10 Points of Poetry Analysis

S.Schaffer

1. Title • What does the title denote/connote? • What is the title’s relation to the poem? • Does it have semantic possibilities (different meanings)? • Are there any allusions (references to other texts) in the title? 2. Epigraph • Is there an epigraph (an introductory few lines set off from the beginning)? • How does it relate to the poem as a whole? • What other work of literature does the epigraph refer to, paraphrase, or quote from? 3. Atmosphere, Tone and Voice • What is the general atmosphere or mood of the poem? • What is the feeling the speaker has about what he/she is talking about (tone)? • How does the speaker in the poem present himself/herself (voice)? • To what extent is implied meaning detached from or close to what the speaker means to say; for example, is there irony)? • Be sure you don’t assume the persona in the poem, the voice, is the same as the real author, although sometimes knowing the real author’s personal history will help you unravel one level of meaning in the poem. • Is the poem didactic? What lesson or moral does it teach? 4. Setting • Is there a more or less definite location for the events of the poem? • If so, how is it appropriate for the subject, and does it help express or develop the theme? • Is there a specific time or occasion for the poem, and how is it important? • Does the poem deal with the past, present, future or a combination? • What is the importance of history/the past in the poem?

5. euphony. or a combination? What kinds of imagery (language which appeals to any of the five senses in its description) do you find? • What figures of speech or literary devices are employed? (Consider metaphor.. etc. worth) feminine rhyme .rhyming words with identical ending sounds (steer. cacophony. etc. rough) true rhyme . irony.single syllables rhymed (spear. chiming) identical rhyme . symbols.two or more syllables rhyme (rhyming.g.in rhyming words.rhyming words which have a similar but not exactly identical ending sound (peer.single syllable masculine rhyme (stuff. most rhyme is true rhyme . simile. personification. fear).when one of a pair of rhyming syllables is unstressed (knee.)? • Is there a rhyme scheme (arrangement or pattern of rhyming words)? • Why has the author chosen to use the rhyme/devices of sound and how do they relate to the content? Some kinds of rhyme: beginning rhyme . Language • How would you describe the word choice or vocabulary (diction)? Is it formal. irony.repetition of the same word internal rhyme .rhyme at the beginning of two successive lines crossed rhyme .rhyming words which give the eye the impression of rhyme. pun.all rhymes in the poem have the same sound near rhyme . courtesy) masculine rhyme . etc. yuck) single rhyme . but the final consonant is changed (yum. consonance. assonance. slang). the first consonant and vowel are the same. colloquial (informal. year) monorhyme .rhyming words within one line of poetry light rhyme . but are not pronounced identically (forth. pare) reverse rhyme . symbolism) sustained throughout the poem? 6 Sound • Is there rhyme in the poem? • Are there any other devices of sound in the poem (alliteration. romantic.rhyme at the end of two successive lines eye rhyme .words in the middle of two successive lines rhyme end rhyme .) • How do these fit into the poem and what do they mean? • Are any of these (e.

no fixed rhythm or rhyme scheme 5..ababbccdcd quatorzain .three lines with linked rhyme between stanzas (e.a poem which encourages “seizing the day” .eight lines ottava rima . epic (long poem.ababbcc octet .four lines (quatrain with alternating rhyme scheme = abab. this type of tercet is called terza rima) quatrain .ababbcbcc dizain . which are the three main broad categories of poetry? • Is the poem an example of a particular genre of poetry? • Does this genre of poem have a particular form? (see #9) Some examples of poetic genres: ballad .aaa bbb ccc tercet .five lines quintet .Some rhyme schemes: couplet .aa bb cc closed couplet .six lines septet . Allusions and Genre • Does the poem contain allusions to other works of art. what are they and how do they relate to the poem? • Is the poem an example of lyric (short poem). usually follow a journey of a hero) or dramatic poetry (essentially a play with dialogue between characters). and if so.rhyming pair of iambic pentameter lines open couplet .14 lines blank verse . aba bcb cdc ded etc.g..two rhyming lines in which the sense/sentence is carried on past the second line to the one(s) following it triplet .song/poem that tells a story carpe diem poem .ababb sexain . quatrain with enclosing rhyme scheme = abba) quintain .seven lines rhyme royal .abababcc Spenserian stanza .unrhymed iambic pentameter free verse .two rhyming lines in which the sense/sentence is complete heroic couplet .

etc. mark stressed syllables with a ′ and unstressed syllables with a ˇ. symbolism.poetry concerned with the lives of shepherds There are many other poetic genres—too many to name here—as well as poetic genres associated with certain literary movements (e. and is more meditative in tone . Traditional meter makes use of the natural stresses in words and poets place the words in lines of poetry in such a way as to make a pattern out of the natural stresses in words.g.elegy love poem ode pastoral poem . use of white space on the page.. is called a foot. Rhythm and Meter • Are traditional metrical patterns used? • Does the poem contain caesuras. Traditional rhythm in poetry written in English is usually either a duple rhythm (using metrical feet with two syllables) or a triple rhythm (using metrical feet with three syllables). close repetition of similar sentence structure.) and genres associated with certain poetic forms (see #9 below). . All words in English contain at least one stressed syllable.)? • What connections can you make between rhythm in the poem and content (connections between the rhythm of the poem and what it’s about)? The foot: The basic rhythmic unit. imagism. lines which end with some form of punctuation. or run-on lines (enjambment). sometimes this is a public occasion. 6. with no fixed rhyme scheme or meter? • Is there a non-traditional rhythm produced by some other means (by typography or how the poem is typed on the page.a poem written for a particular occasion. and other times it is written for a private occasion. which are mid-line pauses? • Does the poem contain end-stopped lines. usually about the death of an individual or a lament for some tragic event. metaphysical poetry.a poem of mourning. lines with no punctuation at the end? • Is the poem free verse.poem concerned with love . etc. To scan a line of poetry with a traditional metrical pattern (scansion is the act of finding the pattern of stressed syllables in traditional poetry and identify the type and number of feet per line). like a King’s birthday. . a group of syllables containing at least one stressed syllable.

