“I don’t quite understand about understanding poetry. I experience poems with pleasure….” — John Ashbery
Me either. I don’t understand most of the poems I read. But they make me happy or sad, or thoughtful, or inspired, or excited, or depressed. I’m excited at a word used in a new way or a phrase that you just can’t forget—like “April is the cruelest month” or “darkness at the break of noon shadows even the silver spoon.” Wait. What?
But since my freshman rhetoric professor explained that poetry is a most efficient language form, accomplishing what prose might take hours and pages to do, I began to not care any more about whether I understood. I just let it happen in me.
I’ve always thought that his poetry in this sense is what distinguishes Dylan from being just another 60’s rock star—and one reason why he deserves his Nobel—not that poets need us to understand their poetry.