Learning to Understand Poetry

I delved into poetry in high school. One author we read often was John Donne. At the time, I

found his poetry extremely hard to understand and harsh in tone. So, I wrote him off as a poet I would

never comprehend and left it at that. I also wrote off poetry. I could comprehend prose better and stuck

with that.

About four years later, I came across a HBO movie

Wit starring Emma Thompson. This movie

describes what it is like to die from cancer. The loneliness, the desire to interact with others, the ultimate fear

of death. Well, the person dying from this horrible disease was a Doctor of Philosophy specializing in

the metaphysical poetry of John Donne. Throughout the movie she recites the Holy Sonnets focusing

on Holy Sonnet VI.

Listening to the poem, rather than reading it myself brought it to life for me. I could hear the tone John

Donne was setting. I could sense the dread of facing death. I could feel the relief that “Death is just a

breath, a pause between life and life everlasting” (Wit)

This new-found understanding of John Donne made me want to find more of his poetry, in particular

his Holy Sonnets. They became prayers to me. I was able to find more of his Holy Sonnets in my

prayer books.

While John Donne is still very difficult to understand properly, I have come to appreciate his work even

more. By understanding how to read poetry, I hope to gain a deeper appreciation for the art that is

poetry and fall in love with it even more.


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