One word, one meaning?
One of my favorite columnists in the Korea Herald, Dr. Kim Seong-kon, has written an amusing critique of unimaginative exams, "Hitchcock, Chaplin and Korean exams" (December 22, 2010) -- including a couple of 'exams' that Hitchcock and Chaplin failed in interpreting their own work --- but he particularly dislikes the Korean SAT. Dr. Kim is an English professor at SNU (Seoul National University), and one of his literary essays was included in the Korean SAT Preparation Book, but he found the question posed so wrongheaded as to leave him appalled. I'll leave that one for you read about on your own and decide for yourself if you are similarly appalled. Instead, I'd like to focus on an example that I personally find more appalling:
[The] Poet Choi Seung-ho . . . often complains about the Korean equivalent of the SAT test, which contains questions on his poems such as "Blizzard Warning."Not quite the poetic fallacy, of course, but pathetically fallacious, nonetheless. One word, one meaning works well in logic but not in poetry, which thrives on wordplay and polyvalent signification. Even prose often plays with words, as in Professor Kim's use of "bones" to refer both to "dead man" and to "meaning."
"Even I fail to find the right answer," he muttered. "In poetry, image is like flesh, rhythm is blood and meaning is like bones. But the exam forces students to find the bones only."
Indeed, our testing policy, as well as our education system forces our students to forget the warm flesh and blood, and search for the dried bones of a dead man instead. It is common sense that you cannot possibly find one answer when it comes to poetic meaning. In fact, you cannot simply find one meaning for each stanza and line of a poem. Unfortunately, however, the Korean SAT test leads students to believe there is only one correct meaning in a poetic word or stanza, which is definitely a serious fallacy.
Now, I don't know Choi's poem "Blizzard Warning," but I'd bet my bottom dollar that the word "Blizzard" has more than one meaning in the poem, perhaps much as my poem "Water Witching" is not just about dowsing but uses the expression "water witching" to refer both to dowsing and to something else that might also require a bit of magic.
Read it on your own if interested . . . and also Professor Kim's article.