This article was written by Nancy Valente, a core member of the RLE International Community.
Nancy is from Belém in northern Brazil. After obtaining a degree in English Language and Literature, she moved to Taranto, Italy where, after 6 months, she got married; 6 and 9 years passed until she gave birth to her two daughters, the loves of her life.
Besides traveling, Nancy loves reading, archaeology, listening to music, running, and hanging out with friends.
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One of the best ways of practicing and improving a foreign language that you’re learning is by paraphrasing [interpreting] poems.
Technically paraphrase is “a restatement of the meaning of a text using other words,” that’s to say, you retell the poem in your own words and you unveil its hidden symbols and meanings, giving it another perspective.
However, poems are not always easy to decipher. Often poems embrace complicated symbolism and a web of figures of speech (for example-metaphors, alliteration, etc.). But that’s the challenge! If you are not accustomed to reading and interpreting poems, then you can start with simpler ones.
Read it aloud
Also, for a good interpretation, you should read the poem out loud. Dive into the poem, swim in its verses. Poetry has rhythm; feel the musicality, the cadence. These elements transmit emotions and feelings that lay in the text.
For example, when you recite Lord Byron:
She walks in beauty like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies
And all that’s best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes…
The rhythm and musicality create an atmosphere of flowing harmony and soft images, built further by the contrasts of “dark and bright,” light and shadow, giving the perfect setting to the whole poem.
Be careful! Paraphrasing is NOT translation, it is interpretation.
Breaking it down
Here is my paraphrasing of Lord Byron’s piece: This poem describes a woman of great and ethereal beauty, compared to a cloudless night full of stars.
In order to present you with a neat split of meanings and colors, I shift to another great poem. In his “Songs of Experience”, William Blake describes brilliantly the powerful Tyger:
Tyger, Tyger burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?
Recite it, feel the rhythm. It’s stronger, it’s more violent, almost brutal, it pulses and it’s alive.
So to improve your English, I suggest that you “play” with the rich “environment” of each poem. Let its meaningful symbolism open your mind to new concepts, open new paths leading your knowledge to a higher level. Start paraphrasing poetry. Too hard? Then start with music. Your favorite songs are poems turned into melody.
At Real Life English, we believe that the best way to learn English is with the things that you already love to do–like reading poetry!
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