Symbolism and Narrative in Poetry

Here’s your situation. It’s an image.


You could easily build a poem out of it by following the light.


For a poem, this movement of bodily knowledge is a plot. Now, with that in mind, let’s start again. Here’s our opening situation again.


If you want to write a story, add a surprise. Something happens now and must be accommodated, now.



There is a sequence of events which lead to and arise from this moment. The moment itself circles around a decision, or a choice.


Fiction is about creating narratives of choice. Characters do things to other characters. Other characters respond, step by step. Poetry is weakened by this kind of plot structure. It’s probably more interested in exploring the relationship of illusion between gull and reflection. For poetry, both gull and reflection are the gull. Call that kind of narrative symbolism. If you want the gull to represent something else, such as, say, freedom or something, or beauty, well, that’s not poetic symbolism. It’s a starting point, or a situation. It’s like this…


…without this …


The gull is what you’ve added. It’s about you, not about the poem. That’s not symbolism. It’s an argument — a sermon, perhaps, or an essay, or even the bones of a plot. Symbolism, on the other hand, is a way of seeing by being present. It opens within a moment. The moment has no directionality, and no intent. That’s not to say it’s like this …


… because that’s of course, an image, and an image is not a symbol. It’s a placeholder for one. You have to actually be there, as a body. Poetry can lead you there, to your body, but then you have to become the water and leave all words behind. There’s an art to doing that, and another art to coming back. But that’s not a story.




2 thoughts on “Symbolism and Narrative in Poetry

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s