In his comment on the previous post, Rabbi Sacks expressed an inability to identify the 'point of entry' into poetry of the kind presented there.
I must confess that for many years I had an aversion to this kind of poetry and that it took a decent amount of work for me to develop the skills necessary to appreciate it. A book that taps into some of the aspects of literature relevant to this process is "How Fiction Works" by James Wood, which I highly recommend for this purpose.
In my opinion, the key to fathoming poetry like "The Door" is proceeding slowly and exploring each unusual image or phrase independently. We are accustomed to reading on a more abstract level where terms, statements and the relationships among them register more distinctly in our minds. Poetry requires a different level of reflection to be comprehended.
Let us take an example to illustrate this point. The opening lines of "The Door" are:
The door was ajar
Gleam of freedom's seductive smile
Wrapped like tiny fingers around its edge
Now, read haphazardly, this is just a bunch of disjointed ramblings. But considered more critically, a more specific picture begins to emerge. A door is open, and presents the opportunity for freedom to someone inside a room, perhaps a prisoner.
The poem states that the gleam of freedom's smile is wrapped around the edge of the door. Picture an inmate who is stuck in a prison cell to which the door was unwittingly left open. How would he first notice the presence of potential for an escape? He could infer it from the fact that light - a 'gleam' - was making its way around the door where it would normally be blocked out. This light, to him, as it bends around the edge of the door, is like an invitation from freedom itself, beckoning him to pursue it (hence it is a 'seductive smile').
Another case in point can be observed in the next passage:
So he left,
Carried on the feet of a first night ballerina
Gracefully buckling under adrenaline's weight
Tiptoeing around the ignorant snores
Of a poorly paid watchman
The prisoner makes his escape - but what is the metaphor of the 'first night ballerina'?
Imagine a ballerina on the night of her debut performance. She appears to move gracefully, and consciously wills herself to do so, but the rush of adrenaline makes her shake inside; she is terribly nervous and jittery despite the apparent effortlessness of her dance. The prisoner, then, is carefully but very anxiously moving out of his cell, perhaps outwardly graceful but inwardly frightened.
He "tiptoes around ignorant snores" meaning that he doesn't wish to wake the blissfully unaware guard who is sleeping on the job and would apprehend him were he to notice. To trample on his snores would be to rouse him from his slumber. The description "poorly paid watchman" implies that the watchman is negligent precisely because he is not well compensated and is therefore lacking in vigilance or enthusiasm for his job, hence the sleeping.
(Incidentally, if anyone would like to propose an alternative interpretation, I would love to hear it, but this is my conception of the piece.)
What we discover then is one of the fundamental principles of poetry - it communicates as much content as possible through the medium of imagery and colorfully loaded metaphoric words and phrases, while avoiding abstract prose-type description as much as possible.
Poetry is designed to create a rich and compelling image from which a message or theme becomes apparent to the thoughtful reader, as opposed to simply articulating that theme in a direct, detached or dictatorial manner. This makes it an especially potent and memorable form of expression once one is able to access the deeper levels of its meaning.
In upcoming posts, I plan to elaborate on my commentary to The Door; in the course of the discussion I hope to introduce some of the ideas presented in the aforementioned book by James Wood and in a fascinating essay by Isaiah Berlin (The Naivete of Verdi) that are relevant to this study.
Please feel free to chime in with your own thoughts, responses and reactions along the way!