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What is the best way to go about explicating a poem that I have not seen before in my...

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pashti | Student, Undergraduate | Valedictorian

Posted July 12, 2012 at 8:30 PM via web

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What is the best way to go about explicating a poem that I have not seen before in my test for ENGl 1011 and in just 1 Hour time?

I have studied Poetry Explication but I don't understand & Like 20th Century Poetry and I really want to do well in my test. Any Suggestions would be appreciated. Thank you

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Stephen Holliday | College Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

Posted July 12, 2012 at 9:10 PM (Answer #1)

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If you follow the first link below, you will find a very helpful overview of poetry explication, but I will try to give you some useful suggestions here.

As a first step, take a deep breath and read the poem carefully and slowly completely through.  As you read, don't be too concerned about understanding every element at once.  After reading the poem in its entirety, you are ready to begin understanding the poem.

Your second reading should focus on capturing the meaning of the poem, which is sometimes difficult but almost always possible.  Ask yourself several questions: What happens in the poem? What images does the poet use to convey his or her meaning?  Does the poet use symbols and, if so, do the symbols appear to be part of a unified theme?  What form does the poem take--is it a sonnet, villanelle, sestina, free verse?  What is the rhyme scheme?  What kind of vocabulary does the poet employ--latinate diction, slang, etc.  Is there more than one speaker--is this a monologue or dialogue?  Does the poet use alliteration, assonance, consonance, and to what effect?  These are all elements that may or may not be present, but it's quite likely that some will be, and your explication will mention these.  The form of a poem in most cases is secondary to the poem's meaning, so spend your available time on the explication of meaning rather than extensive comments on a poem's form, rhyme scheme, and diction.

No matter what the form the poem takes, the essence of explication is to arrive at an explanation of the poem's meaning.  The easiest way to capture a poem's meaning is to identify the theme--simply, what is the common thread that binds this poem into a complete unit of meaning?  Keep in mind that most poets, even though they may make their meaning difficult to define, intend to communicate with the reader, and so the meaning must be accessible to an interested reader.  But also understand that many of the best poems have more than one interpretation--and it is up to you to determine whether the poem has a single meaning or a series of multi-level meanings.

 

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