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The poem "Opening the Cage," by Edwin Morgan, is based on a quote taken from John Cage. Cage said, "I have nothing to say and I am saying it and that is poetry." Cage's quote contains fourteen words which are rearranged fourteen times by the poet to create a fourteen line sonnet. At first glance, the poem may seem to be random and senseless, and this interpretation could hold true, for Cage was known especially for his chaotic and seemingly mindless music. One thing to keep in mind is that Cage desired to create meaning through musical methods that most people would believe to be meaningless. Edwin Morgan, the author, is similarly doing this by creating meaning through meaninglessness.
Based on a line of 14 words, by simply taking all possible combinations of the words, there are over 87 billion combinations. Certainly, most of these combinations would not make any sense at all, but surely there are more than 14 that would make some sort of sense. This means the author did not just take 14 lines that make little sense and compose a random poem. Instead, each line builds upon the previous line and leads into the next one. Similar to most English sonnets, this poem explains a problem or dilemma in the first 12 lines. The last two lines (or final couplet) solve the problem and shed light on the rest of the poem. The paradox in this sonnet is that, even though saying (or creating) poetry is nothing in and of itself, through producing poetry as a reader or, even more importantly, as an author, we can gain meaning from the poetry, and only then can we make it a part of us.
In the first line a question is asked: "I have to say poetry and is that nothing and am I saying it?" The second line is simply a paraphrase of the first question. The poet wants to know if writing poetry is worth anything, or if it is "nothing." The poem explores and wanders while developing the entire theme until the opening question is answered by the final couplet. The first two lines are followed by two more corresponding lines. Lines 3-4 state that the author has nothing, but that he has poetry to say and he must say it. To summarize the first quatrain, the author asks what the meaning of poetry is, but before he has answered his initial question, he continues by explaining that, regardless of his condition, or the meaning of poetry, he has something he must say through poetry.
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The second quatrain is composed of four lines that compare poetry and having. First, the author explains he must have poetry, but composing it is nothing. Next, he explains that poetry is nothing, but that by saying poetry he may have poetry, which is something. The next line simply blurts out, "To have nothing is poetry." By seeking to understand poetry, we are trying to make poetry a part of us and thus add something to who we are. Before we have understood the poem and added to ourselves, it is as if we have "nothing." The second quatrain concludes by revealing that poetry is saying that one has nothing. This second quatrain can be the most confusing, but strangely enough, it is also the most unified. In all four lines, the poet explains how he has nothing, but once he has said poetry, his perspective changes and he suddenly has something. By explaining that he has something after saying poetry, the author has already begun to address the initial question of whether or not saying poetry is nothing. However, the poem doesn't stop its development here.
The third and final quatrain before the closing couplet changes the entire theme of this sonnet. Instead of continuing to debate the difference between having and saying poetry, the author begins so speak of his own existence in terms of the poetry. Now, the poem becomes personal and begins to take on a deeper meaning as it is applied to his own life. By saying nothing, the author says he is poetry. Here, we see that poetry is becoming a part of the author, as he "says," or probably composes, poetry in this situation. In the next line, the author is told by "poetry" to say this poetry to nothing. By saying poetry to nothing, he realizes that he is nothing yet now he has poetry. In this final section, which seems to be one giant paradox, this point is reached: by saying nothing to nothing. The poet realizes that this makes him something, and it gives him poetry. The poet has written poetry, defined as nothing, to no one, but merely by creating this poetry, the author has created an element that is now a part of himself.
The final line of the poem reads as follows: "Saying poetry is nothing and to that I say I am and have it." From this line we begin to understand the poem in its entirety, and instead of just addressing writing poetry, the author shifts to saying poetry as it relates to the reader: "Saying poetry is nothing." We can assume this illustrates meaninglessness. However, having, or most likely understanding, poetry is everything. Here is the dilemma introduced in the first line that is finally being answered. The only way to have poetry is by saying it. Although merely saying it is nothing, it leads to a greater understanding and the ability to "have" it. Saying is a step toward having it, and we must say poetry in order to have it.
Many people today do not like poetry for one reason or another. Plenty of poetry is considered by many to be much too difficult to understand. However, when poetry is understood, it becomes a part of who we are. When we work to understand something, there is no greater feeling than mastering that subject. This idea of effort is exactly what makes poetry so amazing. It will usually take effort for us to understand a poem, but once we grasp its meaning we feel like we have prevailed over something. In "Opening the Cage," the author tells us how he has learned to interpret poetry. Saying poetry is useless, because in simply saying poetry we cannot understand it. The paradox is that the only way to understanding a poem is through saying it. If poetry is not said, it is just like the poetry never existed. To understand any poem we must first say it in order to create it; then, we may unlock the meaning of the poem and it will become a part of us. In closing, I really wanted to do something interesting or inspirational, but instead, I couldn't resist trying my own variation of fourteen words to try and summarize this paper:
"Poetry is saying nothing and to say that I have it and I am."