going through his mind are put into the mind of the reader. The reader can almost feel what it’s like to have the blackbird in his or her hand. The reader can sense the link to “eternal life” - one cycle that has already begun is using him as a link to the next cycle of birds that is just about to begin. When Heaney speaks of pity, the reader knows the feeling and can empathize with the feeling of St. Kevin, stuck with his hand out until the eggs have hatched and the birds have flown away. The next stanza was critical to my own personal reading of this poem. Not having any sort of Catholic background, this paragraph, concerning the reality of the poem, showed me that this is only a story, and that it was not merely a poem of fiction. By asking the reader to imagine because “the whole thing is imagined anyhow”, it tells me that this is a tale that has been told many times. The author asks the reader to think about being Kevin. Linked to the previous 4 stanzas, the reader has already imagined themself as Kevin, with or without realizing it, and this stanza is no different. Connecting to the next stanza, the reader thinks of the mental and physical feelings that would come with having your arm stuck straight out for such a prolonged period of time. This next stanza speaks first of the physical pain, and ends with ideas of not pain, but caring and compassion.
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