How To Analyze Poetry

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Poetry is a compact language that expresses complex feelings. To understand the multiple meanings of a poem, readers must examine its words and phrasing from the perspectives of rhythm, sound, images, obvious meaning, and implied meaning. Readers then need to organize responses to the verse into a logical, point-by-point explanation. A good beginning involves asking questions that apply to most poetry. The Context of the Poem Clear answers to the following questions can help establish the context of a poem and form the foundation of understanding: -Who wrote the poem? Does the poet's life suggest any special point of view, such as a political affiliation, religious sect, career interest, musical talent, family or personal problems, travel, or handicap—for example, H. D.'s feminism, Amiri Baraka's radicalism, T. S. Eliot's conversion to Anglicanism, William Carlos Williams' career as a physician, A. R. Ammons' training in chemistry, Amy Lowell's aristocratic background, John Berryman's alcoholism, or Hart Crane's homosexuality? -When was the poem written and in what country? Knowing something about the poet's life, times, and culture helps readers understand what's in a poem and why. -Does the poem appear in the original language? If not, readers should consider that translation can alter the language and meaning of a poem. -Is the poem part of a special collection or series? Examples of such series and collections include Edna St. Vincent Millay's sonnets, Carl Sandburg's Chicago Poems, or Rita Dove's triad, "Adolescence—I, II, and III." -Does the poem belong to a particular period or literary movement? For example, does the poem relate to imagism, confessional verse, the Beat movement, the Harlem Renaissance, the Civil Rights era, the American Indian renaissance, or feminism? The Style Into what category does the poem fit — for example, Carl Sandburg's imagism in "Fog" or Gwendolyn Brooks' epic "The Anniad"? Readers should apply definitions of the many categories to determine which describes the poem's length and style: Is it an epic, a long poem about a great person or national hero? Is it a lyric, a short, musical verse? Is it a narrative, a poem that tells a story? -Is it a haiku, an intense, lyrical three-line verse of seventeen syllables? -Is it confessional? For example, does it examine personal memories and experiences?

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