Understanding poems from an autistic perspective
Written on 30th Oct 2017 by Alex Lowery
I’ve started attending night classes where I learn about English Literature. I was given a poem as part of my homework, and I was meant to write the meaning of the poem and how it made me feel. To tell you the truth, I’ve never been awfully fond of poetry. I sometimes like ‘light hearted’ and nonsense poems, but the much deeper poems with loads of metaphors have always been really hard for me to understand. The poem I was given for homework was called ‘Visiting Hour’ by Stewart Conn. Apparently it’s a poem about Steven Conn’s friend who was dying, but I read it and thought it was about a ‘Pet Fish’ that had died. It goes to show you how greatly I can misunderstand day-to-day language. I’ll first share the poem with you and then I’ll share what I thought it was saying. Apparently what I said was absolutely hilariously wrong! Feel free to laugh!
“In the pond of our new garden
were five orange stains, under
inches of ice. Weeks since anyone
had been there. Already by far
the most severe winter for years.
You broke the ice with a hammer.
I watched the goldfish appear,
blunt-nosed and delicately clear.
Since then so much has taken place
to distance us from what we were.
That it should come to this.
Unable to hide the horror
in my eyes, I stand helpless
by your bedside and can do no more
than wish it were simply a matter
of smashing the ice and giving you air.
Well, that was the poem. Interpret it however you want, but I think you might find my interpretation of it to be ‘most unique’.
“From what I understand, the ‘Visiting Hour’ Poem is about a Goldfish that’s died. The poem talks about ‘orange stains’ under inches of ice. We all know that Goldfish are orange. It mentions that when the ice was broke, the goldfish appeared. It said “I stand helpless by your bedside and can do no more than wish it were simply a matter of smashing the ice & giving you air.” This implies that the poet owned a pet Goldfish that he saw as a close friend, but unfortunately the fish froze to death. The owner wishes there was more he could do, but unfortunately there isn’t. The fish is dead forever. The only thing he can do is buy a new one. I’d say the tone of this poem is definitely quite dark and serious since it’s about the loss of a friend. It uses the phrase, “So much has taken place to distance us from what we were”.
This implies that this human and his pet goldfish had a close bond in the poet’s eyes. Obviously it was one sided since fish don’t see people that way, but it’s apparent that (in the poets eyes) they were close friends, but now he’s lost his best friend. I get this impression from the phrase, “Distance us from what we were” implying it’s changed due to the fish’s death. I believe the use of the word ‘bedside’ is a metaphor for the fish’s place of death. Note – I’m not sure I understood this poem at all, but that’s what I think I got from it.”
That was my take on the poem. Apparently, it was way off the poet’s original message! I know you might find it strange that I’d come to the conclusion that someone would really see ‘a fish’ as a close friend! Not even a dog…. A Fish!! But I didn’t find the concept completely unbelievable, because I figured that maybe the author was very lonely and had few if any true friends. Perhaps he was withdrawn, so I figured that maybe the goldfish is the closest thing to a true friend he has. Needless to say, I was completely wrong! The reference to the goldfish was simply a metaphor (or so I think) and it’s actually talking about the poet’s dying loved one; maybe his wife or something. Who knows? It never really confirmed what relation the person who’s dying is to the poet. It is important to remember that Autistic students may interpret poems in a very different way to the average student. This is because we have a unique way of seeing and understanding the world. Teachers need to be aware these differences.
Anyway, I hope you enjoyed this. Perhaps it gave an insight into my ‘literal mind’.
Unless otherwise indicated, all materials on this page are © Alex Lowery Speaks About Autism. Please do not reproduce, modify or use for any purpose without the prior, written consent of the author. If you are interested in using an article on your blog or in your magazine, please contact us.