How to Analyze a Poem in 7 Easy Steps
At first, analyzing a poem may seem like an intimidating task, especially considering the myriad poetic forms out there. It’s important to note, however, that a poem can have different meanings for different readers. Many poems are intentionally left open-ended and refuse to resolve their internal tensions. As poet Billy Collins says, you should not be trying to beat a confession out of a poem.
Let's look at how to analyze a poem in 7 steps:
1. Read the poem aloud multiple times
Reading a poem aloud is necessary for analysis. It’s important to read a poem multiple times before attempting to dig for its deeper meanings. Pay close attention to the rhythm and punctuation of the poem, the stressed and unstressed syllables, for these are intentional decisions made by the poet. If it’s helpful, you can also ask someone else to read the poem to you or look up a recording, for hearing the poem may reveal points you missed during your initial readings. Make note of anything that stands out from your readings of the poem, such as word choice, characters in the poem, and the rhyme scheme. Remember to highlight any unfamiliar words or phrases.
2. Review the title
The title often contains important clues for understanding the piece. After reading the poem, reflect on the title and determine how or if it relates to your understanding of the work. Does it tell you anything about the poem’s subject, tone, or form? Does it illustrate a specific time, place, or action?
3. Identify the speaker
It’s important not to confuse the poet with the “speaker” of the poem. More often than not, the speaker is a character, just like in a novel or play. The speaker will not always reveal a name, but using context clues you can determine the persona, point of view, and the audience the speaker is addressing.
4. Consider the mood and tone
Once you’ve identified the speaker, you’ll have more insight into the attitude or mood of the poem. Consider the speaker’s tone and delivery. For instance, does the speaker's voice change throughout the piece? Is the voice active or passive? Are they speaking directly to the reader or to another character? This is also a good time to look up any words or phrases that may have caused some initial confusion. The poet’s syntax and vocabulary are all deliberate choices.
5. Highlight the use of poetic devices
There are hundreds of poetic devices or techniques writers employ to enhance the effects of their work. Poetic devices are tools that can create rhythm, enhance a poem’s meaning, or intensify a mood or feeling. While you do not need to include every device in your analysis, it’s a good idea to include the significant techniques that contribute to the overall meaning of the poem.
Some poetic devices to highlight include:
(The entire section is 770 words.)