Poetry Quotes: Understanding

Elizabeth Barrett: Oh, but those poems! — with their glad and great-hearted acceptance of life…. Sometimes there are passages… I’ve marked one or two in your “Sordello” which rather puzzled me.
      ‘All petals, no prickles
      No prickles like trickles.’
Robert Browning: Well, Miss Barrett, when that passage was written only God and Robert Browning understood it. Now, only God understands it.
~The Barretts of Wimpole Street [This wording is from the 1934 movie, but it is quite similar in wording to the 1930 Rudolf Besier play the movie is based on; the screenplay writers are Ernest Vajda, Claudine West, and Donald Ogden Stewart. Browning has a poem “Another Way of Love” that reads thus: “…All petals, no prickles, / Delicious as trickles / Of wine poured at mass-time…” And another which reads “God is the perfect poet…” –tg]

I’ve written some poetry I don’t understand myself. ~Carl Sandburg

Poets utter great and wise things which they do not themselves understand. ~Plato

Even when poetry has a meaning, as it usually has, it may be inadvisable to draw it out…. Perfect understanding will sometimes almost extinguish pleasure. ~A.E. Housman

Genuine poetry can communicate before it is understood. ~T.S. Eliot, Dante, 1920

If a poet writes in gibberish, his soul yet understands. ~Terri Guillemets

A poem should not mean
But be.
~Archibald MacLeish, Ars Poetica, 1926

The worst fate of a poet is to be admired without being understood. ~Jean Cocteau, Le Rappel á l’ordre, 1926

Sometimes I’m not quite sure what it means, but the words are so beautiful I know it must be profound. ~Terri Guillemets, “In the library, alone & ecstatic,” 1990

Poetic writing can be understood and misunderstood in many ways. In most cases the author is not the right authority to decide on where the reader ceases to understand and the misunderstanding begins. Many an author has found readers to whom his work seemed more lucid than it was to himself. Moreover, misunderstandings may be fruitful under certain circumstances. ~Hermann Hesse, “Author’s Note,” 1961, to Steppenwolf, 1927, translated by Joseph Mileck and Horst Frenz, 1963