Have you been given a poem to analyze? Wondering where should you start if you have never done this before?
Don't worry about it follow this simple guide and you'll be done in no time.
When lecturers ask students to perform any type of poem analysis they are looking for a description of the process used to identify key elements and to provide solutions to a complex matter. In general, this is separated into different sections thus providing better comprehension overall of the poetry. During an analysis, individuals are required to illustrate many ideas that have a connection to the poem.
So let's start by looking at the first impressions for a poem analysis.
One of the best ways to start is by reading the poem many times and even out aloud. Where possible listen to it in its original form. Remember poetry is a statement and a piece of artwork so it can take time to fully develop a taste for it which can also change over time. This said, it is worth noting down the first impressions and immediate responses whether they are positive or negative. These initial ideas may change but it is important to record them.
Start taking your examination one step further and look at the title of the piece. This could have been carefully chosen and deliberated over so what information does this provide and what further questions can be asked?
Expectation of the text? For example, if the poem is titled “Happy the Lab’Rer” by Jane Austen you assume it will be cheerful. But does the title create an expectation that is different to the reality?
Description of the Literally type? An example of this would be “His last sonnet” by John Keats, this gives the poetic form. If this is true further question the uses in the piece and why or not it is used?
Give the subject of the piece? For instance “a song of love” by Sidney Lanier this directly informs you of the subject.
It is imperative to understand all the words the author has decided to use, before you can get idea of the work as a whole. This can be done by first getting a good dictionary and looking up words that are not known. Then consider content that is partly known and double check these meanings along with words that seem to be important to the poem. For example, a word used may have had a different meaning a few centuries ago when the text was actually written. Furthermore, people and places may hold answers to the author's attitude and ideas this can be searched online to gain better access to these allusions. At this point, you may see patterns emerging from the work so you can evaluate the diction used like street slang or formal English and even foreign phrases. It could even be possible to see the poem’s theme, as now looking at the piece as a whole is achievable.
Easy-To-Use Poem Analysis Essay Outline:
So the structure can give a lot of information to your poem analysis essay, pay attention to this. Look how the poem is organized and partitioned, this should reveal more questions like:
- What does each section discuss?
- How do the sections relate to each other?
- Are there formal divisions?
- What logical sense does it have?
- What emotional sense can be discussed?
- What can a controlled structure say about the poet's attitude to the subject?
- Does having a lack of structure have anything to contribute?
Once the structure has been observed, you can further investigate how the speaker communicates the poem to the reader. A good place to start this journey is by examining the tone and intonation used by the author throughout the text.
Tone and Intonation:
Let's look at the communication between the speaker directly to the reader and what can be observed from this?
Speaker of the poem
Let's look at the tone of the article and discuss who is speaking to build up a picture of them. Can we tell if they are old or young and what gender the voice has? The race or religion might be apparent and key to identify the speaker. Then we can discuss if the voice is expressing the poet's thoughts and emotions directly to the reader. If not, a character could have been created to convey the poet's ideas due to having a different persona to the character. Why has the writer chosen this particular character and what information can we deduce from this? The mood of the speaker should be analyzed, are they happy or sad and how is this information available?
Recipient of the poem
Then look at to whom the poet is addressing and if it's a particular person or object. This will lead to the purpose of the poetry to see if is there a statement being made or to instruct someone to do something. There could also be the possibility of not requiring a response and simply expressing themselves.
For example, a poem about spring could just be a joyful expression that winter has ended. Alternatively, this could be an attempt to seduce someone or maybe just an instruction to plow the field.
Language and symbolism in a poem analysis essay:
To this point only the words have been explored as this all the available information. Firstly the literal meaning has been checked and understood in the dictionary for the ‘denotative meaning’. Then it is possible to look at the emotional effects, symbols and figures of speech which is the ‘connotative meaning’.
Purpose of the poem
This is all related to subject in the text which is what the speaker is talking about. The theme should be identified which is why it was created in the first place? Can any links be made between the subject and the theme what do they say about each other?
The time frame is an important factor to consider. You should work out what the author's initial goal was back then and how it has changed now. Furthermore, has the purpose survived the test of time and is this highest indicator of success?
Look for images and concrete pictures that the poet has decided to draw and discuss the reasons for their uses. For example, if an owl is depicted would this set up a mood or the time of day? Also if a morning is called misty, what specific effects does this have? Furthermore, can certain patterns of words be seen or clustered together with similar connotations? For example, if children, buds on trees and lambs are described this could be giving shape to a theme including spring, youth and new birth.
A symbol can be an event or physical object which includes a person or place that represents a non-physical entity like an idea or emotion. For example, a bird can be used to symbolize freedom and a caged bird could be seen as against one's will.
Techniques like metaphors, similes, personification, analogies and symbolism are all ways to compare one thing to another in a quick way and also slowly even over the whole poem. Look at how the comparisons are stressed and how are they are connected to each other? Be very careful and pick up all the available clues from the text as it can take time to absorb the mood and meaning.
Rhythm and sound:
So poetry and music have many connections and have a deep history together. There are some things to look out for to get the best understanding and comparisons:
Meter can have different forms for example, iambic pentameter which is a 5 beat line with alternating unaccented and accented syllables.
Rhythm needs to be closely examined as not all poems have a strict meter. It is important to listen to the rhythm and the way it affects the meaning of the poetry, like music you can tell if it's sad or happy if you listen carefully.
Special effects can also be used to grab your attention, and also some words can take longer to pronounce while others are much quicker. Techniques used like onomatopoeia and alliteration are good to spot and reference in your analysis but remember it is more important to experience their effect in the work.
Rhyme is also something to look out for as there are many different types and patterns. Look at how this particular scheme affects the response to the poem does it add humor for example? There could be internal rhymes which are within the lines instead of at the end so read carefully even out aloud and also does the rhyme say anything about the meaning?
Different sounds within a poem could be evident for example the use of different voices this should also say something about the meaning.
Rules of rhyme and meter are very specific and follow a strict structure, but if the poet decided to break them ask yourself why?
The conclusion of a poem analysis essay:
Having explored all the various elements that one must undergo while tackling such a task, this is where you need to step back from analyzing the poems key elements and decide what it means as a whole. To do this, combine the different parts of the examination to formulate one main idea.
What is the poet trying to say and how forcefully does he or she say it what with what feeling?
This will bring you to the meaning and how does this come out and over what timeframe? For example is it stated at the beginning or does it gradually lead up to the meaning? The last lines of a poem are usually critical to the meaning and can emphasize or change it.