The aim of this exercise is to encourage the development of metaphorical and visceral interpretation rather than obvious and literal ones, to give a sense of something rather than a record of it. The exercise requires the student to select a poem that resonates with them and interpret it through photographs, avoiding the temptation to describe the poem, but instead give a sense or feeling of the poem and the essence it exudes.
To find a suitable poem, I looked at a number of poetry anthologies, including one I used a long time ago in school while studying for my leaving certificate English examination (A-levels equivalent). This proved quite difficult, as I was looking for a poem that wasn’t too complex, one that could be understood and visualised relatively easily, without an in-depth knowledge or study of the poet and their other works. This of course is not in anyway suggesting that the poem I selected is simple or obvious, more that the poem appeals because it creates a strong visual image in my mind. The poem that eventually caught my attention, and common to a number of the collections I perused is, A Poison Tree by William Blake.
A Poison Tree
I was angry with my friend;
I told my wrath, my wrath did end.
I was angry with my foe;
I told it not, my wrath did grow.
And I watered it in fears,
Night and morning with my tears;
And I sunned it with smiles,
And with soft deceitful wiles.
And it grew both day and night,
Till it bore an apple bright –
And my foe beheld it shine.
And he knew that it was mine,
And into my garden stole,
When the night had veiled the pole.
In the morning glad I see
My foe outstretched beneath the tree.
by William Blake
On the simplest level the poem is a lesson on the destruction caused by festering anger. The poem opens with the idea that a problem shared is a problem halved. But the poem moves on to describe how the anger the writer has for his enemy, is left to grow. Some form of Machiavellian plot is formed with the reference to an apple, which eventually entices the enemy. The poem ends with the speaker joyous in his foe’s death. There are also biblical parallels with the forbidden fruit which tempted Adam and Eve.
The image this poem creates in my mind is the representation of anger/evil by a solitary tree. The title is a metaphor which describes the poem’s central theme. My idea was to find a solitary tree set against a dramatic, dark and heavy sky. I wanted either a health tree in a bare, barren landscape or a dead or leafless tree. The overall feeling I want to give the viewer is a sense that something dark or evil may once have taken place. The search for a suitable tree and landscape proved particularly laborious, with a lot of trial and error. However, a marshy field, off the M7 motorway near Annacotty, Co. Limerick eventually provided a worthy landscape. Favourable weather and lighting conditions were my next hurdle, overcome only after several visits to the site.
I settled for a single image, as I discovered that the addition of other images seemed to either repeat themselves or render the poems interpretation too literal. Overall, I’m pleased with the chosen image, and feel that it is worthy of my efforts, and definitely gives a good sense of the poem.
Freeman, M. (2012) ‘Why poetry might help your photography’, WeAreOCA [online], 27 Jun, available: http://weareoca.com/photography/why-poetry-might-help-photography/ [accessed 8 May 2015].
MacMonagle, N. (1999) Poetry Now, 1st ed., Dublin: The Celtic Press.