I love this poem, because I abhor having to determine what a poem "means." I will never forget being shut down by a teacher when I offered my interpretation of the poem "When I Am Old I Shall Wear Purple". I thought it was one woman's depressing and morose statement on life and aging. The teacher quickly moved to another student who offered the widely agreed upon interpretation that it was defiant and jubilant, etc. I felt like an idiot, but having just read it again, and I stand by my original take. I guess I will never be a red hat.
For me, reading a poem is like being in the path of a gust of wind, or fording a large, shiny puddle: a natural thing of beauty that you step through on your way to the rest of your life.
Introduction to Poetry
by Billy Collins
I ask them to take a poem
and hold it up to the light
like a color slide
or press an ear against its hive.
I say drop a mouse into a poem
and watch him probe his way out,
or walk inside the poem's room
and feel the walls for a light switch.
I want them to waterski
across the surface of a poem
waving at the author's name on the shore.
But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.
They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means.
From The Apple That Astonished Paris, 1996.