Skip to main content

How to Analyze Poetry

  • Author:
  • Updated date:

I have had a lifelong passion for reading and writing and graduated with a bachelor's in English literature.

William Shakespeare is one of the most influential poets in literature.

William Shakespeare is one of the most influential poets in literature.

Ten Famous Poets

  1. William Shakespeare
  2. Emily Dickinson
  3. Shel Silverstein
  4. Christopher Marlowe
  5. Edgar Allen Poe
  6. William Blake
  7. Robert Frost
  8. William Wordsworth
  9. Langston Hughes
  10. Walt Whitman

An Effective Approach to Poetry Analysis

It may seem like doing an analysis of poetry is easier than, say, analyzing books, but, don't be fooled by its size. Poetry, for most people, is one of the most difficult types of literature out there to analyze properly. Although it is usually considerably shorter than books out there, poetry can carry a lot within just a line or two, so understanding what it takes to properly analyze poetry is worth the time it takes to get it down.

One of the most essential things to remember is that literary analysis of poetry means that you will be reading that poem many times. The best way to get started on the analysis of poetry is to read the poem once to yourself silently. In this first reading, do not immediately look for different literary devices or sound elements. All you really want to do is get a basic understanding of the poem. This can be the easiest step in literary analysis. Basically, you are starting broad, and then, as you go through each reading of the poem, you are taking it apart bit by bit.

The second reading is most effective when it is done out loud. When you read out loud, you are able to catch those poetic sound devices that you may have missed when reading to yourself. Analysis of poetry is best when readings are done aloud, so you should do it aloud from the second to the very last reading. This is not completely necessary, but it makes for a better literary analysis of the poem.

When I do an analysis of poetry, I use this same method, reading first to myself and then aloud. In the first reading, I always focus on just what the poem is about and summarize what it is about to myself. Afterward, I like to go through it stanza by stanza to work on my analysis. Literary analysis of poetry has always been my downfall when studying literature, so it has always been something that takes me a lot of time and effort to do properly. The more practice, the easier it becomes and the less time it will take to catch all of those devices and other literary devices in the poem(s) that are essential to a good analysis of poetry.

Sometimes writing down the questions you want to focus on before reading can really help narrow down your analysis for poetry.

Sometimes writing down the questions you want to focus on before reading can really help narrow down your analysis for poetry.

Questions to Ask Yourself While Reading

So, you know that the first reading for the poem you are doing literary analysis for requires you to just be able to summarize what the poem is about. While looking for those poetic sound devices in that second reading, there are still a few other things to keep in mind when analyzing poetry. Here are some questions to keep in mind while you go through your readings to keep you on the right track to a great analysis of poetry:

  1. What does the title tell you about the poem? The poem's title is essential to analyzing poetry because it can give insight into the poem before you even read a single line. Don't forget to set aside a couple of minutes to consider the title and what it tells you about the poem, such as the tone or subject of the poem will have.
  2. Have you done any research on the poet or poem? Understanding who wrote the poem and the story surrounding that particular poem can add a lot of insight as you analyze poems. Any critics of the poem can especially help you bring to light another analysis of the poem with new thoughts or ideas to help guide you to your own.
  3. What is the author's attitude about the subject of the poem?
  4. What is the poem about?
  5. Who is speaking?
  6. What is the speaker's tone?
  7. What kind of imagery does the poem have? There are two major types of imagery to focus on when doing literary analysis of poetry, abstract and concrete imagery. The definitions for both of these terms are listed below.
  8. What is the syntax of the poem?
  9. What is the theme of the poem?
  10. What is the rhyme scheme?
Walt Whitman was a controversial but innovative figure in American poetry.

Walt Whitman was a controversial but innovative figure in American poetry.

Walt Whitman

Walt Whitman was very controversial in his time and is remembered as one of the most influential poets in American literature. He is also known as the father of free verse. Free verse is a form of poetry that does not use any consistent pattern or rhyme and follows the rhythm of natural speech.

The amount of literary terms out there can be daunting. Focusing on just a few can help with analyzing poetry.

The amount of literary terms out there can be daunting. Focusing on just a few can help with analyzing poetry.

Literary Terms

There are many literary terms out there for both analyzing poetry and analyzing other types of literature. Here are some poetry literary terms that can come in handy when doing an analysis of poetry.

