Analyzing Poetry

Analyzing Poetry

If you are just beginning to delve into the world of poetry, you may initially feel overwhelmed by the occasional ambiguity and inaccessibility of this literary style. However, learning the elements and poetic tools used to build a poem will help to understand and analyze poems.

Getting Started

      1) Give yourself a lot of time to read the poem several times. Try reading it out loud.

      2) Have a copy of the poem that you can take notes on. As you read, write down every observation, question, or feeling you get from the poem as you read. Pay special attention to how the poem begins and ends.

      3) Use your notes as entry points to begin your investigation and analysis of the poem. Ask yourself what elements in the poem lead you to the particular observation and how the poet achieves this effect.

      4) Always keep in mind that the poet uses poetic devices to achieve a particular effect. Breaking up the poem into formal poetic components enhances your understanding of the poem’s overall theme, tone, and/or general purpose. In other words, use form to understand the content and create a thesis about the poem.

Here are some elements and corresponding poetic devices you can focus on. Note: Many of these divisions are arbitrary. Poetic elements frequently overlap. For definitions of the underlined terms see the UWC Definitions of Poetic Devices handout.

Content: How do the tone of the speaker and the context of the work change your understanding of the poem?
      1) Speaker: Is the speaker the poet or a specific persona? How is the speaker involved in the poem? Is the speaker an omniscient narrator or casual observer? Does the speaker refer to himself/herself in the 1st person? Is the speaker from an identifiable time period? How does knowing the historical context of the poem change your understanding of the speaker’s attitude?

      2) Tone: How is the tone of the poem developed through the...