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Poetry & Symbolism

Walter Butts, MFA's picture
BFA in Creative Writing Blog
Poetry & Symbolism


Here is the solitude from from which you are absent.

It is raining.  The sea wind is hunting stray gulls.

                                                                        -- Pablo Neruda


Every day, we encounter symbols that help redefine the world around us and our place in it.  Pablo Neruda was a poet acutely aware of this dynamic, and his poems often sought to resolve the separation between the self and the natural world.  Referencing the elements of earth, air, water, and fire in stunning language, Neruda’s poems are passionately evocative. Here is the opening stanza of “Bird,” from his book, Fully Empowered:


                        It was passed from one bird to another,

                        the whole gift of the day.

                        The day went from flute to flute,

                        went dressed in vegetation,

                        in flights which opened a tunnel

                        through which the wind would pass

                        to where birds were breaking open

                        the dense blue air –

                        and there, night came in.


In Neruda’s Memoirs, the poet recalls his childhood in Chile.  As a small boy he treasured a toy lamb on wooden wheels. One day, he was playing in his yard near a high fence, when he heard the voice of a boy from the other side.  The two began a conversation and quickly learned they could become friends.  Eventually, Neruda asked the boy to help him dig a hole under the fence.  When they had finished, Neruda passed through the gift of his favorite toy.  In turn, the boy handed over his prized possessiona pine cone!


That pine cone represents the possibilities for human interaction, and serves as a symbol for poetry itself.


So here’s a suggestion.  Find some time to go for an extended walk.  Be sure to bring a notebook to write down what you observe along the way. There may be symbols here you’ll write your next poem around.


-by Walter Butts, faculty member in the BFA in Creative Writing Program.


Submitted by Luc phinney (not verified) on
I wonder about the changing value of symbols in this new era of ubiquitous information. When the entire exegesis of Prufrock is available in your pocket, to what degree is the mystery, and therefore the value, of those little scuttling crabs decreased? On the whole this strikes me as a good thing - and encouragement towards the sort of private symbology you seem to be writing about here. For me, though, Neruda resonates when he seems to reach through the symbol into some underlying feeling...

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