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My argument in its broadest outline is not surprising: sophisticated poetry requires formal operations. Poems are, after all, statements of a propositional nature, verbal constructs of carefully integrated parts, often non-linear in their arrangements, analogical (analogy itself requiring proportional reasoning) in their presentation, and (as Aristotle noted) dependent for their intelligibility on the reader's judgment of the contextually probable. What interests me is the number of ways the Piagetian analysis of pre-formal thought illuminates those often disturbing readings, to our eyes unfathomable readings, which we are given by our less proficient students. I am further interested in what Piaget has to tell us about the intellectual skills our students must learn to become adept as readers and about how we can nurture such learning.
My mode of exploring these issues was to assess reader responses to a variety of questions about Shelley's sonnet "Ozymandias" [See Appendix 1). My hypothesis was that the poem, although its regular appearance in anthologies suggests that it is not one of great difficulty, makes demands beyond the capacity of those who do not bring formal operations to bear on it. In particular, it requires the reader several times to think reversibly; that is , in this case, to generate one meaning for a set of words and to sustain that meaning while considering those words afresh and generating another, complementary, meaning,