Sunday, June 27, 2010

Man and Camel - The Precarious Dance of Poetry

In "Man and Camel," Mark Strand offers us a beautiful poem in which a narrator is smoking on their porch and sees a man and camel walking by. The man and camel sing a mysterious song.

A full copy of the poem is available here:


Through the course of the poem, the narrator reveals the meaning of the metaphor "man and camel." He states that the pair "seemed/an ideal image for all uncommon couples." The man and camel have nearly disappeared from the narrator's sight, but they return to the porch after the metaphor has been revealed:

... They stood before my porch
staring up at me with beady eyes, and I said:
"You ruined it. You ruined it forever."

In this poem, revealing the metaphor is very effective. It seems to warn poets not to reveal too much in their poems. Readers often have the desire to know what a poem "means," especially if they are new to poetry. A good poem causes us to reflect and consider the meaning. The meaning may seem different to various people, or may even seem to change to an individual over the course of their lifetime.

"Man and Camel" draws our attention to the fact that there is such a delicate balance to a poem. A poem needs to be clear enough to connect with the reader, but still needs to hold back from telling everything.

--John Kippen

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