First Things First
Before I get into the tools you can use to help interpret or analyze poetry, I want to stress the importance of reading for enjoyment.
Let the words, phrasing, rhyme scheme, and rhythm flow through you. An essential part of understanding poetry is ‘feeling’ it.
Read the poem first for overall concept and fun. Do a second reading to start a more thorough interpretation. Poems should be read multiple times.
The following blog invites you to ask questions and look into poems in a variety of ways.
What is the subject of the poem? What does the poem say about the subject?
Why is the title the title?
How does the poem affect you?
Exploring the audience’s feeling is very important because poetry generally wants to evoke some emotion or thought. You are a part of that audience, so begin there. Then, you can think about how the poem might affect others beyond yourself.
Pay attention to the language used.
Is the language formal or informal?
Is the diction concrete or abstract?
Are the words relating experiences to learning, love, nature, spirituality, war, and so on?
Look for similes, metaphors, personification hyperbole, puns, or other literary devices.
Is there a pattern between the strings of words (phrases, clauses) that might indicate some meaning?
Structure & Form
Pay attention to the organization of the poem – stanza patterns, punctuation, and language patterns.
Do words appear in an unusual order? Is there a particular pattern to this or is it used as emphasis?
Check for repetition of words, phrases, rhymes, or alliteration.
Tone & Mood
What is the author’s tone? (The attitude of the writer.)
Do you sense a particular mood? (The atmosphere of the text.)
What emotions are stirred by the reading?
Use the margins to make annotations (notes) to assist you in analyzing the poem. Of course, only do this if you own the copy. If not, make a copy of the poem for yourself to allow you the pleasure of marking up the sheet! There is nothing like the feeling of scribbling notes, drawing lines, little personal marks, and making changes as you move forward and backward through the lines and stanzas.
I’ll end this wee blog the way I began.
Enjoy the poems you read. That is a priority.
Far too often the life is sucked out of poetry (and prose in fact) by teachers and students being too pedantic and missing the overall effect or intent of the music of poetry.