How to Analyze a Poem

Want to learn how to analyze a poem? This simple step-by-step method of breaking down a poem lends itself to an easy report format, perfect for any school project or your own personal analysis of a poem.

To get started, take a piece of notebook paper and divide it into three columns. Write the following headers at the top of each column: "General Information," "First Impressions" and "Second Take."

Read the Poem Silently
When reading a poem for the first time, look for the content of the poem. Jot down your first impressions of the poem, including what the poem seems to be about. Put these thoughts in your First Impressions column.

Read the Poem out Loud
When you read the poem out loud, you will notice rhythm, syntax and meter. Jot down any general observations about the poem in your Second Take column.

Use these first two columns to help you create your introductory paragraph about the poem. Describe your observations in generic terms, and explain that you will go into further detail in your paper.

Now go back through the poem and write out the answers to the following questions in the General Information column:

  • Author Information: Who wrote the poem? What do you know about the poet's biography? How long had this person been publishing poems? Take a few minutes to read up on the poet. Write down any information you glean about the poet that may relate to the poem at hand. It can help to consider the poem in comparison with earlier or later works by the poet.
  • Perspective: Is the poem told from a fictional or real person's perspective? To whom is the poem spoken or directed? What purpose does the poem appear to have? To inspire? To share emotion? To convict? To honor someone or something of value?
  • Imagery: What kinds of imagery, if any, are used in the poem? Do you see concrete or abstract imagery?
  • Kinds of Language Used: Reread the poem, looking for interesting use of language. Can you find any metaphors or similes? Does the poet use alliteration or personification of inanimate objects? Does the poet use oxymorons, hyperboles, irony or puns? Is the language detailed and descriptive or general and elusive? 
  • Syntax: Lastly, take a look at the format used for the poem. What kind of poem is this? What structure is used? How many meters are used per line? Is the poem divided into stanzas? Is there a refrain? How many lines are in each stanza? Do the lines vary in meter? Is there a specific pattern of stress or accents throughout the poem?

When analyzing poems, it can be very helpful to look at other poems published at the same time, or at literary criticism of poetry. Sometimes these other sources reveal meanings hidden inside a poem. Feel free to speculate about these in your paper, as long as you can back up your statements with examples or quotes. You may just find something new that spurs great discussion.

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