Author: Alec Whetsel

Poetry and Change

As a creative writing major and a writer, I love reading. I think that words can be extremely powerful when strung together in just the right way. They have a way of enticing you. Luring you to read more. Slowly sucking you into them until every letter is crawling along the little pink wrinkles in your head, getting comfy and making their homes there for the next few minutes or hours. Once they’ve settled in, they can have a strange effect on you. They can drive you to tears over people that you’ve never so much as said ‘hello’ to. They can replace the words in front of you with visions of previously unimaginable worlds. I could go on, but I’m sure you get what I mean. You’ve seen a Scholastic Book Fair commercial before. The point I’m trying to make here is that words can change people. I know that I can name a few books, songs, etc. that have changed my life before.

The ancient Chinese during the Zhou era harnessed this into a political power of sorts. They realized that letting people voice their opinions and feelings were extremely important. Not only do you get cool art that contributes the culture and that can be celebrated hundreds of years down the line, but you can also get a peak into public perception about certain subjects or just the public mood in general. Confucius and followers of Confucianism put together the Classic of Poetry for this very purpose (1314).  For example, if there’s a lot of sad poems going around, there’s probably something wrong that needs fixing. Or if there’s a poem directly calling the leader out for being a thieving rat, that might also need some looking into.

Huge rat, huge rat

Eat my millet no more,

For three years I’ve fed you,

Yet you pay me no heed.


I swear that I will leave you

and go to a happier land.

A happy land, a happy land,

and there I will find my place.


Huge rat, huge rat,

eat my wheat no more,

for three years I’ve fed you

and you show no gratitude.


I swear that I will leave you

and go to a happier realm,

there I will find what I deserve.


Huge rat, huge rat,

eat my sprouts no more,

for three years I have fed you,

and you won’t reward my toil.


I swear that I will leave you

and go to happy meadows.

Happy meadows, happy meadows

where none need wail and cry.

CXIII. Huge Rat is kind of the most punk rock poem out of all the ones provided in the Notron Anthology. It’s not pretty or subtle, it’s just raw. It’s filled with fury and you can tell someone really wanted their point to get across and not be lost in any complex metaphors. So much so, that the author repeated himself three times. This is clearly coming from an under paid, under respected working-class person who has just about had it with the people up top not listening to him. He figured that if they liked poetry so much that he’d give them a poem, and I’m glad he did. This is a timeless piece that just about anyone can get behind. Even if you’ve never had a job you can still feel that unappreciation that the author felt at the time. However, there are also times that you can be appreciated a little too much.

Plums are falling,

seven are the fruits;

many men want me,

let me have a fine one.


Plumbs are falling,

three are fruits;

many men want me,

let me have a steady one.


Plumbs are falling,

catch them in the basket;

many men want me,

let me be bride of one.

In XX. Plums Are Falling, we see a young, presumably female, author that feels hopeless in finding someone to call her own. She repeats the line “many men want me” in every stanza, so we know that we have many potential suitors, but we can also see that she doesn’t seem to get the choice of which one she wants. She’s pleading in every stanza as well, “let me…” as if she has no control. In that way, I think that she sees herself as a plum. Plums have no will or capability of moving on their own, they’re simply plucked. In her situation she must wait for someone to choose her and she prays that he’s a good one. To emphasize her declining hope is all of the other plumps being plucked while she’s still holding onto the branch. “seven are the fruis;” “three are the fruits;” Finally we get her view of seeing all the other plumbs carried off with their respectful pickers, “catch them in the basket;”. It’s heartbreaking and something I’m sure a lot of people even now can relate to. Growing older, seeing your friends get married off one by one, wondering when your turn will be. It’s an almost one-to-one comparison. It can be trying, but out heroine doesn’t give up hope. In the very last line she states: “let me be bride of one”. Sure, it sounds like she’s pleading (I would be too, to be honest), but I think it’s a good sign. She could have very well ended the poem with “Oh well, I guess that’s it, I give up” but she didn’t! She holds on waiting for her “one” to come along.

Often when I hear non-poetry people talk about poetry it’s usually the same things over and over again. “It’s too hard.” “Why can’t they just say what they mean?” “They just through a bunch of random words together!” “It doesn’t even rhyme!” and so on. They’re not wrong, a lot of poetry can certainly be dense and hard to penetrate, but I think that those same people often overlook poems like the ones that I’ve shown here. They’re not complex, but they do hold a lot of emotion in them. Every word carefully chosen so that the author could express their anger or sadness properly. Emotions that a ton of folks deal with on a daily basis (hourly if you’re me). When we read poetry, often we experience the same emotion as the author did writing it and that can be incredibly cathartic for some people or it may just sway one’s thinking and get them to see something that they were previously blind to. I think that if we held poetry and the like in such a high regard as Confucius did, then we’d all understand each other a little better.




Norton Anthology: Puchner, Martin, editor. The Norton Anthology of World Literature . 4th ed., A, W. W. Norton & Company, 2018.