I had an interesting discussion with some of my college buddies the other day. It basically stemmed from my last post about “The Tyger” by William Blake. One of them wanted to know why I did not mention the lines below in my commentary.
When the stars threw down their spears
And water’d heaven with their tears
These lines follow the poet’s musings on what human tools that the Creator might have used in forging the magnificent tiger. For some reason, I felt they did not fit into the flow of my commentary and had not called out to them, beautiful though they are.
Then all of us weighed in on what we each felt that the lines meant. My take had been that the stars were so moved by the Creator’s efforts and the spectacular result at the end of it, that they wept.
One friend wondered, “if the stars were overwhelmed with emotions both fear and awe.. threw [down their] spears and cried too”. Another friend agreed, saying, “[even] stars so powerful threw down their spears and wept in fear”.
Yet another friend thought “of [the] tiger in starlight and the rays being like fierce spears that want to hunt it but only make it look mightier”. She wondered if there might be a hunting reference in there somewhere. So, “when the tiger got hunted (hunters being the stars among animals) and the heavens wept for the loss, did the creator still smile with the pride of its creation?”
It was amazing to see how we could make so many different readings from the same bit of verse.
Then I thought, that is indeed the beauty of poetry (of all art, I should say). You can interpret it in any number of ways that call out to you personally. It does not have to be what the poet meant it be while he wrote it. The possibilities are really, endless!
Just as a poet has the artistic licence to bend the words of a language to his vision, so have the readers the licence to interpret them in a way that speaks the most to them. As my friend summed it up, the more the possibilities for interpretation, the richer the poem.