How to Analyse a Poem

How to Analyse a Poem


UNIT TWO: How to Analyse a Poem
In this Unit, the following aspects will be covered:
- Introduction 
- 10 General Poetry Analysis Tips for  Form III, IV, V and VI
- 15 Steps of analysing a poem 
- Example Analysis of 'Eat More' 
- Vocabulary 
- Practice Questions 
- Conclusion 

The following analysis and interpretation strategies are very useful for the teachers and students who wish to excel in teaching and learning literature. These skills make students independent readers because they know what to take into consideration when they read the particular literary works.

Apart from its recital feature and its different reading, a poem can also be analysed differently. In some ways, some poetry analysis elements are also found in other literary works. However, poetry analysis is unique in many aspects.

[For more on How to Analyse a Novel and a Play click How to Analyse Novel and Short Stories]

The poems are analyzed in various ways. When analyzing any poem, you should consider the following:
(1) Reading the poem all the way through at least twice. Read it aloud and listen to it.
(2) Literal meaning and theme. First, understand the meaning of individual words. If possible get a dictionary and look up the difficult words and write down their meanings. Second, after understanding, the literal meanings, now try to determine the theme of the poem-the purpose the poet has in writing the poem, the idea he wants to express. To identify a theme of a poem, you need to look at the poem as a whole and the ways the different parts of the poem interact.
(3) Title. It is a good idea to start searching for the theme of the poem by looking at the title of the poem. If it was carefully chosen, it probably brings about the theme. What information does it give you? What expectations does it create?
(4) Tone. Next you can consider the tone. Who is speaking? Is it a man or a woman? Someone young or old? Then, what is the speaker’s tone? Is he/she sad, angry, happy or cynical? What is the mood of the poem? All these are related to the subject of the poem (that is, what is the speaker talking about? And the theme (why is the speaker talking about this? What is the speaker trying to say? About this subject?)
(5) Structure. How is the poem organized? How is it divided up? How many stanzas? How many verses per stanza? What each stanza discusses?
(6) Sound and rhythm. Because poetry is all about music, you need to learn how to scan a poetry and break it into accented/unaccented syllables and feet per line. This is all about meter in poetry. The most common meter is iambic pentameter, which is a 5-beat line with alternating unaccented and accented syllables. Also here, the aspects like alliteration, assonance, rhyme, consonance, and onomatopoeia are taken into consideration.
(7) Language and imagery. After understanding the denotative meaning of the words in the poem, now you need to understand the connotative meanings (figures of speech, emotional effects and symbols) and images.
(8) Message of the poem. Here you should consider what the poet tries to let us know. That is, what does a poet wants us to get rid of?
(9) Relevance of the poem. This implies the relevance/relation of the poem to the contemporary societies. Is the poem relevant to your society?
(10) Failure of success of the poet. This is your evaluation on whether the poet has succeeded or failed to use his style and to deliver what he/she is trying to communicate.

1. About the author. Here the reader gives the background information of the poet. This information helps the reader to connect the life of the poet with his/her works of art.
2. Title. This leads to the discussion of whether the title is direct or indirect. Most literary titles are indirect.
3. Brief Summary/Paraphrase of the poem. This part deals with the short synopsis of the particular poem. It mostly begins with ‘The poem is about…..’
4. Persona. (Who is speaking in the poem). Here we tell the state or condition of the speaker, not a poet, poet’s name. For example, the state or condition of the speaker may be oppressed, tortured, or humiliated condition.
5. Addressee. (Whom the speaker is speaking to). Here we also tell the state or condition of the one who is being spoken to, that is, the audience or the reader. For example, the state of an addressee may be a speaker’s fellow who is oppressed, humiliated, and tortured like the speaker.
6. Tone. Tone of the poet towards the audience and the subject matter.
7. Mood. Mood of the poem; the feeling the poem creates to the readers.
8. Structure of the poem. The way the poem is organized into how many stanzas or verses.
9. Kind of the poem. This is the description of the type of the poem in concern.
10. Sound devices of the poem. The reader should understand the sound and rhythm of the poem through various aspects like alliteration, assonance, repetition, rhyming and refrain.
11. Language and imagery. This deals with the poet’s application of language in his/her poem.
12. Themes found in the poem. This includes the issues that are addressed by the poet.
13. Message of the poem. This is what is communicated or conveyed in the poem or an underlying theme that can be drawn from the poem.
14. Lesson of the poem. This is something learned or to be learned from the poem.
15. Relevance of the poem. This shows whether the poem reflects the experiences of the contemporary societies.

Poem: Eat More
Poet: Joe Corrie (Scotland)

Eat more fruit!” the slogan says,
“More fish, more beef, more bread!”
But I’m on unemployment-pay
My third year now and wed.

