Analysing poetry

Finding the keys to fit

(from page 228 The Power of Poetry by Eshuys and Guest, Nelson, Australia 1997)

1.  What is the poem about?

Ask yourself:  "What event, incident or experience does the poem describe?  You need to only include the main points.

2.  What is the theme?

The theme is the message expressed in the poem, or the poet's purpose in writing the poem.   Ask yourself:  "What is the message or impression the poet is trying to get across to the reader?"  Look for lines in the poem that backup your ideas about the theme.  Common themes are friendship, war, love, ageing, discrimination, adolescence, death.

3.  What emotions does the poem convey?

Some poems create a very strong mood or atmosphere.  The attitude of the poet towards the subject can often create this feeling.  A poet who expesses great sorrow, joy or anger cannot help making the reader feel certain emotions too.

Ask yourself: "What emotions or feelings does this poem allow me to experience?"

What kind of audience is the poem aimed at?

Consider the age group the poem would appeal to.  Ask yourself: "Is the poem suitable for a child to read?  Does it contain issues relevant to teenagers?  Would it appeal more to an adult?  Or is the poem written for a wider audience than just one group?

4.  What is its form?

There are many forms a poem can take.  Some of the more common are ballads, sonnets, haiku, free verse, blank verse.  You can describe the number of stanzas as well as the rhyme scheme and rhythm

5.  What is its style?

The style of a poem involves the way the message is conveyed.  Some poems have dialogue, slang, humour, formal langauge or even a certain dialect. 

Ask yourself: "Does the poet use a particular style to add interest ot the poem?  Is the langauge simple or complex?  Is it descriptive?  Does the style help reveal the theme clearly?

6.  What poetic techniques have been used?

Poetic techniques are the tools that make the poem imaginative.  They help the reader enjoy the poem by stimulating the senses.  Often the poem appeals to the senses of sight and sound, though all senses can be involved.

Ask youself:  "Does the poet create visual images through description, simile, metaphor, symbolism and other techniques? 

Is the poem supported by sound features such as alliteration, assonance, onompatopeia rhyming or rhythm patterns?


stanza  -  a verse in poetry
simile - a type of image or verbal picture made by comparing two things using the words like or as
metaphor - another way of creating a powerful image in which a comparison between two things is made.   Whereas a simile says one object is like another, a metaphor actually says one object is another object
symbol - when a concret thing has an abstract idea attached to it.  e.g a dark cloud could signify anger
rhyme - the repetition of sounds, usually at he end of a line
rhythm - the beat and flow of the poem achieved through a recurring pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables
Meter - the pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables is known as the meter.  The different forms of meter can be described and have names e.g iambic pentameter
alliteration - repetition of the same consonant sound in different words for effect.  It usually happens at the beginnnig of words.
assonance - repetition of the same or similar vowel sounds
onomatopeia - sound words echo and imitate the natural sounds of objects, things, people and actions
personification - a metaphor in whch human characteristics are given to non human things.

reiteration - repetition of an idea for dramatic or thematic effect

Rhyming couplet - a two line stanza that rhymes
Quatrain - a four line verse
Cinquain - a poem of 5 lines
Limerick - a poem of 5 lines which is meant to be witty where lines 1, 2 and 5 rhyme and lines 3 and 4 rhyme
Ballads - narrative poems  - they tell a story - with a regular rhyme and rhythm
Haiku - a form of Japanese poetry  that aims to capture a single idea.  They have 3 lines and a total of 17 syllables - line 1 has 5, line 2 has 7 and line 3 has 5.
Free verse - poetry with no set pattern or form and  no traditional rhythm or set rhyme
Prose poetry - a form of free verse where the main unit is not the line but the sentence
Sonnet - a 14 line poem, written with a set rhyme and rhythm
Blank verse - is unrhymed with a regualr meter - each line having roughly the same number of syllables