  1. Abstract Imagery: Abstract imagery is all about feelings and concepts that are open to interpretation by the reader. It is the opposite of concrete imagery.
  2. Alliteration: An alliteration is when consonant sounds are repeated, usually at the beginning of words.
  3. Allusion: An indirect reference to something else, such as another literary work, a person, or a historical event.
  4. Assonance: Also known as a "vowel rhyme," assonance is the repetition of similar vowel sounds within a sentence or a line of poetry or prose.
  5. Caesura: A caesura is a break or strong pause within a line of poetry or prose.
  6. Concrete Imagery: Concrete imagery is the opposite of abstract imagery. It aims to describe scenes and concepts with vivid descriptions that the reader can recognize and usually uses metaphors and similes.
  7. Connotation: A connotation occurs when a word is used that has meanings associated with it that are beyond its regular dictionary definition.
  8. Dactyl: A dactyl is a foot with three syllables. It is a stressed syllable, followed by two unstressed syllables.
  9. Denouement: A denouement is the outcome or resolution of the plot.
  10. Denotation: A denotation is a word that has a direct and specific meaning.
  11. Diction: Diction is the words that make up the text within a literary work or poem.
  12. Elision: When an unstressed vowel or syllable is taken out of a word to keep the rhyme within the meter of a line of poetry.
  13. Enjambment: When a thought runs from one line to the next without a syntactical break.
  14. Figurative Language: This is the type of language used by writers to convey something beyond the literal meaning behind their words.
  15. Foot: A metrical unit in poetry composed of stressed and unstressed syllables.
  16. Hyperbole: A figure of speech involving obvious and intentional exaggeration that is not meant to be taken literally.
  17. Irony: A contrast between what is said and what is meant and between what happens and what is expected to happen.
  18. Metaphor: A comparison between two things that are not alike, without using "like" or "as."
  19. Meter: A measurement in poetry for rhythmic accents.
  20. Onomatopoeia: Words that are used that imitate the sounds they describe.
  21. Rhyme Scheme: Rhyme schemes are a pattern of rhymes in lines of poetry or song.
  22. Simile: Similes are a comparison between two unlike things using "like," "as," or "as though."
  23. Syntax: The grammatical order of words, phrases, and clauses in a sentence, line of poetry, or dialogue.
  24. Theme: The dominant idea of a literary work is a generalization of the poem, book, etc.
  25. Tone: The implied attitude of the writer or speaker in the poem or other literary work.

© 2013 Lisa


jessica abaigar on August 23, 2016:

the poetry is happy because the loved me and husband

AJ Long from Pennsylvania on October 05, 2014:

LisaKoski Your tips are practical and applicable. Thanks.

manatita44 from london on August 01, 2014:

Useful analysis of how to assess poetry and great to know that you recognise that it's not so easy.

The esoteric poet comes from a different realm, in so far as he draws from within or above. He takes the attitude of an instrument in the hands of Something Higher and is always creative, constantly seeking new ways to express himself.

I started reading practically all the greats you mentioned at a very early age, but I have always resisted going for formal lessons in creative writing. I tell people to read, read, read ... practice ... practice ... practice ... in my case, inner and exterior prayer is definitely necessary also.

Pardon my taking so much of your comments space here. You have expressed your learning and your field well. I really appreciate this. Read two or more of my poems for an additional dimension.

I like all your poets, but have a fondness for Blake, Wordsworth and Keats, whom I'm sure you are familiar with. Kind regards.

Andrew Spacey from Sheffield, UK on May 28, 2013:

What a useful hub - those 25 terms are going to be snapped up by students! - and you've given insights from an individual angle too. I like your list of poets (Silverstein is a surprise)..... but Mr Wallace Stevens is missing! I know, he's very tricky and philosophical and all that but I just find him amazing, bizarre, boring and brilliant. WC Williams is also not there but I see you've got a broad range of great poet. Keep up the excellent work.

Suzette Walker from Taos, NM on May 14, 2013:

Oh Lisa, this hub is just wonderful on how to analyze poetry. I have never seen a better presentation of this than yours. Sometime in your life I hope you are a high school or university level English literature teacher. You are just fantastic. Your knowledge of the English language, literature, writing, analyzing is almost beyond your young years. You have been excellently trained in English at high school and university. I am so impressed with your writing and your hubs. Thank you for sharing your knowledge with us.

hhunterr from Highway 24 on March 13, 2013:

Your writing is very enjoyable. I'd even say it cooks. Hey, I'll be back! I have to read this some more.

Nancy Yager from Hamburg, New York on February 02, 2013:

Loved the way you explained it. But it still does not sound like an easy task.

Lisa (author) from WA on February 02, 2013:

Analyzing poetry is definitely not as easy as it sounds! Thanks for stopping by, Mhatter99 and busillis22. Glad I could help bring new light to reading poetry.

Kyson Parks from San Diego, CA on February 02, 2013:

This is so very helpful! I rarely find myself able to crack a poem. I love good literature and have experienced many poems I like a lot, but it usually happens by accident or simply by working hard with it while not really knowing what I'm doing. I rarely know where to begin with a poem. This has given me much better direction!

Martin Kloess from San Francisco on February 01, 2013:

Wow! Even The hatter learned something here. Thank you.

Lisa (author) from WA on February 01, 2013:

Thank you, vocalcoach, for such kind feedback and support! Glad to hear that I was able to teach analyzing poetry successfully :)

Audrey Hunt from Pahrump NV on February 01, 2013:

Wow - I love this hub on analyzing poems. When I come upon a hub that teaches me something I feel like celebrating :)

You have broken down all this information in such a way that the reader is compelled to read on...and on.

An excellent presentation that I will share with others as well as twitter and fb. Thank you!