How To Analyze Poetry

How To Analyze Poetry

Length: 1939 words (5.5 double-spaced pages)

Rating: Excellent

Open Document

Essay Preview

More ↓
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?

How to Cite this Page

MLA Citation:
"How To Analyze Poetry." 123HelpMe.com. 21 Feb 2020
    <https://www.123helpme.com/view.asp?id=168713>.

Need Writing Help?

Get feedback on grammar, clarity, concision and logic instantly.

Check your paper »

Literary Analysis of Emily Dickinson's Poetry Essay

- Literary Analysis of Emily Dickinson's Poetry      Emily Dickinson is one of the most famous authors in American History, and a good amount of that can be attributed to her uniqueness in writing. In Emily Dickinson's poem 'Because I could not stop for Death,' she characterizes her overarching theme of Death differently than it is usually described through the poetic devices of irony, imagery, symbolism, and word choice.      Emily Dickinson likes to use many different forms of poetic devices and Emily's use of irony in poems is one of the reasons they stand out in American poetry....   [tags: Emily Dickinson Poet Poetry Analyze Essays]

Research Papers
1056 words (3 pages)

A Comparison and Contrast Between the Two Poems, Poetry and Modern Poetry

- “I, too, dislike it: There are things that are important beyond all this fiddle.” Poetry has been around for a long time. As the years go by poetry adapts to the time period. However, the authors have different views. Majority of them will read and enjoy all types of poem, but they have their own opinions. The new, has to be truly unique to the author and to the time period. Shakespeare still had plays that we study, but it is hard to comprehend the message behind the words. Worlds change and the literature's change with the trends....   [tags: modern poetry, true poetry]

Research Papers
887 words (2.5 pages)

Essay on The Lyrics Of Poetry By William Woolf

- The Lyrics of Poetry (Wordsworth, Woolf, Aristotle, and Pope) Poetry is a form of literature that has been very meaningful and successful in history. “Poetry has a long history, dating back to the Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh.” (Dodd) Decades and decades before the twenty-first century, there were very well known poets that sat and wrote such intricate literature. Many wise men using their own form, layout, rhythm and techniques wrote long lasting master pieces that are still widely studied in the education systems today....   [tags: Writing, Poetry, Mind, Literature]

Research Papers
1206 words (3.4 pages)

Essay on Teaching Poetry Falls Into The Universe

- Teaching poetry falls into the pedagogical aims of the Iowa Core under literacy: reading, writing, speaking, listening, and language. My proposed project for throwing poetry into the universe will tap into all elements of literacy along with some elements of technology. Ideally, for my public poetry project or throwing poetry into the universe, students would be immersed in a diversified selection of poetry. In class, students would read, share, analyze, write, and present poetry. However, the poetry we investigate together in class along with poetry students investigate on their own, needs to reach a larger audience outside of our classroom walls....   [tags: Poetry, Literature, Rhyme]

Research Papers
785 words (2.2 pages)

Essay on Analysis of Roethke's Poetry

- Theodore Roethke Didn’t Know He’d be a Poet Born in Saginaw Michigan in 1908, Theodore Roethke grew up in his parent’s home, which was built in 1911 for his parents Helen and Otto Roethke. (Theodore Roethke) This was a family estate with Theodore’s Uncle, Carl living on property as well. (Theodore Roethke) The family was in the flower business and Theodore spent many a day in the greenhouse. This is the source of many of his poems, along with his childhood experiences. Roethke is credited with saying the greenhouse, “is my symbol for the whole of life, a womb, a heaven-on-earth” (Theodore Roethke) Theodore Roethke went to school at John Moore Elementary School, and attended Arthur Hil...   [tags: American Poetry]

Research Papers
2124 words (6.1 pages)

Poetry Is The Range Of Pleasure Essay example

- Poetry is not facile subject to understand. Poetry is an art form that can be interpreted various ways. The meaning of each text of poetry relies on the readers, and the author 's emotional state of mind. When poetry is being read, it is not being read for fluency. These reading are to be analyzed and interpreted through an individual’s sight, intellection and sound. According to Louis Zokofsky, “ The test of poetry is the range of pleasure it affords at sight, sound, and intellectual. This is its purpose as art”....   [tags: Emotion, Feeling, Allen Ginsberg, Poetry]

Research Papers
1106 words (3.2 pages)

Wilfred Owen's War Poetry Essay

- 1. Introduction Trudging through ravaged landscapes with rooted out trees, blood and mud everywhere, trenches infested with rats, half filled with water and with corpses – these were the circumstances in which some 8,700,000 lives had been lost during the First World War. However, this reality was long kept from the knowledge of the civilians at home, who continued to write about the noble pursuit of heroic ideals in old patriotic slogans (Anthology 2012: 2017). Those poets who were involved on the front soon realized the full horror of war, which is reflected in their poetic techniques, diction, and imaginations....   [tags: WWI, English poetry, Sassoon]

