One-Minute Book Reviews

May 2, 2007

How Do Symbols Work in Literature? Quote of the Day (John Ciardi)

Filed under: Poetry,Quotes of the Day — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 8:58 pm
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Flannery O’Connor talked about the purpose of symbols in fiction in the Quote of the Day for March 21, 2007 Here the late poet John Ciardi talks about how symbols work in poetry, a description that also applies to other kinds of literature:

” … a symbol is like a rock dropped into a pool: it sends out ripples in all directions, and the ripples are in motion. Who can say where the last ripple disappears? One may have a sense that he at least knows approximately the center point of all those ripples, the point at which the stone struck the water. Yet even then he has trouble marking it precisely. How does one make a mark on water?”

John Ciardi in his classic textbook, How Does a Poem Mean? (Houghton Mifflin, 1959), widely used in high schools and colleges in its day.

(c) 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.


  1. How *does* one make a mark on water? Great quote. And from 1959? I didn’t know about this book. I also read your Flannery post on symbols. Good stuff.

    Comment by QuoinMonkey — May 4, 2007 @ 2:44 am | Reply

  2. So glad you like it. Actually, I might not have known about the Ciardi book, either, though it was once a standard text. But I grew up partly in Metuchen, New Jersey, where Ciardi lived, and was a local celebrity. Wish I’d met him. O’Connor, too.

    Comment by 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom — May 4, 2007 @ 9:48 am | Reply

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