ten feet per line . this is the most popular meter in poetry written in the English language trochee . ′ ′.Types of traditional poetic feet: iamb . ˇ ′ . first syllable stressed. called iambic meter. called anapestic meter dactyl . the words formal and writer are trochees.eight feet per line nonameter .nine feet per line decameter .three syllables. both stressed. The line of poetry will use one particular kind of foot and have a specified number of these feet in a line. the words massacre and durable are dactyls..two feet per line trimeter .five feet per line hexameter .. ′ ˇ.four feet per line pentameter . second syllable stressed.two syllables.e. ˇ ˇ ′.six feet per line heptameter .one foot per line dimeter .three syllables. the first syllable stressed. Iambic pentameter is thus a poetry which contains five iambs per line: ˇ ′ ˇ ′ ˇ ′ ˇ ′ ˇ ′ “True wit is Nature to advantage dressed” (Alexander Popes Essay on Criticism) Terms for meter (the number of feet per line): monometer .e. called trochaic meter spondee . called dactylic meter Meter: A poet writes a line of traditional poetry fitting words on the line in such a way that the natural stresses in words form a pattern. the last syllable stressed.two syllables.three feet per line tetrameter . i. ′ ˇ ˇ.two syllables. i. the words unite and defeat are iambs.seven feet per line octameter . the words picturesque and matinee are anapests. the words upkeep and padlock are spondees. called spondaic meter anapest .

is the stanza pattern repeated. A line ending with a stressed syllable has a masculine ending. Poets also employ poetic license to alter words so that they fit a line: contraction or elision. or does the form vary? • Does the poem have a whole stanza which is repeated several times (a refrain)? • Does the poem have the shape of an identifiable object? How does it look on the page? • Consider the reasons for where lines begin and end and how white space on the page is used if the poem is written in free verse. Structure and Form • Does the poem have any obvious structural divisions? • If no divisions are apparent. for instance.a poetry which presents each poem in a different shape. lines which deviate from an established pattern of syllables and stresses are generally referred to as irregular lines. Poets may base their poetry on one type of foot but vary the number of syllables and stresses in each successive line (in other words. just lines in one large block (a stichic poem)? • If strophic.Regular and irregular lines: In traditional poetry. does the poem fall naturally into parts? • Are the lines arranged in sections or stanzas (a strophic poem)? • Or are there no stanzas. the poet has done this to vary the rhythm and to produce a particular poetic effect (e.. Lines which are perfect (contain the number of syllables and stresses in the established pattern) are generally called regular lines. the poet might purposely make the line too long). is the leaving out or slurring of a syllable in order to make a regular metrical line (“‘twere” instead of “it were”). if a poem is talking about someone having too much to say. when there are deviations from regular or perfect lines. 7. A line ending with an unstressed syllable has a feminine ending. the whole poem may be irregular but tend toward use of a particular type of foot/feet). • Do the initial letters of each line make a word or words when read downwards (an acrostic poem)? • Is the poem an example of some kind of traditional form. upon closer examination.g. such as a sonnet? • What is the connection between the form used and the content of the poem? Some forms of poetry: concrete poetry . It . for instance.

idea or feeling.a 14 line poem. . wood. there is a volta (a turn or change in thought). .haiku pattern poetry prose poem sestina sonnet villanelle may thus use typography to produce visual poetry. Within the poem. The rhyming scheme requires that the same six end words occur in each stanza but in a different order according to a fixed pattern. . The first and third lines of the first tercet recur alternately in the succeeding stanzas as a refrain and form a final couplet. Particular poetic forms are sometimes associated with particular movements in literature/poetry. Dylan Thomas’ “Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night” is a famous example of a villanelle. each with their own typical rhyme scheme: the major types are Petrarchan (abbaabba and cdecde or cdcdcd). “Sestina” by Elizabeth Bishop is a good example. steel and other materials.six stanzas of six lines apiece with an envoi of three lines. as pattern poetry does. glass. stone. usually at the end of the octave or the beginning of the sestet. There are many other poetic forms—too many to name here. seven and five syllables respectively.five three-lined stanzas or tercets and a final quatrain. but it may also present poetry which is on a page. Analysis and Theme . expressing a single image. There are different types of sonnets. . Interpretation. . This is a very popular form and Shakespeare wrote many sonnets. Elizabeth Smart’s “By the Rivers of Babylon I Sat Down and Wept” is a good example.a poem which is written in prose instead of poetry.the lines of this kind of poem are arranged to represent a physical object and suggest shape and even motion or mood. .a Japanese form consisting of seventeen syllables in three lines of five. composed of an octave (the first eight lines) and sestet (the final six lines). This kind of poetry straddles the line between poetry and fiction. 10. Spenserian (ababbcbccdcdee) and Shakespearean (ababcdcdefefgg).

• • • • What are the meanings of the poem? What themes does the poem suggest? Does the poem teach a lesson. have a particular social or political agenda or any other kind of manifest message? How are all of the elements in #1 through #9 above connected to one another? How do they all support the content and thereby produce meaning? Try to work out a consistent interpretation of the poem. insight and originality and are supported with appropriate evidence from the poem. . Your teacher will be receptive to various interpretations of any given poem as long as these interpretations reflect some critical thinking. Remember that poetry isn’t mathematical in the sense that there’s not necessarily one “right” answer. Every individual’s reading of a poem inevitably will be just that: individual. one that accounts for as many of #1 through #9 as possible.

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