poetry and art

I talked with my friend about my previous art and poetry post. I mentioned that I've had poems explained to me, so I know they can be got, and this is one of the people who has explained a poem to me. So I asked him to explain the Dickinson poem. The first thing he did was correct my spelling of Dickinson. Here's the poem again, with his interpretation after:

SUCCESS is counted sweetest
By those who ne’er succeed.
To comprehend a nectar
Requires sorest need.
Not one of all the purple host        
Who took the flag to-day
Can tell the definition,
So clear, of victory,
As he, defeated, dying,
On whose forbidden ear        
The distant strains of triumph
Break, agonized and clear.

His interpretation — me paraphrasing:
First stanza: People who succeed all the time don't really understand or appreciate success. "nectar" refers to success.
Second stanza: Royal nobility, when they win a battle, although they won, don't really understand what it means to win. "purple" refers to nobility.
Third stanza: The soldier on the ground dying, far from where the celebration of victory is taking place, is the guy who really understands what the victory means. "forbidden ear" refers to the fact that, from the point of view of the celebrating nobility, the soldier is not meant to hear the sounds of their celebration. The soldier is a lesser entity who's purpose is just to fight.

I think his interpretation makes sense.

I asked him how he came up with it. He said that he essentially reads over the words like "nectar", "purple" and "forbidden ear" and tries inserting different interpretations for them until he finds one that fits.

I also talked with him a bit about the Picasso painting. I'll add it here again for reference:

He said he didn't understand what the hand-looking thing near the woman's neck was. If it was a hand, did that mean the thing beneath it was a foot? I told him I didn't know what it was. It looked like a hand to me, but I wasn't sure how it was meant to be interpreted in the rest of the image — it does seem awkwardly positioned. But I said it didn't bother me. It wasn't the point of the painting, for me.

He pointed me to another artist, Kandinsky:

He said he likes this style better than cubism, and there is no worry of getting caught on anomalies like the awkwardly placed hand in Picasso's work.

I said I like this work too, and it occurred to me that I comprehend Picasso's work in a similar way to how I hear music — I love music with words, but I don't actually know what the words mean in sequence. I take the words as suggestive. Similarly, I take the visual elements in Picasso's painting as suggestive, evoking thoughts of a woman and a chair and such. And in a sense, the Kandinsky painting is like instrumental music, which I like, but tends not to be as powerful for me as music with words.

He also pointed me to the poem "if", which begins:

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too...
This poem does make sense to me. And I think it's more analogous to a renaissance painting — that is, a literal painting that is meant to be exactly what it looks like. I do like the message of the poem, but it is not the sort of poem I mean when I say I don't get poetry.

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