A poem is like a treasure map. It holds the key to a journey and the resulting treasure to be found. With every treasure map there is, of course, the treasure, but there is also a series of directions, twists and turns that must be straightened out in order to reach the desired destination. Rushing through the process of learning the path may still lead to the treasure, but there may be significant loss along the way. Just like a treasure map, a poem can lead to so much more than just words on a page. Dissecting a poem can lead to hidden meanings and a sense of emotion that may not have been able to be reached by merely reading mindlessly. One way to reach these hidden meanings is by examining the use of irony and paradox in poetry. Billy Collins, an American poet, leads his readers through his treasure map of poetry with these devices. Understanding irony and paradox in poetry can help readers gain a new insight into not only the face value of poetry, but a deeper meaning as well.
Poetry requires a reader to look below the surface of the words presented by the author. Paradox is essential to the structure and being of a poem when it is used. It is a statement that appears impossible at first, but actually makes sense. The value of paradox is its shock value. The impossibility of the paradox startles the reader and underscores the truth of what is being said. The use of paradox emphasizes the indeterminate lines between form and content. Paradox attracts the reader's or the listener's attention and gives emphasis. Paradox is inclusive of irony and this existence of opposites or contraries is part of poetry. The bringing together of these opposites is important to the meaning of the poem. Many paradoxes prove to be based on false premises or arguments, or on incomplete presuppositions. Other paradoxes are more difficult to resolve.
Semantic paradoxes depend on language structure, and the paradox is often used as a rhetorical device in poetry. Two forms of paradox in poetry are very clear. One form is particular or local and the other is the general or structural form. The local form of paradox can be seen in short pithy statements that verge on epigrammatic such as "I must be cruel to be kind”-Shakespeare. The second form is more complex in poetry. For example, there is paradox in the Christian faith that the world would be saved by failure. In a paradoxical statement the contradiction usually stems from one of the words used figuratively or with more than one denotation. Paradox is therefore an apparent contradiction that is somehow true which greatly contributes to the meaning of a poem.
Part of what makes poetry interesting is its indirectness, its refusal to state something simply the way it is. Irony allows something to be said in a poem, but mean something else. This alternate meaning opens a door to a whole new world when it comes to the poem that has employed irony. Irony comes in many forms. Whether it...