This Gertrude Stein gem was recently brought to my attention:

Look here. Being intelligible is not what it seems. You mean by understanding that you can talk about it in the way that you have a habit of talking, putting it in other words. But I mean by understanding enjoyment. If you enjoy it, you understand it. And lots of people have enjoyed it so lots of people have understood it. . . . But after all you must enjoy my writing, and if you enjoy it you understand it. If you do not enjoy it, why do you make a fuss about it? There is the real answer.

It’s such Gertrude Stein language, circling around itself.  But I think her point reflects where I’m trying to get people with poetry.  I majored in English in undergrad and I am familiar with the literary dissection associated with being an English major.  I personally love analysis, but I also think that poetry can be enjoyed at a level where enjoyment IS understanding.

Is it necessary for you to grasp every dimension of every metaphor and allusion?  No.  Do you even need to understand every word or sentence distinctly?  No.  You can enjoy the sound, the rhythm, the feeling.  I think that, especially when read aloud well, poetry has the ability to be understood by the listener just by its sounds, rather than necessarily its words.  There’s a mood.  A feeling.  And you can enjoy that and understand.

If you’re interested, you can find the Gertrude Stein audio here.

Nerd Note:  I stil am obsessed with the story about someone seeing the portrait Picasso painted of Gertrude Stein and commenting that “She doesn’t look like that” and Picasso’s great response:  “She will.”


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