Why is tone so difficult in poetry?
Tone is both easy and difficult. It is easy because the beginning and ending of an analysis of tone in poems is the formulation of attitudes present in a poem, or a statement about the appropriateness of diction, imagery, or metaphor to the content. Usually these judgments are readily described. It is also quite difficult, however, because a full discussion requires not only the articulation of an attitude but also the analysis of how the poem permits the reader to draw conclusions. Thus, any investigation of tone is complex, requiring students to show the interaction of poet, material, reader, situation, word choice, fairness, completeness of development, truthfulness, and structure, together with anything else that might have a bearing on the proper interpretation of attitudes. When you think about the way readers describe the tone in a poem, readers may respond by saying “irony,” “humor,” “disingenuousness,” “indignation,” “pathos,” or a number of other descriptive terms. It is never a matter of simply memorizing words but a constant study of vocabulary so that you already know the word in hand. The problem becomes explaining the means by which the poem enables you to make these assessments.