What is the point of analyzing poetry? One simple answer is that the more we know about anything, the more interesting it becomes: Listening to music or looking at paintings with someone who can tell us a little about what we hear or see – or what we’re reading – is one way of increasing our understanding and pleasure.
That may mean learning something about the people who produced the writing, music, or painting that we are interested in, and why they produced it. But it may also mean understanding why one particular form was chosen rather than another.
EXAMPLEWhy did the poet choose to write a sonnet rather than an ode, a ballad, or a villanelle? To appreciate the appropriateness of one form, we need to be aware of a range of options available to that particular writer at that particular time.
In the same way, we also need to pay attention to word choice.
EXAMPLEWhy was this particular word chosen from a whole range of words that might have said much the same? Looking at manuscript drafts can be really enlightening, showing how much effort was expended in order to find the most appropriate or most evocative expression.
Poetry is a form of expression in which poets use their own personal and private language. This leaves poetry open to different interpretations; although the poet may have had one specific idea or purpose in mind, the reader’s response may be completely different.
Nevertheless, this does not mean that you may interpret poetry any way you wish. All interpretations must be supported by direct reference to the text. As with any type of literary analysis, you need a basic knowledge of the elements of poetry. These guiding questions will help you as you progress through the following lessons.
After reading a poem in its entirety to get a general impression, ask yourself:
Source: This content has been adapted from Lumen Learning's "Approaching Poetry" and "How to Analyze Poetry" tutorials.