Research Papers
1229 words (3.5 pages)

Essay on My Initial Intrigue With Poetry

- My initial intrigue with poetry began due its musical nature. I value the coupling of figurative language and ambiguity to communicate emotions and personal experiences in a distinct, original way. In the past, I have written poems and lyrics as a means of sorting my thoughts and dealing with overwhelming emotions. Entering the course, I knew my struggles would not lie as much in writing poetry, but rather, through deciphering the meanings and messages behind others’ poems. Throughout high school, I questioned my ability to annotate poems and write about them in an academic format....   [tags: Poetry, Writing, Paper, Writing process]

Research Papers
1991 words (5.7 pages)

Essay about The Poetry of Michelangelo

- Michelangelo Michelangelo was very talented in many fields of art. One is able to see a relationship between his art and his poetry due to its realistic aspects. People who are acquainted with his art and poetry are able to understand his emotions and ideas. Michelangelo was the greatest living artist of his time. Michelangelo focuses on topics of life. In his poems he discusses categories pertaining to love, death, evil and good, beauty, and women. The first is the fault the artist finds in his ability to be both a poet and painter....   [tags: Poetry]

Free Essays
996 words (2.8 pages)

English Poetry Essay

- English Poetry 2. What are the symbolic significances of the candy store in Lawrence Ferlinghetti's "The Pennycandystore Beyond the El" (Geddes, 318). The candy store in "The Pennycandystore Beyond the El" is symbolic of a child's youth. This poem is referring to the fact that our childhood passes by too soon and the candy store is a reminder that we need to seize every moment to enjoy it. The pennycandystore offers as a retreat or refuge to the bad weather outside and the stresses of everyday life....   [tags: English Poetry Poem ]

Research Papers
1359 words (3.9 pages)


