Many of you will remember or have heard of Cleanth Brooks’s essay on the “heresy of paraphrase” from the era of New Criticism. We know that students are inclined in this direction.
I found the following little essay which is well-pitched, I think, to students and you might find it useful to share with your students of use a few paragraphs from it. While some students take to poetry like ducklings to water, a good many others either have learned to hate it for its obliquity or just struggle unnecessarily and coming to paraphrase is for them an achievement, the solution to a puzzle.
Here’s the link to the essay:
Hugh Kenner has also has weighed in on these ‘heretical inclinations” with some good advice about how to get students into a better relationship with poetry.His very good essay, “Ear Culture” appeared in Harper’s Magazine, (if you happen to subscribe, so you can access their archive.) If not, what Wilkerson has to say in the above conveys the approach quite nicely, I think.