What Are the Best Tips for Analyzing Poems?
Analyzing poems can be difficult, but it does get easier with practice. Chances are -- most students will be required to analyze a poem at some point in their school careers. The best way to begin analyzing poems is to start breaking them down into their component parts, and to identify as many different literary techniques as possible. Sometimes, this will make it clear what the author was trying to do with the poem, or how he or she was attempting to make a point. The first step in analysis is generally just to determine what the poem is about, and what the themes are.
Identifying the topic of the poem on a very basic level might seem too simple, but it will provide clues to the rest of the analysis. Typically, analyzing poems is all about figuring out what the hidden meanings are, but this won't be possible without identifying the topic and themes. Sometimes, it can be helpful to look at the author's other works, or do a bit of research into his or her background, or the general time period when the work was written. This can also give clues as to the types of topics he or she usually writes about, or what other writers were doing at the same time.
Another great tip for analyzing poems is to look for figurative language and imagery. Most poems are loaded with this type of language. Look for descriptive language, or metaphors and similes, used to compare one thing to another. For example, "she was as beautiful as a rose" is an example of a simile. Symbolism and personification are two other common techniques that can help to identify when analyzing poems.
In addition, look at the actual physical structure of the poem; the rhyme scheme or the rhythm that is used throughout, where the line breaks are, and even the way the poem is shaped on the page, as some writers use these techniques to shape the reader's perception. Certain writing techniques, such as alliteration, in which the beginning of words in a sentence all start with the same sound, are a good idea to note as well.
Analyzing poems will certainly require reading the poem more than once and trying to get a feel for it, as well as looking for all these literary devices. Some teachers or professors will have specific aspects that they want their students to identify in the poems, while others will leave it more to the student. Generally, when writing a poetry analysis paper, it will be necessary to come up with a thesis statement and then use examples from the poem to try to prove the statement.
@Buster29, I think you may be overthinking this a little. When I was in high school, I hated everything about poetry. It was boring, confusing and old fashioned. I had an English teacher who made us analyze a new poem every week, and some of it was the modern stuff we had never read before. I finally learned to appreciate poetry after we took those things apart. Maybe you as a writer wouldn't want people trying to figure you out, but as a student I learned a lot about poets by getting into their heads in class.
I'm a published poet myself, and one thing I've started dreading is what I call the "poetry dissection" class. Some English instructors insist on selecting a well-known poem and basically asking students to pin it to a board and analyze it to death. It's a literary piece, not a frog pickled in formaldehyde.
There are some poets, famous or otherwise, who do place a lot of meaning on every single word or line in the poem being studied. It's important for students to appreciate how intricate and complex most poems are. There's also an important lesson to be learned about the use of heightened language, since poets are trying to capture the essence of a moment in as few words as possible.
However, I don't believe in scrutinizing any work of art so much that you forget to enjoy it as a whole.
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