Centfie writes, reads and analyzes poems from a psychological POV. See her book on Amazon: "Piece of Mind: Everyone has an Untold Story."
How to Read Poems
You can read and understand poems if you want to. You don't have to like all the poems you read, but you can understand most of them. Poetry is vast and diverse. Hence, there is no one-way-works-for-all method of reading and understanding poems. A poem you like might be hated by another, and vice versa.
Poems make me see the world from a different perspective sometimes. At other times, reading poetry makes me think the poet and I could be best friends. For me, reading poetry helps is enjoyable and fun. When accompanied by clever use of language and deep emotions, it's exhilarating for me. I didn't always enjoy poetry until I realized it wasn't a hard art form.
This article describes my own view of how to read and understand poetry for a beginning poetry reader. These are not fixed methods, but they could work for you the way they worked for me.
However, first, you have to know the crucial secret to understanding poetry which you cannot skip.
The number one secret to reading and understanding poetry
The first thing you need to do is to know the basic rules of language. You will not understand a poem written in English no matter how many times you read through it and try to picture it unless you understand English.
You will understand a poem better when you have knowledge of such rules as spellings, punctuation, syllables, and pronunciations. When you spot which grammar rule is broken in poetry, you might get a whole new meaning to a poem.
Also, poems are often more carefree. You can break all rules of grammar and still not be criticized for it as long as it's done skillfully, with a purpose. If you don't know which rule has been broken in a poem, you might miss the entire message.
In short, to understand poetry, you need at least moderate knowledge of the language the poem is written in. Understanding the language used will give you an incredible ability to see a clear meaning of a poet's views.
Is Reading Poems Beneficial?
The aspect of whether reading poetry is beneficial is subjective. You might think poetry is useless if you don’t understand it, but once you understand a poem, you might be hooked to poetry.
Reading poetry is often beneficial in these ways:
Poetry enhances critical thinking.
- Poetry opens your mind to other people’s points of view, cultures, joys, pains, and problems. Poetry, therefore, makes you more tolerant of different views and allows you to freely express yours. As you try to interpret what the poet’s message is, you might have to think it repeatedly, hence flexing your mind.
Poetry is enjoyable. (Well, most poems are.)
- Some poets write for fun. Their poems can inspire you by cheering you up. Poems are good entertainment and are engaging when delivered properly.
Poetry promotes freedom of expression.
- Through poetry, you can explore any topic in the world with no shame or fear. Mostly for the poet, but the more you read poetry the more inspired you will be to exercise your freedom of thought.
Poetry promotes communication and dialogue.
- Poetry gives a creative avenue to think, meditate, and develop a collective human consciousness. I have never met a poet who does not write about love, death, and life. Poets write about human beings and situations that make us human. Poetry can make or break relationships, boundaries, and social issues.
Poetry is omnipresent.
- Songs, quotes, spiritual books, sounds, music, greeting cards, and conversations are often full of “poetic” expressions. We found poems here and we will leave them here.
Poetry is brief and powerful.
- Poetry is often brief compared to the prose version of the same expressed idea. Therefore, poems are easy to remember and master. One line in a poem can be so powerful that it can change your life.
Poetry is a creative form of expression.
- Poetry expresses what you might find hard to put in your own words. Ever read a poem and feel like the poet specifically wrote it for you?
Poems are beautiful works of art using words.
- Poetry is like art. Unfortunately, sometimes not everybody will see the beauty of poetry, thus making it even more beautiful to those who appreciate it. Poetry has beauty but not everyone sees it. The beauty is in the words, their meaning and usage.
In summary, poetry is a unifying factor for humans. It is a form of expression which can cover any subjects and human emotion. Is reading poems beneficial? Oh yes, it depends on how you read and understand poetry.
Poetry has beauty but not everyone sees it. The beauty is in the words, their usage and meaning.
15 Ways to Read and Understand Poetry
You might not find all these elements in a single poem, but you can always watch out for them as you read.
- Read the poem aloud by yourself or have someone else read for you as you listen.
- Notice the emotion it invokes in you or lack of it. How do you feel when reading the poem? What mood is the poem creating? What tone are the words in the poem invoking?
- Notice the pictures a poem creates in your mind. What images are directly described or mentioned in the poem?
- Do some research about the author. Where did they live? What are their experiences? This is often not practical unless the author is a famous person or unless the poet volunteers some personal information. However, you can find out background information about the author's nationality, race, and gender.
- Identify the speaker (the persona) in the poem. Who is speaking?
- Identify the audience. Who is the speaker addressing?
- Understand the words of the poem. Is any jargon used in the poem? Can you identify words denoting a particular subject e.g. nature, love, family, and medicine?
- Identify the context in which the words are said. What is the situation at hand?
- Try paraphrasing the poem or summarizing it in a prose form.
- Analyze the meaning behind the words. Take it literally and take it figuratively and see which makes more sense to you.
- What is the scene of the poem? Does the poet use any identifying features that can give you a clue about the “venue”?
- Examine the structure. First, look at the basic appearance of the poem on the page. For instance, identify how many lines and stanzas it has. Then, you can analyze it deeper as you continue.
- Read more and more poetry. Read lyrics to a song you like. Keep reading poems. Read Shakespeare (classic poetry) and read @poetzzz22 (fictitious name denoting contemporary social media users.)
- If not mentioned, try to guess the time when the poem was written based on descriptions given in the poem.
- Identify the theme of the poem. What is it about at first glance? Then ask yourself, if it is really about what you think.
Reading Poetry Don'ts
If you want to improve your skills in reading poetry, remember the following things not to do:
1. Don’t assume you know the poet more than the poet knew/knows herself/himself. In most cases, the poet knew what they were talking about and they understand the poem better since it belongs to them.
2. Don’t assume your interpretation is the only correct interpretation. Sometimes a poem can be seen from different perspectives, some of which even the poet didn’t expect. A poet can write a poem intended for fun, but a reader might take it seriously.
The joy of creative art- how you interpret it is none of my business (well, most of the time.)
3. Don’t be disappointed if you feel you haven’t understood everything immediately. You might understand it later. Sometimes you read a poem, enjoy it, think you’ve understood it and continue with your life. Then, one day something happens to you or you get in a situation where a certain profound discernment hits you concerning the poem and its meaning.
4. Don’t overestimate all poems. Some poets write straightforward poetry. Take it as it is and you might get a refreshing meaning. Over analyze it and it could distort the meaning. Don’t worry too much about hidden meanings or spend your time looking for them at the first reading.
5. Don’t take all poems at face value. Sometimes poets write intending to create a certain mysteriousness in their words. Some poems read like riddles, but you can always get an interpretation that might or might not make sense.
6. Don’t mix up the poet with the persona. (This one happens a lot when people who know me interpret my poems.)The most deep poetry I have read in my life seems to stem from a poet’s personal experience. However, often a poet feels strongly about something they have never been through and they write about it. Unless you know the poet personally, don’t assume that the persona in the poem is the poet.
7. Don't expect to like all the poems you read. Some poems will not resonate well with you. Some poems use a vulgar language, which might not impress everybody. Some poems might be hard to understand because you don’t identify with the theme or topic of the poem. You might have a hard time understanding some poems because they don’t describe your experiences.
It's time to put your skills to use. Here is one of my old poems from the archives. Read and understand it using the skills you have learned above. If possible, leave your interpretations below. I would like to know what message you got from this poem. It's called "A Fallen Leaf."
© 2019 Centfie