How to analyse a poemWatch
So just wondering...what is the best way to analyse a poem. Not unseen but set texts, without going to sparknotes and other online websites.
- Read the poem and annotate language techniques as you go along
- Think about the meaning of the poem having read it, and then write what each of the language techniques could show about the meaning
- See if the structure of the poem (e.g. what type of poem is it? Are the stanzas the same length?) contributes to this meaning
Here's an example from an extract of a Bronte poem:
My darling, thou wilt never know
The grinding agony of woe
That we have borne for thee.
Thus may we consolation tear
E'en from the depth of our despair
And wasting misery.
The poem is about the death of one of the poet's sisters. The things I would annotate to analyse are:
- The lexical set of pain: Lots of words to do with pain- physical and mental (highlighted in red). These could show that the author is feeling the pain of separation from their loved one, and that they are comparing the pain they feel to the pain of death itself.
- The enjambment (where one sentence continues over more than one line). This could show that sadness and death are continuous for the speaker. It could also symbolise the eternal nature of death.
- Alliteration (underlined). The harsh and sudden sounds could show how the death was equally harsh and unexpected, making it more painful for the speaker.
You could then also go a step further and analyse how they would make the reader feel. Generally your set poems will follow a theme- analyse how the techniques link to the theme too, and you can also research the context of the time it was written (in the example of my Bronte poem, it was written in Victorian times and later in the poem there are references to turning to God for comfort. This could be linked to the heavy influence of religion in Victorian times)
I hope this helps I also have some tips and structures for writing paragraphs to analyse poems if you need that too
When you get a poem, whether it's unseen or not, read it through several times before even attempting to start analysing it. What is it about? Summarise what it is, for example, is it a sonnet about patriotism? Does it depict death through the metaphor of a journey? Your summary could be even simpler, just saying that a poem is about the death of a loved one.
Then look at the tone of the poem. Is it happy, sad, cynical etc.?
Then you look at why you (as the reader) get the impression that the tone is e.g sarcastic. Start with language, then look at form, the way the lines are written, pace etc. and keep working through the features.
Keep picking out little details like the capitalisation of certain words, the perspective of the speaker before looking at the bigger picture of the poem again.
Then maybe see if there is another way that the poem could be read? For example, Blake's 'A Poison Tree' could be read as a simple poem about the way people shouldn't bottle up emotions or it could be read as a warning against trusting in the Christian God.
That's a very specific example that could be more generally applied to any poem. Mainly, look to see if a poem could be seen in different ways, perhaps depending on the era the reader comes from?
If I wasn't clear enough or you need any mor help/advice don't hesitate to ask. I hope this method of analysis works for you - it's how I was taught to do it for my A Levels and more recent Oxford interview!
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