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Easy ways to analyze poems (which is a very very different thing from interpreting poems) begin with the meter and rhyme scheme. Find the meter by finding one line where the meter is clear (meter does not apply to free verse). This is a line where the meter is clear:

  • The goat was independent of the man.

The meter is clear because an English dictionary will tell you precisely how to scan the word "independent," then "independent" becomes your metric guide telling you how to scan the rest: in -de -pen' -dent.

  • The goat' / was in' / -de -pen' / -dent of' / the man'.

Now we know that we have iambic (da DA) pentameter (-' / -' / -' / -' / -') . This matters because word and sentence stress helps reveal meaning by clearing up sentence ambiguity created by compression of thought, ellision of word or elipsis of other words.

Rhyme scheme comes next because it helps reveal the logical flow of thought and that is critical to analyzing (then correctly interpreting) a poem. Also, determining rhyme scheme draws your eye to the end of each line so line-end punctuation or enjambment is noted. This too (punctuation) is of great importance because punctuation marks the relationship of ideas within the flow of poetry (and prose, for that matter).

Now that you know the thought, the logical flow of thought and the relationship between the parts of thought, you are free to focus your analysis on larger poetic elements like tone, mood, theme, narrator, diction, etc. You are also free to focus on poetic techniques like imagery, personification, metaphors, figures of speech, etc.

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Poems can be interpreted different ways by different people.  You can come to your own understanding, but of course there are the ones the poet intended.  First, you have to know something about the time period the poem was written in and the poet to really understand.

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There are a lot of poems written by excellent poets which have absolutely no basis in the poet's life, and by trying to make a connection, you could actually be limiting your perspective of the poem. It is more difficult to get the "right answer"  if you trying to make everything fit the biography. A better place to start is with the language, structure and syntax of the poem itself. Here are a few questions to ask yourself as you read a poem:

1.  What is the title? Does the title suggest any idea of the topic or theme of the poem?

2. Read for the SENTENCE, not the line. Try to paraphrase each sentence. 

3. As you read try to identify who the speaker of the poem is. Who is "telling the poem?" What is his/her attitude about the subject of the poem? Do not assume the speaker is the poet. 

3. Make sure to be careful of pronouns -- try to identify the antecedent so that you know for sure what the pronoun represents.

4. Pay attention to "shift" words such as but, therefore, so, etc. These kinds of words signal a change in tone or purpose from previous lines.

5. Take note of the connotations of the diction of the poem.

6. Take note of other literary devices used. What purpose is served?

7. What is the overall theme of the poem? What truth of life is explored through the poem?

Take your time; use your checklist; and don't get discouraged! At the end of the day, the poem is just words on a page.

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There are many ways to analyze a poem. While you are on the right track when examining the biography of the poet, you can also look at the period the poet wrote during. Another way to analyze a poem is through identifying its form. (What meter is used? What poetic devices are used? What is the rhyme of the poem?)

As you stated, literature is about interpretation. In order to provide "accurate answers," be sure to support your interpretation of the poem with textual evidence.

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