It is important to consider the qualities and associations of a symbol within a poem. If you are looking into the symbolic value of an apple, for instance, you may begin by saying, “Sweet, crisp fruit, juicy, tastes good in the fall, red and white in sharp contrast.” Those are a few of an apple’s qualities. You should be able to go beyond those associations into some others you have with apples, like “Adam and Eve: loss of innocence or gaining of knowledge.” Or “Sir Isaac Newton and gravity.” Or “Snow White: temptation and danger.” One apple probably cannot signify all of these things, but along with the context surrounding it, you may get closer to an understanding of its symbolic value:

I took the apple from her hand
And ate it, feeling almost guilty
As the juice dripped down my chin.

It’s probably safe to eliminate Isaac Newton here: We seem to be pretty firmly in Eden. The next step is to examine that symbol for some of its other qualities and use them to begin to formulate an interpretation.

What are the symbolic possibilities of the following things?

A blind man, A dove, A river, The stars, A play, A computer screen, Lightning, A mountain

Consider both their inherent qualities and their cultural associations. Once you have brainstormed about their possibilities, consider how each item might be used as a symbol within a poem and compose a few lines that would give the symbol context and eliminate or complicate some of its symbolic possibilities. Write your responses in your notebook—this will be collated so that you can print or e-mail your work when you are finished.

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