When analyzing poetry, it is often helpful to identify a few things first.
The subject, scene (external, internal, or both), and the tone. These three devices will usually lead you to the overall purpose of the poem. Then, looking at other literary devices provides a fuller understanding of the piece. I will help you get started in this poem:
- Subject: a fallen war hero (Lord Kitchener) who was obviously an Englishman, a sailor, and a in a position of leadership.
- External Scene: a ship that went down near the Orkney Islands (near Scotland)
- Internal Scene: remembrance for a man who was well respected; a celebration of a remarkable life
- Tone: elegiac/remembrance; thankful; praise/honor
With these key elements identified, I now encourage you to re-read the poem and look more specifically at the language. Identify any figures of speech and any use of diction (word choice) which reflect the tones listed above. You can ascertain meaning by keeping in mind the overall purpose of the poem. Some examples to consider include:
What day the foe presumed on her despair
And she herself had trust in none but thee:
(Who could be the "she" be referring to?)
(Diction: what does "Herculean" refer to? What could it mean here?)
Shall be thy monument.
(What shall be his monument? Why? What is the purpose of a monument?)
As you answer these questions, think of some of your own as well. This kind of analytical practice can be applied to all poetry and should help you understand more in the future.