Analyzing Poetry Tips - Five Easy Steps

Analyzing Poetry is not always easy. Not everyone likes to read poetry either.  So what should one do about that? I do not like poetry that much either, to be honest with you, but like spinach, I know that it is good for my soul, so this is what I do to better understand a poem. 

  • First, I read the biography of the poet to learn what influenced him or her and to learn what his personal experiences were during his life. 
  • Second, I read two or three of the most popular poems written by the poet. I skim through them quickly to see if I can understand one of them easily.
  • Third, if I find one that I like it, I go back and read it again. 
  • Fourth, I begin a basic analysis of that poem. This way I am providing myself with an education about Romantic Period qualities, which is why I am reading the poem in the first place. Since analyzing poetry is an entire lesson in itself, you may want to print this guide. 

"Love and loyalty become one when a boy has a dog."

                                           - Anonymous

Photo by Diana Boles of her son Jayson and his dog Napolean.

  • Fifth,  I stop thinking about the poem when I get tired of it. Poetry mostly is meant to provide an emotional response. The poet wants to touch our hearts. If we struggle too much with trying to understand a poem, we probably won't read much poetry in our lives, and that is not good for us. 

Here's another tip: Think of poetry like you do with your favorite movie. You probably don't like every scene in your favorite movie, but you put up with the other scenes, so you can see your favorite part. You should think of analyzing poetry the same way. Always skim numerous poems you come across in your life because one day you may find one that changes your life.  

Analyzing Poetry Made Simple- Just The Facts, Ma'am

  • Identify the speaker and the intended audience. So what does that mean and how do I do it? All poems have speakers, even if it's the author. Often, however, you will be able to identify the speaker as a man or a woman, a husband or wife, or a parent to a child.

Knowing the speaker and the intended audience helps the reader in analyzing poetry by better understanding the context of the poem. If the poem lacks a specific audience, then, most probably it is you. Listen up and learn what the poet is saying. Poems are usually more difficult to write than straight prose because the poet is using language that appeals to your heart and not your intellect.

  • Identify the mechanics of the poetry. This means that you should count the stanzas and lines, look for the rhyme, count the syllables of each line for one complete stanza.
  • What is the subject of the poem? What does the author say about it? Does she like it? Is she confused by it? Is she angry at it?
  • Why did the poet write this poem? This isn't always an easy question to answer, but if you remember that the four purposes of writing are self-expression, persuasion, describe, and categories, it will help you.

Poetry Terms

speaker – the one who is speaking

audience – the person or group to whom the speaker wants to hear her message

stanza – a group of lines in a poem

couplet - two rhyming lines of poetry

rhyme - at least two words that have the same sound, like time and lime

rhythm – is the natural sound of things in life like our heartbeat, the gait of horses, the bouncing of a ball. When we read poetry aloud, we hear the rhythm of the words through the natural stress of the syllables.

syllables – are the single unit sounds of words. For example, let's use the word, little. It has two syllables divided at the double t's. The first syllable, lit, is accented and gets a stronger emphasis. Try it now.

Notice when you say LIT TLE that you accent (put emphasis) on the LIT, not the TLE. Now force yourself to say lit TLE, emphasizing the last syllable. It sounds weird, doesn't it.

After a bit of practice in analyzing poetry, you will begin to notice the natural rhythm of words. In some poems, the rhythm is so distinct that you can hear the bells ringing, the horses' hooves clomping, or ocean waves crash on the shore.

rhyme scheme – is the pattern of end rhymes. Below is an Italian sonnet is a 14-line poem that contains a rhyme scheme of abba, abba, cde, cde.

The Cross of Snow  by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

In the long, sleepless watches of the night, 
A gentle face -- the face of one long dead -- 
Looks at me from the wall, where round its head 
The night-lamp casts a halo of pale light. 
Here in this room she died; and soul more white 
Never through martyrdom of fire was led 
To its repose; nor can in books be read 
The legend of a life more benedight. 

There is a mountain in the distant West 
That, sun-defying, in its deep ravines 
Displays a cross of snow upon its side. 
Such is the cross I wear upon my breast 
These eighteen years, through all the changing scenes 

And seasons, changeless since the day she died.

You can return to the Romantic Period page here. 

Italian sonnet has a standard rhyme scheme. Begin by looking at the end words of each line. 

night - A (You assign a letter to the word.)

dead - B (It's a new sound, so assign the next letter.)

head - B (It rhymes with dead, so it gets the same letter.)

light - A (Rhymes with night.)

white - A (rhymes with night.)

led - B (rhymes with night)

read - B (rhymes with dead)

benedight - A (rhymes with night)

West - C (New rhyme sound, new letter)

ravines - D (new rhyme sound, new letter)

side - E (new rhyme, new letter)

breast - C (follow same sound as West)

scenes - D (rhymes with ravines)

died - E (rhymes with side)

consonance - refers to the sound of a single consonant repeated in a poem. A common one is Sally sells seashells by the seashore

assonance - refers to the repeated sound of a vowel, such as "Eerily the eagle eagerly and easily emerged on the estranged egret." (Yes, I did create this myself.) 

There are so many poetry terms that one could study in analyzing poetry, but  it serves no purpose to make a student's head spin and fall off in confusion. Follow the motto of the turtle: Slow and Steady Wins The Race. Still, can you think of other poetry terms that are important to know? Share them below and I will add a complete definition and example to this page.  

In the meantime, here is a complete guide that I've found very helpful. 

Poetry Homework

If you find a poem that you like, write your own poem using the same style. For example, if it has 14 lines and is an Italian or Petrachan sonnet, use the same rhyme scheme and meter. It will give you a whole new appreciation for the time and effort involved in creating a poem. 

You can also try these other types of poems to express your own style of poetry. 

You can return to the Romantic period of literature here. 

If you learned something from this page, please like it and share it with others. Thank you. 

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