Whether you’re writing an essay or simply want to have a deeper appreciation of poetry, learning how to analyze a poem is a valuable skill. You’ll find that you will better understand the themes and meanings in a poem, and you’ll enjoy it more too.
What Does It Mean to Analyze a Poem?
If you’ve ever read a difficult piece of literature and wondered what it meant, you aren’t alone. Analyzing a poem is about getting past the challenging language or archaic form and understanding the intent of the author. What did the writer mean when he or she wrote this? Why did the writer make certain choices? Analyzing a poem is about answering these questions.
How to Analyze a Poem in 10 Easy Steps
Everything about a poem is intentional, from the imagery the writer uses to the type of rhyme scheme. If you take a step-by-step approach and look at each important element in a poem, you will end up with a great analysis of the work.
1. Read Like a Writer
The first step in any analysis is to read the poem. However, you can’t just read it quickly and be done. Take the time to read like a writer. Examine the word choice and consider the meaning behind the words. You may even want to read it out loud to hear the sound of the language.
2. Paraphrase the Poem
Next, grab a spare sheet of paper and paraphrase the poem line by line. You can look at examples of paraphrasing to see how to do it, but ultimately, you’re going to write a simple version of what each line of the poem is saying. When you’re done, you can read the paraphrase and get a sense of the meaning.
3. Notice the Structure
Many poems have a structure or a form. Glance at the poem on the page and see if it fits with any of the common types of poetry you may know, such as sonnets or ballads. Look at how the poem is divided into stanzas and note how many lines are in each stanza.
4. Pay Attention to the Rhyme Scheme
Does the poem rhyme? If it does, write out the rhyme scheme by assigning letters to each rhyming sound. You can look at examples of rhyme to see how the poem matches up. Don’t forget to include slant rhyme as well, since many poems use appropriate rhyme to complete the pattern.
5. Note the Meter
Take a minute to scan the poem. Scanning involves making notes about stressed and unstressed syllables in the lines. How these syllables go together sometimes creates a pattern, called a meter. Once you know the pattern for the poem you are analyzing, compare it to examples of meter to see what type it is.
6. Think About the Speaker
Reread the poem again, this time thinking about who is speaking. Is the speaker the same as the writer? What do you know about the person who is speaking? This person is acting as a narrator, and the entire experience of the poem is filtered through the speaker’s perspective. How does that perspective change your view of the poem?
7. Notice the Imagery
The imagery in a poem is how the writer expresses his or her ideas in a vivid way. Look for sensory descriptions, such as the taste, smell, or feel of things. Also notice visual imagery that gives you a sense of what the speaker is seeing.
8. Take Note of the Overall Tone or Mood
The type of imagery used in a poem often directly relates to the mood or tone. Think about how the imagery makes you feel, or how you think the speaker is feeling. Then, look at examples of mood to determine what feeling the poem is trying to convey.
9. Think About the Theme
The theme of a poem is its main idea. If you had to write one sentence explaining this poem to someone, what would that sentence look like? That’s the theme. You could start with “This is a poem about…” and simply finish the sentence.
10. Consider the Context
No poem analysis is complete without a sense of the context. This is the background for the poem, and it can include everything from cultural and historical factors to the life events of the writer. What was happening in the world or the writer’s life that might have influenced this poem? How does knowing this information change how you read the poem?
A Deeper Understanding of Poetry
Once you know how to analyze a poem, you can feel confident in class discussions and when writing a literary analysis essay. You’ll find you love poetry even more now that you have a deeper understanding of how to read it.