The question of what English poetry is involves that we need to know the politics of difference, and the politics of difference can create several issues. First of all, both to the students and teachers who are not English or American, English poetry seems to give a feeling of foreignness, which may not be overcome even after working on English poetry for a long time. This feeling of foreignness seems to be related to readers' difficulty of getting a holistic meaning from an English poem, in that the unexplained blank space of a poem and the gap from the different language double the difficulties in experiencing an English poem. This can bring two aspects in reading English poems: On the one hand an English poem is certainly written in English¾a foreign language¾and on the other, rather than a prose, a verse can give much more difficulty to discern the poet's message and context.
The difference between prose and verse might be associated with the knowing the difference between music and narrative; most of English poems are based on music and sound. Above all, the marked and acknowledged difference between prose and verse lies in condensation, concentration, intensity, music, sensitivity, and sound, and thus it takes time and energy to understand an English poem. The reader has to figure out the whole-implied meaning and the poet's intentional message from the well-harmonized composition of the music and the message. As Ezra Pound, a modernist poet, once said, the notable distinction between prose and verse is their difference of length; while the prose is longer than the verse, the verse is absolutely concentrated, condensed, and, thus, short, rather than expanded and diluted. If we read a prose, sometimes a quick glimpse provides the understanding of the whole message and intention of the author, because the text of the prose is not condensed, gives several clues in itself, and explains his/her message and intention with expanded form not with the concentrated one. As we are familiar with the Korean prose, the author of the prose usually uses the emphatic and repetitive strategy to deliver his/her message to the audience. In the English prose as in the Korean one, the author employs this strategy of repetition and emphasis in terms of several episodes. Thus, despite its short and condensed form of economy, reading of an English poem requires much more energy and time so as to find the whole meaning, because a poem leaves an interpretative space with the reader and does not reveal its meaning only by its poetic text.
Understanding the meaning of a poem can also bring another issue, and this is the problem with differentiation of the time and period of a poem and its reader. Actually history of English poetry starts with Beowulf. If he/she is not familiar with old English, he/she cannot know and read an old English poem, because even for a native speaker an old English poem looks like a poem in a foreign language. Even though the reader could know the general meaning of the old poem, he/she cannot get the context of the poem without some knowledge of different historical and cultural backgrounds of the poem. Also, the meaning of language could change over time, and there might be inclusion of newly coined or imported words; for example, English language has quite many French words such as gourmet. Reading a poem includes contextuality as well, and thinking, theme, music, and expectation of the age are varied. Then, the interpretation of a poem cannot be always the same, and is destined to change and modify according to the reader's time and his/her understanding of the time of a poem. Therefore, I would dare to say that there cannot be a fixed, and absolute or established interpretation of a poem, but there is a continual, flexible, and fluid fusion of the poem and the reader¾that is, the past and the present, the fact and the imagination. This fusion is just the mechanics of reading of a poem, and for us this mechanics of reading and appreciating English poetry needs much time, sometimes training, and the process of meditation.
Especially Korean readers are not familiar with the process of meditation, for we are accustomed to reading Korean poems. As I have said earlier, the difference between music and narrative might be fit into that of Korean poetry and English poetry in that Korean poetry is rooted in the form of narrative, and English in music and sound. Perhaps, this differentiation may draw a heated argument from Korean scholars, but it seems that an English poem is tuned to spoken language and speech, while a Korean poem to a song. This point might be typical, but the differentiation of Korean and English poetry would provide one of explanations of the foreignness and strangeness of Korean reader when he/she experiences an English poem.
Usually, when we read a Korean poem, we don't need time to mediate and can just swallow the poem without repeated processes of reading and analyzing a poetic text, since Korean poetry is based on songs which directly transfers the emotion of the poets. The difficulty of reading and appreciation of English poetry does not seem to come from the mere difference of languages. Reading an English poem undergoes different processes by which the reader experiences music, rhythm, and rhyme of speech as well as author's implied message. Thus, in order to get a whole combined effect of music of a poem in English, the reader must reread several times, and this repetitive strategy can provide the experience of English poetry, though this work seems to be time-consuming and boring. However, only if the repetitive reading of an English poem can bring the understanding of the poetic text, the reader is surely experiencing one of the pleasures which are hard to find in reading Korean poems. In some ways, since experiencing an English poem is very difficult and a kind of working processes, the access to a poem in English is not easy. Rather we may as well call all reading of English poetry "studying English poetry": This must be a hard work.
After all, the crucial difference between Korean and English poetry is the process of meditation, and perhaps these results in the difference of language. In this regard, I don't want to argue that the language of meditation is superior to the language of a song or a lyric, but we need to know the difference before reading and appreciating English poetry. In addition, we need to train our ears to listen to sound of English¾rhymes, rhythms, that is, the music of English poetry or just English (we definitely know that English has a different sentence structure, intonations, and accents). In other words, we should have language competence enough to experience English poetry. With the acknowledgement of difference, finally we can begin to further one of steps leading to reading and appreciation of English poetry. And balancing your labors to read a poem in English, experiencing politics of differences of time and space will give you the enlargement of your dimensions of knowing the fluid world.
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