Analyzing poetry is a challenging task - perhaps more challenging than analyzing any other text. Poetry is very dense by its nature. Several lines, or even a single word, placed in the context of a poem can be heavily influenced by meaning, connotation, and emotion. To unpack it all, you have to read and read a poem over and over again. However, this is the good news when you're reading good poetry; each time you re-read it, you find more subtle sources of appreciation and enjoyment.

As much as reading deeply is essential for appreciation, writing a literary analysis of a poem requires knowing specific tools and techniques. In this post, we'll outline those techniques and look at poetry analysis as a step-by-step process.

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What is poetry analysis?

Poetry analysis examines the independent elements of a poem to understand the literary work in its entirety. Analyzing poems line by line allows you to break poems down to study their structure, form, language, rhyme patterns, and theme. The purpose of literary analysis is to interpret and appreciate the meaning of a poem on a deeper level.

Why write a poetry essay?

Let's get this question out of the way before we begin. Every literature student has asked themselves, "Why?" 

It hones your analytical skills. 

Text-based reasoning is something you will need, whatever your career path may be in the future. It is an essential skill in the information culture we live in. For example, when you write an essay analysis of a poem, you are arguing a point. Despite widespread misconceptions about the poem, this point must be proved based on the evidence found in the text—not on your intuition, feelings, or mood.

It deepens your appreciation of the piece. 

Some critics compare the analysis of the poem to a post-mortem dissection. They say that although it gives you a good sense of how it was done, it kills all the pleasure of reading it. This is simply not true! The more you understand a text, its structure, patterns, figures of speech, etc., the more you can appreciate it. As Wordsworth insisted, poetry requires "the effort of an associative force in the mind of the reader".

It Makes You a Better Reader 

When you develop the habit of reading deeply, you fully appreciate what you read. You find details that could have escaped your notice should you merely scan the text to get the gist of it. Poetry analysis enriches your experience of reading all forms of literature.

How to Write a Poetry Analysis

Read the poem

The first time you come across a poem, read it to yourself. Read it slowly, appreciating the nuances and details you might miss when reading it quickly. Examine the poem's title and how it relates to the piece's meaning.

Reread the poem, this time out loud. 

Given its rhythmic pattern, the poem is designed to be read aloud. Listen to how the words and syllables shape the rhythm as you read a poem. It can also be helpful to listen to someone else read the poem. If you can, look online and find a recording of the poem. Hear how the words flow from line to line, where the pauses are, and where the stress is placed.

Scan the poetry.

Scansion is how you analyze the meter of a poem based on the pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables in each line. Mark each foot - the basic measure of a poetic line that consists of one stressed syllable with at least one unstressed syllable. Next, mark the pattern of tension across the line. Finally, identify the meter based on this information.

Study the language in the poem. 

Poets deliberately choose words to craft their poems. Examine each word and its significance in the line and poem. How does it contribute to the story? Look up words you don't know. See how the poet plays with language through metaphors, similes, and figurative language. Note any literary devices used, such as alliteration and assonance, that help to embody the poem's language.

Study the content of the poem. 

As you go through the poem's language, look at the content and message of the piece to uncover a theme. Learn when the poem was written to learn its historical context. Find out where it was written and what language the poet used. If you're reading a translation, see if other variations might show how different translators interpreted the original work.

Define the poem line by line. 

Finally, reread the poem. Abbreviate each line, starting with the first line. In other words, explain the meaning, and write your summary as you go. Once you've read the entire piece, read your words to understand the poem's meaning.

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