How to Analyze a Poem?

I’ve met people of practical and technical professions who considered poetry as a waste of words. But I knew an engineer and a surgeon who created amazing poetry secretly from their wives and community in which they served.

I’ve been writing my poetry since 10.  I remember how a teacher of English proudly read a few poems of a girl who was a year older than me. I was more than just fascinated by those stanzas. I was envious too. Something inside me said I could do better. And I actually did.

I began to read more classic poems and tried that amateur verse which I’m ashamed to show anybody today. Writing poems needs a lot of training.

Of course, there are some ingenious individuals who can do it haven’t been even a day at school. We know them as little geniuses. Howard Gardner, the Harvard psychologist, affirms that precocity of many genius people becomes apparent in lyrical poetry.

Lyric poetry is a domain where talent is discovered early, burns brightly, and then peters out at an early age.” Howard Gardner

However, there are always those who write and those who analyze and criticize us. With their bad or good help, we learn how to survive against offensive reviews and comments.

A good writer can learn how to write when he analyzes different poets’ techniques, style, and language. So, today we’ll learn how to analyze poems. Perhaps, in future, it will help you write a good poetry analysis for a high school task or craft your unique piece of writing.

How to analyze a poem with a set of questions?

To find out about the context of analyzed poem

  • Who’s the author of the poem?
  • How did the author’s life influence his views and his poetry’s philosophies?
  • Where and when was it written?
  • Is it the part of a particular series of poems with a common message?
  • To what historical period and literature movement does a poem belong?

To figure out the style when analyzing a poem

  • What is the length? There are epic and short poems.
  • Is it a lyrical or musical poem?
  • Is it a narrative verse, haiku, sonnet, acrostic, tanka etc.? Check all the kinds of poetic forms here.
  • Is the verse more descriptive or confessional?

To uncover the meaning of your poem’s title

  • Is it easy and obvious?
  • Are there any hidden implications?
  • Does it express a balance or antithesis?
  • Does it carry any historical significance?

Focusing on Opening, Main Body, and Closing lines

  • What emotions or viewpoints explicate the general idea of a poem?
  • Are there any repetitive lines, phrases or words? What message do they carry? Do they emphasize anything?
  • What impression do you get from a particular closing line?

When there are good poems to analyze…

Students often google a common question “How do you analyze a poem by...?”. They expect to get a complete analysis they could use as an example.

However, the problem is that every student should present their personal understanding and impression from the same poem.  

Usually, tutors give a particular verse to analyze considering their syllabus requirements. Yet, if you are assigned to make your own choice, use the Guardian’s list of the best poems that can be analyzed.

For instance, I chose a poem by my favorite writer Emily Dickinson “Because I Couldn’t Stop for Death” to demonstrate you how to manage analysis of great poems. All the answers look raw because this is how they should be at the first stage of your analysis.

  • What is the chosen poem about?

Death, Immortality, Eternity, a woman who traveled with a death and farewelled

mundane places.

  • Is there any speaker or narrator? Can you assume whom he/she is?

A dead woman beside her Death.

  • To whom does the narrator address?

The audience is unclear since the author narrates more than addresses someone.

  • What’s the aim of the poem?

To describe the beauty of immortality.

  • How can you describe the tone of the poem?

It is elate and a character is almost excited with the trip.

  • Describe the language and the words’ choice.

Imagery - the picture you draw from 5 senses: taste, see, feel, hear, smell

Emily Dickinson   “Because I Couldn’t Stop for Death”

It is also important to describe symbols, similes, metaphors.

Lamb, Trochee, Spondee, Dactyl, and Anapest.

  • Define the sound of your poem. You should actually figure out whether it sounds musical or more rhythmical. For this reason, you should understand the difference between alliteration, assonance, and consonance.
  • Decide on the themes in your poetry. Is there more than just one? The theme is usually an idea, message or some lesson we can take from the poem.

For instance, the main idea of Emily Dickinson’s poem is to bring the death concept as the part of our immortality. It is a transition to the eternity.