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Introduction to Poetry

Introduction to Poetry


by Billy Collins

Stanza 1 Summary

Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.

Line 1

I ask them to take a poem

  • This first line gives us an "I," a "them," and a "poem." These are basically the three key components of the whole poem.
  • "I" is the speaker of the poem. A good place to start when trying to figure out the speaker is to put on one of those funny little hats that Sherlock Holmes wore and do a little detective work. Ask a few basic questions: Who is this guy? Why is he asking "them" to take a "poem"?
  • The answer, dear Shmoopers, is elementary. Who asks you to look at poems? Okay, maybe your girlfriend/boyfriend if they happen to be particular mix of the literary and romantic.
  • But really we're betting that's not what he's going for here. The best answer, when coupled with that academic feel of the title, is a teacher.
  • Speaker solved. That makes the "them" a pretty clear choice as students and the poem is, well, a poem.

Line 2

and hold it up to the light

  • Hold up y'all. Our speaker, the teacher, doesn't ask the students to read the poem, he asks them to "hold it up to the light." Not a traditional approach. "Class, please open your text books to page twenty-five and hold them up to the light." Not what you usually hear, right?
  • The speaker is asking the students to look at, to read, the poem in a different way, not the way you would read a typical academic text.

Line 3

like a color slide

  • NB: The "color slide" in line three does not refer to brightly colored playground equipment. (Bummer.) A color slide, for those of you born in the age of PowerPoint, is a 2 x 2 inch square of cardboard with a smaller square of film in the middle. Slides are put in a slide projector and the images are shown large on a screen. The slides can also be held up to the light to reveal the images.
  • That said, why would the speaker ask the students to hold a poem up to the light like a color slide? Well, to see the picture, the images—who is in the picture, what they are doing, where they are, etc.
  • Another nifty thing about line 3 is that, coupled with line 2, it gives us a simile. Collins is comparing the poem to a color slide, something that holds images, holds information, but can also seem dark, difficult to see without light.

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