Perhaps you’ve heard of what’s been going on in generative AI and thought, “I have no need to generate any pictures or professional email filler”, and dismissed the subject. Perhaps, like me, you’ve read that GPT-4 can now “pass exams” from the SATS to legal bar exams, accounting ones, and so on, without really knowing what that means. It can choose the right answer out of a list, and write little structured essays on given topics? That’s amazing, but not unexpected.
But I’m here to tell you that I asked ChatGPT (GPT-4) a question yesterday, quite an exam question, and its answer floored me. These things are called generative AI, but that name undersells the incredible interpretive power they possess when it comes to language and writing comprehension.
I asked it to analyze this poem by Gabrielle Calvocoressi, one of the most devastating things I’ve read in the past year: Miss you. Would like to grab that chilled tofu we love. Go read it, I’ll wait. Get some tissues.
I asked it to explain what the poem was about, and call out what it’s doing as a piece of writing to achieve its emotional impact. I’m not aware that any similar analysis of this poem exists online, if you’re wondering. My thoughts going into this: I know these AIs can write poetry, but I haven’t seen anything great. They must understand unstructured or unusually structured language to some degree, but can it “read” poetry from a human point of view? Probably not? Will it really understand what this is implying: the loss, the empty spaces, the long journey, the light body? And now I realize how dumb I was, because clearly it’s “read” thousands of books of and about poetry, and literary criticism, and style, and should know a lot more than the average person.
Here’s its answer, unedited. Good enough to pass any high-school literature class, if not any blind test of humanity.
This is a deeply emotional poem that appears to be exploring themes of grief, loss, longing, memory, and the power of shared experiences. It is presented as a monologue, presumably from the perspective of the speaker who is missing someone who is now absent. It’s filled with a sense of yearning, a desire for the return of the past and the presence of someone who is deeply missed.
The poem starts off with the speaker expressing their indifference to the physical state of the missing person, suggesting that they would be happy even if the person could only present in their ‘light body’. This term could have different interpretations but it seems to suggest a spiritual or ethereal form, possibly indicating that the person is deceased or in a state where they cannot physically be present.
The middle of the poem is filled with reminiscences of shared experiences. The speaker misses the shared rituals and discussions about mundane things such as the type of chilis used in a dish of tofu. This highlights the value of seemingly trivial shared moments in relationships and their ability to evoke strong emotions when remembered. The speaker also mentions watching the person on screens and wishing they could get out of the hospital, which suggests a period of illness or suffering that the person had to endure.
Towards the end, the speaker talks about being willing to order their shared favorite dish and eat it alone, even though it seems painful for them. This can be seen as an attempt to honor their shared memories and perhaps a step towards acceptance of the loss.
The speaker also acknowledges not knowing the journey the absent person might be on, whether it’s long or not, and expresses a wish to know more about their current state – what they’re reading, if they’re reading, which suggests a longing for a continuation of their shared intellectual and emotional connection.
Throughout the poem, the simple language and the direct, honest sentiment adds to its emotional power. The repetition of “Miss you” and “Wish you could” emphasizes the sense of longing and loss. The specific details of shared experiences and the mundanity of their shared conversations humanize the relationship, making the emotions more relatable and poignant.
Overall, the poem is a moving exploration of love, loss, and the power of shared experiences. It speaks to the human condition of missing loved ones, the difficulty of letting go, and the beautiful yet painful memories that bind us to the past.
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