And so I wonder when I’ll see
The slogan when I pass,
The only one that would suit me,
 Eat more bloody grass

(1) About the Poet. Joe Corrie is a Scottish poet who once worked as a factory worker during the times of Chartist movement in Britain.
(2) Title of the poem. The title of the poem is ironical and it reflects the contents of the poem as well.
(3) Brief Summary/Paraphrase of the poem. The poem is about a man who protests against the commercial slogans which keep on advertising foods especially balanced diet that he cannot afford to buy because he is unemployed. He thinks the government is being hypocritical because it advertises the slogans that do not suit him.
(4) The persona. The persona of the poem is an unemployed man who suffers from poverty due to the fact that he cannot afford the expenses of eating balanced diets and other basic needs.
(5) The addressee. The addressee of the poem is any society which experiences the poor life and unemployment because of the indifference of the government in creating the employment opportunities.
(6) Tone. This is the general attitude of the poet towards the poem. The tone of the poet is angry, satirical, and sad.
(7) Mood. The mood of the poem is sadness, anger, unhappiness, and satire.
(8) Structure of the poem. The poem is divided into two stanzas with each stanza having four verses.
(9) Kind of the poem. The type of the poem is lyrical because it is short and it expressed strong feelings of the person about the slogan and the government.
(10) Sound devices. The poem has several sound devices. They are:
- Rhythm. The poem has a rhythm because it comprises of patterns of stressed and unstressed syllables.
- Rhyme scheme. The poem has regular rhyming patterns. This is because the poem has a rhyme scheme of “ab/ab”. Hence it creates the rhythm of the poem.
- Alliteration. The poem also employs alliteration. For example, “More, fish, more beef, more bread”. In this line there is a repetition of the sound ‘m’ at the beginning of some words in the line.
- Assonance. Also this sound device has been used. For example, “More, fish, more beef, more bread”. In this line, there is the repetition of the sound ‘o’ at the middle of the words.
- Repetition. This is the repetition of the words, phrases, or sentences for emphasis.
(11) Language and imagery. The poet has used as simple language and his choice of words has helped to maintain the rhyme scheme. His choice of words reflects hopeless situation and anger. For examples, “But I’m on an unemployment pay/my third year now and we” and “Eat more bloody grass!”. The poet has also applied the following figures of speech:
- Personification. For example, “The slogan says”.
- Satire. For example, “Eat more bloody grass”.
- Imagery. For example, “Eat more bloody grass”.
(12) Themes. The possible themes of the poem, “Eat More” are:
Poverty. The poet portrays poverty in the poem especially when the man in the poem complains that he is unemployed.
Unemployment. In this society also there is unemployment. The man in the poem complains how unemployed and married are. So he cannot afford the expenses of life.
Classes. The man speaking in the poem is from a low class. Thus, the high class people enjoy the national cake while the others suffer.
Exploitation. This desperate situation the man is having is because there are others in the society that exploits other people. So, this exploitation of others leads to the hardships of life.
(13) Message of the poem. The message of the poem is that the presence of unemployment, classes, exploitation, and irresponsibility in the societies has various impacts to the people.
(14) Lesson/teachings of the poem. The lesson we can learn from the poem is that we should work hard to get a balanced diet and the government should make sure that its people are employed or self-employed so as they can get their basic needs.
(15) Relevance of the poem. The poem is relevant to our society because in our country there are poor and unemployed people but the government keeps on insisting on eating balanced diets and having basic needs. Even the employed ones have salaries that do not help them to afford the expenses of life. Thus, the poem is relevant to the society like Tanzania.

Bloody(Adj). This is used to stress anger or annoyance. For example. What the bloody hell are you doing? I don’t bloody care.
Slogan(n). Advertisement/poster
Suit(v). Fit
Wed(v). Marry someone

(a) What is the poem about?
(b) What is the tone of the poet?
(c) Comment on the rhyme scheme of the poem.
(d) Identify any two figures of speech and show how they help to deliver the message.
(e) Mention two possible themes from the poem.
(f) Suggest any two lessons the poet is trying to teach the society.
(g) How relevant is the poem to the society?

Although it is said that poetry is difficult, regular practice of reading and analysing poems can make anyone like poems. Poetry is simple due to the fact that many poems are short and they can only take one or two pages. So, if we say poems are difficult, what can we say about novels and plays which have a lot of pages to be read? Also, some people say poetry has difficult vocabulary. But these new(difficult) vocabulary should be treated as chances to gain more vocabulary by learning them by heart. Therefore, poetry has never been difficult. Only our misconceptions tell us so.

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Emmanuel Kachele

Emmanuel Kachele is a founder and Blogger of KACHELE ONLINE Blog, an educational blog where 'O' Level English - 'OLE', 'A' Level English (ALE) and other related teaching and life skills are shared extensively. This is an online center for all Tanzanian Secondary School English Language students and teachers (Forms I-VI) and all interested English Language learners and teachers worldwide.

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