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10 Easy Steps To Analyze A Poem

Aug 12, 2013 - Posted to  Writing in General
A poem is a special type of writing specifically because it has very little boundaries, or constraints placed upon it. One of the most subjective types of writing, poem writing is left to the reader for interpretation. There are many different types of poems that an individual can write, or they can go outside of the traditional, and write one of any choosing. That is why analyzing, or interpreting a poem can be so difficult. To find the hidden meaning of some poems, or to take them from figurative to literal, demands a certain level of understanding about poems in general.

What is a poem?

A poem is a way to express your ideas and thoughts using subjective speech. In most instances they are highly descriptive forms of language that convey an idea to the reader which is not straight forward. Most poems take not only the imagination of the writer, but of the reader as well. A poem is a descriptive type of writing which is used to invoke a feeling or sensation in the reader.

What are the steps to analyzing a poem?

There are several steps to analyzing a poem. Breaking it down, deciphering the speech, and understanding not only the tone, but the disposition of the reader is important to catch the literal meaning that may be hidden in the figurative nature of the way it is constructed.

Step one: Your reaction

The first step to analyzing any poem is to get an understanding of how you feel about it. The first thing you want to do is identify how it made you feel personally. You want to ask yourself what you thought about it, how it made you feel, what feelings it was able to illicit in you. In answering those questions, you can get an understanding of what the poet is trying to get you to feel which can give you insight into what the intention of the poem is.

Step two: Surmise the literal meaning

The best way to discern the literal meaning is to try to explain the poem in your own words. Imagine that you are being asked to describe the poem, and its meaning, to another person. What is the meaning of it and what is it saying. Putting the language into literal terms will make it more readily understandable.

Step three: Decipher the connotative meaning

Try to identify and rule out the language which stands out the most. Find the words which are used to illicit the most reaction and ask yourself why the poet used those words instead of using other ones. When words are hyperbolic, or definitive, there is usually a reason why they were selected. Isolating those words, and trying to figure out what the intention was for the poet to use them, will give you the connotative meaning of the poem.
Example
Many words invoke emotions from the reader. The word "home" means someplace you live, but it also can mean a whole host of emotions to any reader. By understanding that the word "home" is used for the feeling it elicits instead of the place, you can get a feel for the intention of the writer.

Step four: Symbolic meaning

Often times authors will use words that have symbolic meaning. Isolating those words which may have more relation to the poem than just their literal meaning can be a good clue to the intention of the poem.
Example
The heart is a body part, but it can also symbolize other things such as love, giving, sharing. Sometimes the words that are used are only to symbolize other things.

Step five: Take the information gained and create a "spreadsheet"

At this point you have broken down the pieces of the words and the language used. From this point you can make a spreadsheet, or a diagram, with the pieces that you have dissected, trying to fit them together, like a puzzle into a coherent theme.

Step six: Look at your information and ask yourself what the author is trying to convey

Once you have all the pieces on paper in front of you, it is much easier to get a picture of what the author is trying to lay out for you. Having all the many possibilities placed together makes the puzzle easier to see, and to figure out their coherency.

Step seven: Ask yourself how the author reaches their goal instead of what the goal is

At this point you may want to switch gears and ask yourself how it is that the author is getting you to feel how you feel instead of what it is that you feel. It is important to ask yourself how the author is effectively making you feel one way or another, since you already know what it is you feel.

Step eight: Analyze the structure of the poem according to poetry "rules"

Once you have deciphered the symbolic nature of the speech, you can turn to the types of language that the author is using. By asking yourself how the author is using word "rules", you can read through the hidden meaning of word choices. Devices such as tools, form, or format, you can understand why the author structured their poem in the way that they did. This is known as prosody.

Step nine: Decipher the story the author is telling

Every form of writing, even a poem, has a beginning, middle and an end. Try to decipher them and then find a crisis point where the poem takes a turn. That is usually a good indication of what the author is telling you in a story, or narrative arc.

Step ten: Compose a write up of your analyzation into one detailed and coherent end

Once you have analyzed the poem into sections, it is time to piece it back together. Take all the pieces that you have broken down and put them together to form a final product of your understanding of what the author is saying, what the meaning of the poem is, and what you are going to take away from it.

Conclusion

A poem is a tool that an author uses to figurative tell a story, often difficult, it is possible to put true meaning to any poem if you dissect it and then reconstruct it back together.
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