Poetry Analysis Can you show me how to analyze a poem?

Expert Answers
booboosmoosh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Here is a sample analysis of a poem. Consider "The Highwayman" by Alfred Noyes. (A link to the poem is included below.)

This is a narrative poem—it tells a story...it has a plot. In terms of its structure, there are 11 six-line stanzas: six in Part One, and five in Part Two. There is end rhyme (where the end of one lines rhymes with the end of another). The pattern of sound created is A A B C C B. This means that the first and second lines rhyme (at the last word), the third and sixth lines, etc.

Repetition is used throughout the poem, giving the piece a musical sound. (Repetition is only one literary device used for this purpose.) The repetition is found in either lines four through six, or in lines four and five. Consider the first stanza of Part One:

The wind was a torrent of darkness among the gusty trees, 

The moon was a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas, 

The road was a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor, 

And the highwayman came riding—


The highwayman came riding, up to the old inn-door.

In this stanza, "riding" is used in the last three lines. This emphasis is not only something that provides a sense of movement by the highwayman, but it also emphasizes his steady approach or gallop—his impending arrival—to the inn. (The last three lines of stanza three of Part One will also be the last three lines of stanza eleven, the poem's closing—and haunting—segment.)

Other literary devices are used to capture the reader's imagination and paint vivid mental pictures in the mind. Metaphors (that describe dissimilar things with similar characteristics) are found in the first three lines of the first stanza in Part One.

The "wind" is compared to a "torrent of darkness;" the "moon" is compared to a "ghostly galleon" (or ship); and, the "road" is compared to a "ribbon of moonlight."

At the start of stanza three in Part One, alliteration is used: it is the repetition of a consonant sound at the beginning of a group of words:

Over the cobbles he clattered and clashed...

The "c" sound is repeated in "cobbles," "clattered" and "clashed." This also makes the poem sound more musical. Without realizing it, these are things the ear picks up, which also gives the poem a lilting rhythm.

Stanza six of Part One has a simile—the comparison of two dissimilar things, using "like" or "as."

His face burnt like a brand...

This is saying that his "face" glowed like a piece of wood ("brand") in the fire.

In Part Two, stanza six, onomatopoeia is used to convey the sound of horse's hoofs hitting the road's surface. Onomatopoeia is a word that describes a sound (like the "hiss" of a snake, or the "buzz" of a bee). The reader can almost hear the sound of the rider approaching with the repeated word, "tlot-tlot."

Tlot-tlot; tlot-tlot! Had they heard it? The horse-hoofs ringing clear...

Discussing these devices is part of the poem's analysis. Here is a plot summary:

This is a romantic poem: a highwayman falls in love with the innkeeper's daughter (Bess). He visits her one night, and another man (Tim) who loves the girl hears the highway man's plan to return. Out of jealousy, Tim shares their secret, and the soldiers wait for his reappearance. Bess sacrifices her life to warn her sweetheart; however, his heart is so broken, that he comes back to avenge her death and is shot out on the road. The ghosts return, meeting again on winter nights at the deserted inn.