Reading poetry is a treat. Those who appreciate poetry benefit from the stimulation of parsing multiple meanings and the therapeutic effect of finding words that express exactly how they feel. Reading poetry is a pleasure in and of itself. But for some, the text on its own is simply not enough. Instead, they are curious about the things that shaped the life and writing of the author. The following strategies can be helpful for those interested in learning about the background of some of their favorite poems.
Consider the Historical Context
One of the best ways to understand where the poet is coming from is by making an effort to learn about their life and the circumstances of their existence. A little background research into the social or political climate a poet lived in or their personal struggles can help provide context and additional meaning when reading their work.
Try not becoming too overwhelmed by the history. You could spend hours reading about the social, political, and historical circumstances that shaped a poet’s work. (Academics spend years doing just that in pursuit of an advanced degree.) Instead, consider skimming through the poet’s wikipedia to get the salient details of their life. And if after reading the poem you find yourself obsessively fascinated by their work and circumstances, you can conduct further research.
Look into Its Place Within A Specific Literary Movement
Chances are your favorite poem shares the theme, style, and approach of a whole host of other poets. In fact, as in art, poetry and literature exist within particular movements defined by specific ways of writing about or viewing the world.
Are you a fan of Blake, Wordsworth, or Keats? These big names were part of the Romantic literary movement that focused on nature and imagination. You’ve almost certainly heard of the Elizabethan era most notable in the literary world for The Bard, more commonly known as Shakespeare. Identifying the movement within which a poem existed is very helpful for understanding the influences of the time, the impact of that particular work on poetry, and the ways in which literary expression has changed throughout history.
Seek Out The Original Language of the Poem
Many famous poems were originally written in a language other than English. Dedicated scholars and poets with a talent for languages have worked to translate these works in a way that makes the story accessible to more readers while also retaining the poet’s intended meaning. But this is a very difficult job to do and oftentimes, certain nuances are lost. You do not have to become fluent in the original language of the poem, but you can research what that original language was and read what scholars have to say about intended meanings, mistranslations, and more.
Reading poetry is a rich and marvelous experience. For those who are not satisfied with simply peeling away the layers of meaning, there exists a whole other world of history, biography, and linguistics to explore.