Garrett Caples
Wittgenstein, A Memoir                     (page 4)

This sounds very like what occurs when you interpret the meaning of a line of poetry. You make a transition, not to “actions,” as Jim pointed out, but definitely to “sentences” and “pictures” against whose backdrop a line of poetry might seem to take on a certain meaning. This is sometimes instructive and interesting to do, but at the same time it leads you away from the poem to other language that is not the poem. If you abandon the search for meaning, however, you’re more likely to stay with the poem, and this is the only way, finally, to learn how to understand poetry. And “understand,” in the case of a poem, is not the same as an interpretation of its meaning, as Wittgenstein writes in one of his too-few remarks directly touching on poetry:

     We speak of understanding a sentence in the sense in which it can be replaced by another that says the same; but also in the sense in which it cannot be replaced by any other. (Anymore than one musical theme can be replaced by another.)

      In the one case the thought in the sentence is something common to different sentences; in the other, something that is only expressed by these words in these positions. (Understanding a poem.) (§531)

To be sure, this remark is not limited to poetry; Wittgenstein is talking about understanding sentences generally. “Understanding a poem” here exemplifies those things we understand about sentences that specifically aren’t meanings of words, our comprehension of intonations and structures. Hence the analogy with a musical theme, which is all tones and structures without semantic values. The problem here is that our understanding of musical themes is difficult to articulate, precisely because meaning is not involved. “[W]hat is it all about?” Wittgenstein asks of a musical theme. “I should not be able to say. In order to ‘explain’ I could only compare it with something else that has the same rhythm (I mean the same pattern)” (§527).

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