api/deki/files/19640/ASCCC_OER_logo_2019_black_horizontal_4in.jpg?revision=3" />Heather Ringo & Athena Kashyap

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Abstract vs. Concrete Words

The success of the above poems outcomes in the poets’ supplies of concrete images, the photos that describe things you have the right to actually touch in actual life. In poetry, we work-related with two varieties of words: abstract and concrete. Ideally, the poem should re-create the endure of a poem with concrete details for this reason the leader isn’t merely told about the endure through the speaker, but shown the endure which the poet re-creates in a method that engages the reader’s 5 senses. If the poets had used greatly abstract words, their poems may not be, well, poems. They might tell us much more than present us. They might report or summarize. For example, if Gary Snyder relied much more on abstractions 보다 concretes,"The Bath" might tell united state outright exactly how he feels around washing a infant or how the infant feels about being washed rather than developing images the the baby being washed. The concrete images create a step and allow us to concerned our own conclusions through the images. Here is an example of what Snyder’s poem can look favor if the relied too greatly on abstractions:

The baby was scaredbut we were happyin the sauna washing himand maintaining him safebecause us love himand his body so much.

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The sentiment in this lines is intimate and also warm, however as reader we battle to watch the occasion in our mind’s eye. But note, also with the abstractions, the city cannot escape using some concretes—baby, sauna, body. Quite than placing us in the room with the bathtub and enabling readers to feel the actions and be there themselves, the poem shifts its spotlight top top the feelings of the speaker.


come prove the usefulness of concrete, sensory detail, and also the failings of gift overly abstract in one’s language, particularly in one’s descriptive language, the poet Mike Dockins works through his an innovative writing college student to define the scene of a motorcycle accident. Together a class, do a perform on the board of assorted concrete (and sensory) pictures that a witness would certainly observe. Informing the story with just concrete words, and literally no abstractions, does the emotional level come across? If they do, just how do they achieve chaos, panic, fear, shock, terror, death?

To much better understand, let’s look at closer at summary words. Below are part examples:

Love fear Happiness

These space what we call abstract words. Castle refer to principles we think with our minds rather than specific, individual things we can feel with our five senses and that call precise image right into our mind’s eye. Think of concrete words as something you deserve to actually touch. You can not touch “love” and also “safe” however you deserve to touch your kid in “warm water / Soap anywhere the smooth that his thighs and also stomach.” when you finely tune the images into specific, concrete details, the sentiment will certainly come through naturally.

Sometimes this principle confuses mine students. “But I can feel love,” they say. “I have the right to feel anger.” And, yes, of food we deserve to recall what those emotions feeling like as soon as they space referenced in a poem. And, in fact, we feel actual sensations brought on by this emotions when they happen. Our blood races as soon as we’re in love, our stomach jumps once our lover or someone us desire walks into sight. We feel our chests swell once we think around our mothers and our fathers, but when we check out abstract words prefer “love” and “anger” we endure them in a vague, cloudy way, reliant more on our own individual memory that associated our 5 senses come make, quite than the poem itself utilizing our five senses through imagery to produce a brand-new experience and also memory.

Trying to stop concretes is difficult. In fact, in order to even define to you the sensations we feel when we suffer love, together I simply did, I had actually to usage much an ext specific language that refers straight to physics things—chest, blood, stomach. Lover, mother, father. We check out the indigenous “love” and also imagine love yet it takes our brain on an extended voyage the neural connections; we do not have a specific image come instantly into our mind’s eye. And immediacy is the poet’s job and also responsibility come the reader of poems—words should vanish. The walls between the experience created by the words and also the reader’s senses taking in that come which the native refer, must fall. As soon as we read great writing, we get lost in the experience and in the photos the native are developing in our minds. We are transported.


In comparison to abstractions, take it in this words:

to apologize Blue Boat

Go approximately the room and also have each course member share the photo that concerns mind v the above words. How countless different photos are there because that apple? Blue? Boat? Now, what if we were to make these words even much more specific:

to apologize … gold Delicious to apologize Blue … Turquoise blue boat … Sailboat

Next, start with the complying with vague categories and also narrow down words making it much more and more specific:

Food automobile Animal

Now the brain is working much more quickly. We check out these things much more immediately in ours mind’s eye.

In the city “The Bath,” Gary Snyder is very attentive to details details. That names his son, Kai, places us in a sauna, describes the lantern together being kerosene and collection on a box. Over there is not a window, yet a ground-level window which the light from the lantern illuminates. The light also illuminates no the stove, but the edge of the steel stove. Kai’s human body stands no in water but warm water, and it’s not his body that is soapy—but his thighs and also stomach.

Snyder creates a concrete, physical world for his readers and also places united state in a very specific time and setting. The details feel prefer they are slowed down—in both the writing and reading process—so the occasion may be created on one side and taken in top top another. Snyder slows down and looks carefully so us may, too.

Once details come to be this specific, something magical begins to happen. The city naturally begins to amass different levels the meaning; it grow in complexity. For example, what’s the meaning of the lantern gift kerosene? What does the tell us around the setting? The speaker? What carry out we take far from the detail around the ground-level window? What ideas pertained to mind once we review “ground-level”? as soon as we achieve a literal reading, a an initial reading, which create the scene, we may look again only this time more closely in ~ the words, the diction. Us may notification that “ground-level” evokes a feeling of simplicity in us, an idea about being closer to the earth, being grounded. If so, just how then go this feeling and idea relate come the poem as a whole?

This symbolic means of reading of city happens normally when pictures are concrete, and details specific, and significant. Snyder could have used any type of words in the poem, however he offered these. Why? What carry out these words perform inside your poetic space? What we carry out as writers affects the way readers review our poems. But when us write—here’s the catch—we don’t necessarily need to think of how a reader will certainly interpret and also read the poem. We simply need to concentrate on making the indigenous we choose be details and significant so language—naturally symbolic—can perform its thang. After all, Alexander Fleming didn’t find penicillin by setting out come cure disease—he saw some mold growing, tapped right into his curiosity, and used his imagination.

Read the poem “What concerned Me” by jane Kenyon and also note just how the city thinks little but produces large feelings. The poem’s usage of line, sound, tone, and image create a moment in which the speaker is overwhelmed with grief. And what causes this for both the speaker and also the reader? finding a autumn of gravy on the porcelain lip that a gravy boat. One “hard, brown / drop.” Why walk this image have such power? that is a brief poem—nine lines—and those lines are short, ranging from 4 syllables come one line the is seven syllables long. Yet although brief, that is compact and bursts v emotion. We space not told exactly how the speaker feels. She does no say she felt sadness, pain, remorse, or loss. The an initial line describes action, simply, “I took.” and also the penultimate, the second-to-last, line additionally describes an action: “I grieved.” Kenyon doesn’t create “I feeling grief” (a filter) or “I assumed of all the good times” (a cliché). Instead, we room there v her, lifting the gravy boat from the box, just to uncover in heat five, a “hard, brown” and in heat six, “drop the gravy still.” words “still” below doubly stops time and also implies no motion while it likewise ends the line and hangs there, quiet on the sixth line’s edge simply as the gravy autumn is on the edge of the gravy boat’s lip.

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As Hirsch writes, “A poem creates an endure in the reader that can not be decreased to noþeles else.” The effect of Kenyon’s city cannot be diminished only come the image of the gravy drop. Together said, the diction, sound, type and tone execute a most work. But it cannot be denied that the photo is central to the poem’s effect. And also when it is merged with all the other poem’s elements, it produces an suffer that can not be replicated any type of other way.


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Image indigenous Pixabay