First, a quick refresher for those of us who haven't read poetry in a while and may have forgotten the basic process when discovering a new poem. Step 1 - Read the title. It is easy to skip this step, but don't. Step 2 - Read the poem out loud, pausing only when punctuation dictates, not at the end of each line, i.e.:
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood...
Should be read as, "Two roads diverged in a yellow wood [pause] and sorry I could not travel both and be one traveler [pause] long I stood..." with no pause between "both" and "And". It is not always necessary to pause for commas followed by quotation marks. Do not try to add emotion to the poem; the words will do that themselves. Step 3 - Reflect on the general impression the poem gave you. This could include identifying the tone. Step 4 - Reread the poem to determine what is literally happening or being described. For example, here we would say that a man is literally in a wood trying to chose a path. Step 5 - Look for deeper meaning; this should include both what you believe the author is trying to communicate as well as your personal interpretation. It is entirely possible that you will see something of worth in the poem the author never intended; do not panic, this is normal. This is where with Frost's poem we would say the roads symbolize life decisions, but also ask ourselves what else they could be interpreted as. Step 6 - Fail to get your friends as excited about the poem as you are. Step 7 - Have the thought, "Poetry doesn't seem too hard." Step 8 - Write your own poetry. Step 9 - Rereading your poetry and feel whatever pride you may have in it dissolve as you realize you are simply copying the poem you most recently fell in love with. Step 10 - Forget you like reading poetry for a few years, stumble across a fantastic new poem, then promptly begin again at Step 1.
Well, that got a little...autobiographical. No matter, without further ado I present this week's great work: (Don't forget the poem process!)
Maybe someone comes to the door and says,
"Repent," and you say, "Come on in," and it's
Jesus. That's when all you ever did, or said,
or even thought, suddenly wakes up again and
sings out, "I'm still here," and you know it's true.
You just shiver alive and are left standing
there suddenly brought to account: saved.
Except, maybe that someone says, "I've got a deal
for you." And you listen, because that's how
you're trained--they told you, "Always hear both sides."
So then the slick voice can sell you anything, even
Hell, which is what you're getting by listening.
Well, what should you do? I'd say always go to
the door, yes, but keep the screen locked. Then,
while you hold the Bible in one hand, lean forward
and say carefully, "Jesus?"
|This is William Stafford. Who else would it be??|
Notice the language here; it is not flowery, it's not even what most of us would consider "poetic". Why? I consider it a masterpiece of the simplistic. It is not only an entertaining and accessible read, it is also useful. How do we navigate through competing religious voices in our lives? Are these things even important? This poem not only explores these ideas, but it gives advise which is a pragmatic without being didactic. Not an easy feat, especially in poetry. For me, personally, I can feel my mind expanding as I read this poem. My favorite line is, "they told you, 'Always hear both sides.'" because it's so true. I have been trained to do that--which is probably a good thing overall--but I have never really considered the possible danger in doing so. Also note that in a poem of just a few hundred words the word, "suddenly" is used twice. Don't think for a moment that wasn't intentional. What about the described encounters here could be seen as "sudden?" There's a lot more I could say about this poem, but by following Steps 1-5 of the guide, you will be able to learn much more than anyone other than yourself could possibly tell you about the poem. I leave further interpretation in your capable hands.