There are different ways to analyse poetry. The method presented here is broken down into bite sized sections so that it is easier to understand. These sections are in no particular order.
When you have a poem before you and you are about to begin your analysis, the first thing you should do is read it through in its entirety. Two to three times is the standard recommendation. Read it out aloud, and listen to the sound of your voice as you read it through. Make note of your initial thoughts whether good or bad. During these initial reads, you can try to grasp the literal meaning of the poem; research words and phrases you don’t understand. You can also look up places and situations mentioned in the poem, this would segue neatly into discovering the context of the poem and the circumstances under which it was written.
The context is one of the first things you should grasp while reading the poem for the first time. It is one of the easier aspects of a poem to understand.When analysing context attempt to answer the following questions:
- Who wrote the poem? Is the poet’s life or beliefs reflected in the body of the work?
- When was the poem written? Where was the poem written? Is anything that occurred during that time period reflected in the poem?
- Does the poem appear in its original language? If it doesn’t, translation might change the meaning of the poem.
- Does the poem stand alone? Is it a a part of a special collection or series?
The essence of the theme of a poem lies in the reason the poet has written the poem, and the ideas he wants to express.
- What is the subject? Is is youth, loss, nature or love?
- What is the poems purpose? If it for humour and entertainment?Or simply trying to teach a lesson?
- Is the theme emphasised by the use of any literary devices, for example personification?
Choosing the title for any literary work is important to a writer. The title is a good place to start when considering the theme for the poem.
- What does the title tell you? Is the meaning obvious?
- What expectations, if any, does it create?
- Does it strike a balance?
- Is there historical significance?
Mood and Tone
The mood evokes certain feelings in the reader. For the mood consider:
- Is it Cheerful? Jolly? Mysterious? Provocative? (this list is not exhaustive)
- Does the mood change throughout the piece?
When thinking about the tone ask:
- Is the speaker male or female?
- Is any particular race or nationality mentioned?
- Is the poet serious? Playful? Humourous?
When you speak, your tone suggests your attitude towards two things: the person(s) you are speaking to and the topic you are speaking about. It is the same with poetry. It is the attitude that the style of the poem or how it is written implies.
The structure (or lack thereof) of a poem can tell you a lot about the poet’s attitude to the topic he is writing about and can leave hints as to poet’s desired interpretation.
- How is the poem organised?
- How it is divided up? Are there individual stanzas or sections? What do they discuss and how are they related to each other?
Structure can be a great help in the analysis of a poem, pay attention to it.
Sound and Rhythm
Poetry is rooted in music, so how it sounds and how it moves should always be taken into consideration. Rhythm and sound are related and become important especially when you read it aloud to yourself. You may notice emphases on certain sections as opposed to others, which can help, as analysis tends to, lead you to the meaning the poet wished to impart. Ask:
- Is there a dominant rhythm? Does it dance. meander, frolic or march?
- Is it conversational like a scene from a drama?
- Does the rhythm relate to the theme of the poem, or is it at odds?
- Does the rhythm increase or decrease as the poem progresses?
Look for concrete pictures or images that the poet has drawn. Consider why these have been chosen. Are the pictures created by means of comparisons? Is there use of any literary devices such as: personification, similes or metaphors?
- Does the poem stress certain sounds, such as pleasant or harsh sounds?
- Are certain sounds repeated?
- Is there a rhyming scheme present?
- Is there onomatopoeia?
- Is there symbolism?
Passage of time
- Is there a time frame? If so, what details specify the time period?
- How long is the time period of the poem and are there gaps?
IT’S TIME TO WRITE YOUR ANALYSIS
After answering all these questions, and the questions that they lead to. You should have a good grasp and understanding of the poem. You can now write your thoughts or answer the questions that you are given. When you are writing, be sure to bring all your thoughts, initial and final along with the answers to the questions, and condense it to the main idea that the poet is trying to bring across, and then the supporting ideas the poet presents.
Watch the video below for a short review on this post and a few other concepts.