Why Are Titles Important In Poetry

Why are Titles Important in Poetry?

Titles are a vital component of poetry, often providing the reader with their first insight into the poem’s subject, theme, or intentions. Without a title, a poem can be easily forgotten and often fails to provide that initial spark which lures people into poetry – or out of it. So why are titles so important to poetry?

Firstly, the title provides information to the reader which helps them to make a decision before they even begin reading; it provides a sort of verbal cue as to whether to proceed or not. For example, a title such as “Oh Life!” may indicate a poetic exploration of despondency or existential themes, while a title such as “The Colour of Painting” may prod the reader towards something much brighter, such as a celebration of creativity. As Prof. Anne Bishton of Harvard University explains, “titles can serve as a kind of entry point for readers into a kind of poem, providing a glimpse into what is to come in a familiar way.

Additionally, titles can also provide a helpful hint as to the structure of a poem. For instance, a title such as “Elegy” might inform the reader that the poem deals with a form of a lament, and may include various traditional elements such as an invocation of a muse or an invocation of death. Similarly, a title such as “Ode” – an iconic poetic form – may alert the reader that the poem follows a rigorous structure and includes regular verse, quatrains and odes (if one is versed enough in their structure).

Perhaps even more significantly, titles may also provide a reader with a glimpse into the author’s attitude and beliefs. According to Dr. Lucy Hemingway of the University of Strathclyde: “The titles of poems can hint very strongly as to how an author regards the subject matter, and can provide valuable insight into the poem’s overall tone.” For example, a poem about a journey may have a title such as “Time to Travel”, suggesting the sense of optimism associated with new beginnings, or “Oh Where Is The Journey?” which may imply a sense of dissatisfaction with the notion of journeying.

The importance of titles to poetry cannot be understated as they form the initial part of a poem, providing the reader with a transfer of information and a sense of what to expect. As Dr. Lucy Hemingway further explains, “Titles are largely responsible for the success or otherwise of a poem, as they can capture the reader’s imagination and serve as the poem’s litmus test.” Therefore, the title has become an important tool for poets, providing a platform for the poem’s launch and transition into the public sphere.

The Foundation of Poetry Analysis

Titles, more often than is usually appreciated, provide the backbone for a poem’s analysis. When forming an analysis of a poem, many experienced poets, teachers, and literary experts alike may start off by merely skimming the title of the poem, in order to gain an initial understanding of the poem’s intended meanings. For instance, if a poem’s title makes reference to a specific emotion, such as “A Sleepless Night”, the reader will already be aware that the poem has likely been written in the context of an emotion. Therefore, the poem can now be analysed in the context of the emotion’s impact on the author.

Moreover, titles also present an opportunity for readers to explore ideas and themes which they may not have previously considered. As Dr. Robert Johnson of the University of Oxford expounds, “titles, as an effective form of encapsulation, may also open up new possibilities of meaning for readers and can be used to bring out unexpected correlations between related genres and topics.” As such, titles provide a vital opportunity for the reader to explore a poem’s insights and interpretations in a more expansive context.

Amongst the petals of poetry, titles offer a central, guiding force which can bring focus to a poem’s words and bring a new level of understanding. Prof. Anne Bishton again states, “titles are an incredibly powerful tool, bringing an extra level of context and sensitivity to a reader’s comprehension of a poem’s overall message“.

The Impact of Authorship and Labelling

Titles not only help the reader to interpret the poem, but can also give the author a sense of direction and purpose. For many authors, the use of a specific title can provide a point of focus for the poem’s development, enabling the writer to express their thoughts and feelings more concisely, with a greater level of coherence. When the author is confident in what they are writing, the poem is more often than not more successful, since the vulnerability and clarity of an author’s words can become obscured in the process of over-titling.

Additionally, as Dr. Robert Johnson observes, “labels such as ‘poem’ or ‘essay’ may shape the reader’s expectation of the text…for example, a poem titled ‘Essay’ or an essay titled ‘Poem’ may encourage the reader to think of their genre in unexpected ways.” This can be immensely helpful when distilling the meaning of a longer text, as the title can bring with it a set of assumptions which can allow a reader to quickly determine the issues being discussed without delving into the text itself.

Titles as a Way of Referencing History

Some poets may even attempt to use titles as a kind of reference to earlier works. For example, the poet Robert Browning wrote two famous works in the mid-19th century entitled “My Last Duchess” and “Soliloquy of the Spanish Cloister”, both of which were modelled on earlier works by poets such as William Wordsworth and Robert Southey. By borrowing the titles of earlier works, Browning was able to evoke the same emotions and experiences detailed in the original texts whilst simultaneously re-contextualising them in a new form.

