Education

How to Analyze a Poem

Poetry is an excellent source of learning for students, but to ensure your students get the most benefit from poetry, check out these top tips on how to analyze a poem.

Tip 1. Read, read, read

Let’s start with the obvious step. Have your students read the poem, but not just once. Allow them to read it once to themselves, then a second time out loud. Have them do this at least twice (perhaps a third time if you’ve got extra time, or it’s a difficult poem!) You could also show your students a clip of someone else reading the poem via video or voice recording.

Afterward, discuss the first impressions and immediate responses with your class. These should be both negative and positive. You should also discuss the poem’s rhythm and structure. You could consider things such as does the poem move fast and if so, why? Or, are the lines shorter and meant to be read abruptly or slowly?

This will help your class begin to engage with the different elements of the poem.

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Tip 2. Does the title have meaning?

The next step is to think deeper about the title and why it was chosen, including how it relates to the poem. Titles usually provide a gateway or clue into the heart of a poem.

Consider these three questions:

  • Does the title change how you think about the poem?
  • Does the title imply multiple possibilities?
  • Does the title of the poem create a picture that gives specifics of the poem: action, setting or a time frame?

Tip 3. Imagine the speaker

Sometimes a poem can appear more tangible to students when they understand that a speaker is at the center of a poem. It helps them imagine a person behind the text.

Questions to consider for this step include:

  • Who is the person telling the poem?
  • Does the poem provide any indications or clues about the personality of the speaker, or the gender, age etc?
  • Does the speaker seem detached or attached from what is being said?
  • Who is the speaker addressing?

Tip 4. Set the mood and tone

After you have explored the different elements of the speaker, it’s now important to address the overall mood or attitude of the poem. It could be romantic, grieving, brooding, or some poems may rhyme or even covey a song. Explore the different attitudes given by the characters or speakers within the poem and talk about different areas within the poem when the tone may switch. Discuss why this happens.

During this period, it’s a good time for discussion of the effect certain words can have on us.

Tip 5. Open the poem: break it down into pieces

After discussing tone, speaker, figurative language, and mood – there’s no better time than to apply these elements line by line.

It’s time to break things down into little pieces. Remember it’s not about condensing or even skipping lines, it’s important to lead your student’s line by line and help translate any unclear areas within the poem. This will help with the overall analyzing of the poem at a later stage.

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Tip 6. What’s the poem about? Is there a theme?

Finally, the last step we are going to look at when it comes to analyzing a poem is the theme. This is when you get to the core of the poem and consider what it’s actually about.

The overall theme will relate to conflict, universal truth or issue and there are a few things to help your students determine this:

  • Who is the speaker?
  • What is the subject?
  • What is the specific situation?
  • What is the mood?

Does the poem ring true? (Do you agree or disagree?)

By using these tips, you will provide your students with the best tools for analyzing any poem. Poetry can be expensive and as a teacher, sometimes all the resources needed for students aren’t readily available.

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