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How to Analyse Poetry (easy)

Poetry doesn't have to be difficult. The terms below will help you understand it better.

Shakespeare's sonnets

It is often easy to see that you are dealing with poetry if:

  • it has a special form (layout)
  • it has rhyme
  • it has rhythm
  • it is a relatively short text
  • the language is economic, i.e. there are not used too many words to express what is on the poet’s mind
  • the words that are used often contain images and raise certain feelings, either positive or negative.

Point out which elements that you find in the poem above. Does it have a special layout? What about rhyme and rhythm? Is it short, and is the language economic? Are there any words that might be an image or carry positive or negative meanings?

The Form

The form is often referred to as the layout of the poem; i.e. the way the text is presented on the page.
Take a nursery rhyme for instance:
The itsy bitsy spider
climbed up the water spout.
Down came the rain
and washed the spider out.
Out came the sun
and dried up all the rain.
And the itsy bitsy spider
went up the spout again!

Do you recognize this from your childhood? Note how the text looks on the page. This nursery rhyme only contains one stanza. How many lines (verses) does it contain? Traditional poetry often looks like this.
Rhyme

Rhyme: A lot of poems contain rhyme. However, there are different ways of rhyming. In the nursery rhyme above, you’ll discover a few examples of end rhyme (spout-out, and if we pronounce rain – again in a certain way, they might rhyme, too).
In Tupac Shakur’s “If I Die 2Nite” there is another type of rhyme:
Picturin pitiful punk niggaz coppin pleas
How does this rhyme? Look at all the words starting with a P. What do you think Tupac wanted to tell us by starting 4 words in one line with a P? It might be a good idea to take a closer look at the words and their meaning perhaps? But we’re coming to that…For now you can just note that this type of rhyming is known as alliteration.

Rhythm

Rhythm: Of course, all words contain rhythm. Take your name for instance; you may clap to indicate how many syllables it contains. For Sam it is sufficient with one clap, one more for Tupac and three for Juliet. Poetry has much in common with music, and as in music, the rhyme scheme is often very deliberate, and it is used to convey meaning. In this way the poem can create feelings and mood. Just think how rap music, with its specific rhythm, is used as a form of expression.

Images

Images: The words used in poetry often contain images (pictures) to stir our feelings. In Sonnet 18 by William Shakespeare the first line starts with:
Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? (Should I compare you to a summer’s day?)
Most people have very positive feelings when it comes to summer. Obviously, if we can compare a person to a summer’s day, a lot of positive things could be said about that person. In this case, “summer’s day” is an image (or a metaphor) that might describe the person, and it says a lot more than plainly stating that the person is very nice. There are images that have even more fixed meanings. They are called symbols. After Lady Diana’s death in 1997, Elton John wrote the song: Goodbye, England’s Rose. A rose is symbol of love and beauty.
If you are asked to analyze a poem, this might be a good way to start:

  • Read the whole poem to get a general impression.
  • What is the poem about?
  • What is the title of the poem?
  • Who is the speaker of the poem? (I, he, she, it?)
  • To whom is the speaker speaking? Is the poem addressing someone?
  • Finally look at layout, rhyme, rhythm and images to see if there are any hidden meanings.

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