The Title
-Is the title's meaning obvious? For example, does it mention a single setting and action, such as W. S. Merwin's "The Drunk in the Furnace" or James A. Wright's "Autumn Begins in Martins Ferry, Ohio"?
-Does it imply multiple possibilities? For example, Jean Toomer's "Georgia Dusk," which refers to a time of day as well as to dark-skinned people.
-Does it strike a balance, as in Rita Dove's "Beulah and Thomas"?
-Is there an obvious antithesis, as with Robert Frost's "Fire and Ice"?
-Is there historical significance to the title? For example, Robert Lowell's "The Quaker Graveyard in Nantucket."
Repetition
Readers should read through a poem several times, at least once aloud. If it is a long poem, such as Allen Ginsberg's Howl or Hart Crane's The Bridge, readers should concentrate on key passages and look for repetition of specific words, phrases, or verses in the poem.
-Why is there a repeated reference to the sea in Robinson Jeffers's poetry?
-Why does the pronoun "we" recur in Gwendolyn Brooks' "We Real Cool"?
-Why does Edgar Lee Masters reprise epitaphs for Spoon River Anthology?
If readers note repetition in the poem, they should decide why certain information seems to deserve the repetition.
The Opening and Closing Lines
-Does the poet place significant information or emotion in these places? For example, when reading Marianne Moore's "Poetry," readers may question the negative stance in the opening lines.
-Does the poet intend to leave a lasting impression by closing with a particular thought? For example, why does Langston Hughes' "Harlem" lead to the word "explode"?
The Passage of Time
Can readers pin down a time frame? What details specify time?
-Does the poet name a particular month or season, as with Amy Lowell's "Patterns"?
-Is there a clear passage of time, as with the decline of the deceased woman in Denise Levertov's "Death in Mexico"?
How long is the period of time? Are there gaps?
The Speaker
Who is the speaker? Is the person male or female?
-Does the voice speak in first person (I, me, my, mine), for example, John Berryman's "Huffy Henry"?
-Does the speaker talk directly to a second person, as with Adrienne Rich's "Diving into the Wreck"?
-Is the voice meant to be universal—for example, applicable to either sex at any time or place?
Names of Characters
-Does the name of a character suggest extra meaning, such as Eben Flood (an alcoholic) in Edwin Arlington Robinson's "Mr. Flood's Party" and T. S. Eliot's prissy protagonist in "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock"?
Basic Details
-Is the poet deliberately concealing information from the readers, as with the source of depression in Robert Lowell's "Skunk Hour"?
-Why does the poet leave out significant facts? Are readers supposed to fill in the blanks, for example, the relationship between mother and daughter in Cathy Song's "The White Porch" or the perplexity of a modern tourist in Allen Tate's "Ode to the Union Dead"?
Culture
-Does the poem stress cultural details, such as the behavior, dress, or speech habits of a particular group or a historical period or event—for instance, the death of an airline stewardess in James Dickey's "Falling"?
-Are any sections written in dialect, slang, or foreign words, as with the Deep South patois of Sterling Brown's "Ma Rainey"?
Fantasy versus Reality
-Is the poem an obvious fantasy, as is the case with the intense confrontation in Sylvia Plath's "Daddy" and the setting of Rita Dove's "Geometry"?
The Mood and Tone
-What is the mood of the poem? Is it cheerful or jolly like limericks? Is it mysterious, provocative, zany, ominous, festive, fearful, or brooding, as with Randall Jarrell's "Sad Heart at the Supermarket"? Does the mood change within the body of the work, as with Joy Harjo's "The Woman Hanging from the Thirteenth Floor Window"? Why does the mood shift? Where does the shift begin?
-What is the poet's tone? Is it satiric, serious, mock serious, playful, somber, brash, or teasingly humorous, as with Robert Frost's "Departmental: The End of My Ant Jerry"? Does the poet admire, agree with, ridicule, or condemn the speaker, as in the touch of mock heroic in Richard Wilbur's "The Death of a Toad"? Is there an obvious reason for the poet's attitude, as suggested by the suffering in James Dickey's "Angina"? Does the poet withhold judgment, as is the case with the epitaphs of Edgar Lee Masters' Spoon River Anthology?´
Themes
Locating and identifying theme is crucial to understanding dominant ideas; theme is the poem's essence.
-Is the subject youth, loss, renewal, patriotism, nature, love? Are there several themes? How do these themes relate to each other?
-Is the poet merely teasing or entertaining or trying to teach a lesson, as do Robinson Jeffers' "Hurt Hawks" and Marianne Moore's "The Mind Is an Enchanted Thing"?
-Does the poet emphasize the theme by means of onomatopoeia, personification, or controlling images?
Rhythm
-Is there a dominant rhythm? Does it dance, frolic, meander, slither, or march? Is it conversational, like a scene from a drama? Is it a droning monologue, as found in a journal, diary, or confessional?
-Does the rhythm relate to the prevalent theme of the poem? Or does it seem at odds with the theme?
-Does the rhythm increase or decrease in speed, as does Ezra Pound's Hugh Selwyn Mauberley: Life and Contacts? Why?
Use of the Senses
-Does the poem stress sense impressions—for example, taste, touch, smell, sound, or sight? Are these impressions pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral?
-Does the poet concentrate on a single sense or a burst of sensation, as in Wallace Stevens's "Peter Quince at the Clavier" or Elizabeth Bishop's "The Fish"?
Imagery
-Are there concrete images or pictures that the poet wants readers to see?
-Are the pictures created by means of comparisons—for instance, metaphor or simile? Do inanimate objects take on human traits (personification)? Does the speaker talk to inanimate objects or to such abstract ideas as freedom?
Language
-Does the poet stress certain sounds, such as pleasant sounds (euphony) or harsh letter combinations (cacophony), as demonstrated by Wendy Rose's title "Academic Squaw"?
-Are certain sounds repeated (alliteration, sibilance), as in the insistent a sounds in Amiri Baraka's "A Poem for Willie Best"?
-Are words linked by approximate rhyme, like "seem/freeze," or by real rhyme, such as "least/feast"? Is there a rhyme scheme or sound pattern at the ends of lines, as with the interlocking rhymes of Robert Frost's "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening"? Does rhyming occur within a line (internal rhyme), as in "black flak" in Randall Jarrell's "The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner"?
-Is there onomatopoeia, or words that make a sound that imitates their meaning, such as swoosh, ping pong, ricochet, clangor, plash, wheeze, clack, boom, tingle, slip, fumble, or clip-clop, as with the verb "soar" in Edna St. Vincent Millay's "On Thought in Harness"?
Supplemental Materials
-Has the editor included any preface, explanatory notes, or concluding comments and questions; for example, T. S. Eliot's dedication of The Waste Land or Wendy Rose's use of epigraphs?
-Are there notes and comments in a biography, poet's letters and essays, critical analyses, Web site, or anthology, such as biographical footnotes to Anne Sexton's "Sylvia's Death" and the many commentaries on Hart Crane's The Bridge?
-Is there an electronic version, such as the poet reading original verse on the Internet? Are there notes on the record jacket, cassette box, or CD booklet, as found on recordings of Adrienne Rich's feminist verse?
Drawing Conclusions
After answering the questions presented in this introduction, readers should paraphrase or restate the poem in everyday words, as though talking to someone on the telephone. A summary of the poem should emphasize a pattern of details, sounds, or rhythm. For example, do various elements of the poem lead readers to believe that the poet is describing an intense experience? Is the poet defining something, such as parenthood, risking a life, curiosity, marriage, religious faith, or aging, as in Denise Levertov's "A Woman Alone"? Is the poet telling a story event by event? Does the poet want to sway the reader's opinion, as Louise Bogan does in "Evening in the Sanitarium"?
Before reaching a conclusion about the meaning of a poem, readers should summarize their personal responses. Are they emotionally moved or touched by the poem? Are they entertained or repulsed, terrified or stirred to agree? Do words and phrases stick in their memory? How has the poet made an impression? And most important, why?
Return to 123HelpMe.com