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How to Analyze a Poem

This guide can help you to structure an analysis of a poem.

LK20

Introduction

First introduce the poem by stating the title, the name of the author, the year of publication and the title of the collection of poetry that is has been taken from.

Example: The poem "Harlem" was written by Langston Hughes. It was first published in 1951 as part of the collection "Montage of a Dream Deferred".

In the introduction, you can also add a sentence or two that summarizes what the poem describes or what it is about.

Cogs working together. Illustration.

Main Part

Here is a list of literary features that you often can comment on in a poem. You do not have to comment on all of them and feel free to change the order in your analysis. Focus on the features that are most relevant to the poem you are studying.

Form/Structure

Describe the overall form or structure of the poem. Ask yourself questions such as:

How many stanzas does it have? Are they all the same length?

Would you describe the structure as traditional/conventional/typical? Why or why not?

Based on the content of the poem, can it be divided into different parts?

Mood and Diction

The words in a poem create a certain mood or atmosphere. Diction is the author's style of writing or the author's specific choice of words.

Ask yourself: how does the poem make you feel? And then: what words are used that cause you to feel this way?

Example: In lines 4-6, the idea of a dream that never comes true, is compared to a bleeding wound or a "sore" and something that stinks like "rotten meat". This creates a very unpleasant and even sickening mood.

Remember that the mood can change or develop throughout the poem.

Rhythm and Rhyme

Rhyme is the repetition of similar sounds. Start by looking at the final words in each line of the poem. Do they rhyme? If they do, then see if you can find a pattern or a rhyme scheme.

Example: The rhyme scheme of the four lines in the first stanza of this poem is: A,B,A,B.

The words of a poem can rhyme in many different ways. Watch our short animations about the rhyming devices called Alliteration and Assonance.

The rhythm of a poem can be described as the pattern of sounds or the beat/musicality of a poem. Can you describe the rhythm of the poem? Does it change at some point? And how does the rhyme or structure of the poem affect the rhythm?

Imagery

Find 2-4 images in the poem that you sense are important, interesting or even confusing. Use a direct quotation of the image and a) link it to a literary device (metaphor, simile, symbol, personification etc.) and b) comment on what you believe that the image means or implies (your interpretation).

Watch our short animation for an explanation of the devices: Metaphor and Simile and Symbols.

Personification: something non-human (idea, object, animal etc.) is given human characteristics.

A contrast is made up of two things that are in some way very different from each other. Does the poem use images to form a contrast?

Cogs working together. Illustration.

Conclusion

Theme(s) and Message

What is the main theme in the poem? Watch this short animation to find out more about themes.

Does the poem succeed in communicating a message to the reader?

Example: A central theme in "Harlem" is the importance of hopes and dreams in a person's life and identity. In the last line of the poem, it warns the reader what might happen if these dreams are denied and people are oppressed. The reaction will be explosive and violent.

Sist oppdatert 13.05.2020
Skrevet av Sonja Nygaard-Joki

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Literary Analysis