Does a Poem Need to Make Sense?

Does a Poem Need to Make Sense?

Does poetry need to make sense?

Maybe, but not always to every reader. As a great American poet said, don’t worry about what a reader understands. A poem is an experience, and it starts with you and the magic of words.

“Never worry about . . . what the reader can understand. . . .
Just you and the page.”
– Richard Hugo

It means a poem can contain a few mysteries. You don’t have to explain everything! Writing a poem is as much about sounds and word-play and emotions you can’t put into exact words.

It’s like playing or dancing . . .

It doesn’t need to make sense. (It just flows.)

Here are some more poets that agree!

“The best [poet] always leaves holes and gaps . . . so that something that is not in the poem can creep, crawl, flash or thunder in.
– Dylan Thomas

“A poem should not mean
But be.
– Archibald MacLeish

“I’ve written some poetry I don’t understand myself.”
– Carl Sandburg

“Poetry, like the moon, does not advertise anything.
– William Blissett

Like a good dance, a good poem plays and flows. Somehow, even if it doesn’t make sense, it makes the reader enjoy it . . . the fun or mystery of it all.

Here’s a start of a poem for little kids, called “Skate Canada,” from See Saw Saskatchewan, by Robert Heidbreder (Kids Can Press) that is just goofy:

See saw Saskatchewan
bumping up and down.
Swing Manitoba
high off the ground.
Hide-and-seek Ontario
peeking in and out.
Skateboard New Brunswick
whirring all about.

Or there’s that nonsense poem by Lewis Carroll, Jabberrwocky, from Through the Looking-Glass:

`Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

“Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!”

Playful poetry . . . fun with words . . . why not?


  1. Thank you for an entertaining moment reading your words above.

    “I’ve written some poetry I don’t understand myself.”
    – Carl Sandburg”

    Hehe, his words are mine:) The importen ting is to “hit” the reader not to explain. The essens is between the lines. And as an poet/artist I’m free to do so, lucky me:D

    1. You said “The importen ting is to “hit” the reader not to explain”, could this be that the poem makes sense to you though not to the reader?

  2. In my opinion, a poem that doesn’t make sense is just a bad poem.

    1. Author

      Totally reasonable opinion!

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