This poem is a big game of linguistic dodge ball between poets and philosophers. The philosophers say that words are ideas which represent a perfect or original example of a thing. The poets say that words don’t just represent things, they are things. When we speak a word aloud, it sets the air to vibrating with a real, physical sound. According to the poem, this sound can be as sweet as a blackberry. Of course, we don’t hear the full story from the philosophers, because a poet speaks the entire time. But, this poet thinks that a certain type of philosopher wants to deny that words correspond to everyday things in the world, which seems to deny the possibility of real communication.
Questions About Language and Communication
What is the difference between seeing words as "ideas" and seeing words as "things?" Does the poem settle on one or the other viewpoint?
What does it mean to say that, "a word is elegy to what it signifies?"
What is the effect of putting certain words in the poem in italics? How does it set them apart from the other words in the poem? What do these words have in common?
The poet says at one point that "talking this way, everything dissolves" (15). How does our use of language affect the way we look at reality?
Chew on This
Although it seems to focus a lot on nature, the poem actually makes a serious argument that Platonic philosophy prevents us from dealing with concrete examples of injustice in the world.
The poem argues that "general ideas" and "particulars" cannot be easily separated, and that words are a mix of both.