How does a writer analyze a poem?

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Analysis means the student looks at the ingredients that make a poem, and shows how they interconnect to give an effect or to expess a theme. Because poems are “concentrated word magic,” this analysis should begin with a close look at the figurative language, that is, how the poet condensed his or her ideas into just a few words by the choice of vocabulary, the figures of speech, etc. The three main parts (which can be broken down into smaller steps) are the mise-en-scene, the voice, and the imagery.

The observations can then be broken down into steps – what is the “world” of the narrator (there is only one narrator, one voice, in a poem)?  Are we in Nature, in a man-made setting, in the past or in the future, etc.?  Next, determine what the poet’s mood is – positive, negative, pensive, passionate, etc.  Then look at the “progress” of the poem – how does it move from the opening lines to the closing – progressing in detail? expanding in symbolic meaning? becoming more or less optimistic, etc.?  Structure is part of that analysis (a Shakepearean sonnet, for example, gives the situation in the first ten lines, then the complication in the next four, then the resolution in the final couplet – this is an oversimplication, of course.)  As you observe and express these details, you are “analyzing” how the poem “works” (just as you would analyze a piece of machinery to see how it worked).  Using the standard paragraph form of an essay, state you thesis (for example, “I see Wordsworth’s poem ‘Intimation of Immorality’as the poet’s statement of his religious beliefs.”) Divide your observations into coherent groups; then develop your analysis toward supporting this thesis statement.

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