Source: Poetry Reading Poster, Mark Christal, taoboy49, Flickr

Reading poetry offers some interesting challenges because a poem may not be as straightforward as a short story or novel. Also, a poet uses lines and stanzas rather than paragraphs in order to create emotions and experiences. Figurative language and different poetic forms add to the poem’s meaning and how it is displayed on the page. Because a poem condenses and suggests, the words can mystify and sometimes discourage us. Song lyrics are often poetry set to music. After hearing a song once, you may not understand its entire meaning, but listening to it over and over again brings you new insights and understanding. So “hearing” or reading a poem over and over again—especially a very difficult poem—can help you better understand it. Let’s begin with some pre-reading activities. The poem we’re going to tackle is “Tolerance” written by the British poet Thomas Hardy in 1910.

First impressions

First, think about what the word “tolerance” means.

Drop the words related to being tolerant in the left column and those related to being intolerant in the right column.

Source: Thomas Hardy, Library of Congress, Wikimedia Commons

Read the poem to yourself.

by Thomas Hardy

“It is a foolish thing,” said I,
“To bear with such, and pass it by;
Yet so I do, I know not why!”

And at each clash I would surmise
That if I had acted otherwise
I might have saved me many sighs.

But now the only happiness
In looking back that I possess—
Whose lack would leave me

Is to remember I refrained
From masteries I might have gained,
And for my tolerance was disdained;

For see, a tomb. And if it were
I had bent and broke, I should not dare
To linger in the shadows there.