Similarly, some poets have made deliberate attempts to honour earlier authors when titling their works. The English poet W.H. Auden was notable an admirer of T.S. Eliot and William Shakespeare, titling several of his poems after works by other authors, including “Dover Beach Variations After The Last Poem Of A.E. Housman” and “In Memory of W.B. Yeats”. By honouring such authors in his own work, Auden was able to both reference the ideas and opinions of a wider range of poets and ensure that their legacy would go on to inspire future generations.

The Powerful Works of Artistic Expression

When it comes to titles, there is no clear-cut method for what is considered to be “right” or “wrong”. Ultimately, a poet’s titles are a powerful form of artistic expression, which should be celebrated and acknowledged for their unique value. Responsible for both introducing a poem to its readers as well as providing them with an interpretation of the work, titles have the potential to spark the imaginations of readers and inspire them to further explore the ideas being presented in the poem.

More importantly, however, titles can also offer poets a unique form of personal satisfaction and pride. As Dr. Robert Johnson reflects, “titles are both a reflection of the poet’s understanding of their own work, as well as a reflection of the response they would like to evoke from their readers upon encountering the title.” Through titles, poets are able to offer a glimpse into their understanding of their work, as well as how they interact with their ideas and feelings. Moreover, titles can also be used as a form of motivation for writers – by providing an apt title for their work, a poet can feel much more confident in their abilities and progress.

Titles – an Essential Thread of Poetry

Titles are an essential component of poetry, and the inclusion of a concise and meaningful title can bring a whole new level of understanding to a poem. In addition to being a vital component of the poetry reading process, titles can also act as pithy reflections of the poet’s ideals and views, and are incredibly useful in terms of providing new and unexpected insights into a memorable piece of literature. For these reasons, titles should never be underestimated, and should be celebrated both as a creative tool, as well as a way of honouring the poet’s back-story and intentions.

The Use of Symbols to Communicate Meanings

Titles may also be used to tantalise the reader through indirect allusions. By using symbolism and allusions, the poet has the opportunity to bring a different and distinctive meaning to the poem’s title. For example, take the title of a poem by the American poet Robert Frost, which is simply entitled “Mowing”. By merely glancing at the title, one is already presented with a sense of labour, struggle, and perseverance; metaphors which allude to toil, yet also present the reader with a sense of accomplishment. Through this one word title, the reader is already provided with a sufficient background to understand the poem’s theme and narrative, even before they have fully explored the poem itself.

The Rising Tide of Metaphorical Titles

A major trend in more contemporary poetry is the rise of metaphorical titles, often seen in works by leading poets such as Langston Hughes and Maya Angelou. These titles can vastly increase the reader’s curiosity, as well as provide a sense of deeper exploration as to the poem’s context and what it seeks to explore. For instance, Maya Angelou’s titled her work “Still I Rise”, offering a sense of defiance and perseverance which resonates with many readers and provides a sense of inspiration in the popular imagination. On a similar note, the title of Langston Hughes’ poem “Dream Variations” brings forth a new concept of dreams, complete with its implications of hope, despondency, and lack of fulfillment. As such, these titles are incredibly powerful in helping to convey new ways of understanding and perceiving a poem’s content, and should be widely celebrated.

The Importance of Titles to Poetry

From a reader’s perspective, titles can give an initial glimpse into the topics and themes being explored in the text. By providing a brief summary of the poem’s subject matter, titles are able to give readers the chance to decide whether the poem is of particular interest to them or not. To poets, meanwhile, titles offer a way of expressing themselves and their attitudes towards certain topics, as well as a reflection of the author’s relationships with their work. They also offer an opportunity for creative play and literary experimentation, as poets can use straightforward titles to introduce complex themes, or engage in titling a poem using metaphors or symbols.

All in all, titles are a valuable asset to poetry, and should be cherished and considered when discussing any written works. As much as a poem can be enjoyed and appreciated without its title, the inclusion of a carefully considered title can provide an additional layer of understanding and perspective, and should be celebrated.

Dannah Hannah is an established poet and author who loves to write about the beauty and power of poetry. She has published several collections of her own works, as well as articles and reviews on poets she admires. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in English, with a specialization in poetics, from the University of Toronto. Hannah was also a panelist for the 2017 Futurepoem book Poetry + Social Justice, which aimed to bring attention to activism through poetry. She lives in Toronto, Canada, where she continues to write and explore the depths of poetry and its influence on our lives.

Leave a Comment