Notes on Analyzing Poetry
Always discuss how the elements function in the context of the poem (think thematically).
What to look for when analyzing a poem:
Situation: What is happening in the poem? (literally)
Style of poem: look at the title, rhyme scheme, syntax, structure of stanzas, language.
Tone: of the speaker and of the poet.
Mood: How does the poem make you feel as you’re reading it? Why?
Diction and Details: together they produce poetry’s most powerful tool – imagery. What words
stand out and why? How to the words sound? What imagery does the poem produce and why?
POV (1st, 2nd, 3rd: limited, omniscient, objective). Think about how these POVs function.
Narrative Presence/Speaker/Persona: Who or what is the speaker? Are they involved in the
Time Frame: When (season, month, time of day) and where does the poem occur?
Motifs: Always look for a recurring pattern and how it’s functioning in the poem.
Theme: What is the poem attempting to say or show?
Irony: Think about it. (“April is the cruelest month”)
Characters/Allusions: Always be on the lookout for allusions to literature, the bible, or history;
many times poets will use famous characters from literature so pay attention to names.
Symbols/Metaphors: You know they’re there; now identify them and discuss how they
Types of imagery:
Visual – imagery related to sight
Gustatory – imagery related to taste
Auditory – imagery related to sound
Tactile – imagery related to touch
Olfactory – imagery related to smell
The language of a poem is figurative language; it is the language of comparing one thing to another.
Common figurative language devices used for comparison:
Simile – uses “like,” “as,” and “than” to make a direct comparison between things. One thing is “like”
another thing, or one thing does something “as” another thing does it. The most often missed similes
are comparisons that use “than.” For example, “He is faster than a speeding bullet” makes a direct
comparison between the person’s speed and the speed of a bullet.
Metaphor – The word metaphor comes from Greek roots that mean “to transfer.” It is an implicit rather
than an explicit comparison (does not incorporate the use of “like,” “as,” or “than”). The two things
being compared often seem very different, and the linkage often surprises, shocks, delights, and even
enlightens us. Metaphors are either direct (“Juliet is the sun”) or indirect (“Juliet shines”). (In both
examples, the qualities/associations of the sun are transferred to Juliet).
Also, conceits (a type of strange, often shocking metaphor that compares two unlike things to startle
readers) and metaphysical conceits are extremely popular in poetry (the term metaphysical seems
strange and elitist, but, literally, it just means “beyond the physical.” Often times, metaphysical poets
take an abstract concept, i.e. love or death, and compare it with something tangible. Metaphysical
poems often take the form of an argument, and many of them emphasize physical and religious love as
well as the fleeting nature of life; it appeals to the intellect instead of the emotions).
Personification – the giving of human attributes to inanimate objects or to an abstraction. (“The saw
snarled and rattled.” In this example, the saw is being compared to an animal, and this comparison helps
develop the animalistic imagery).
Allusion – a reference to literature, art, or history. Allusions are often employed for thematic purposes.
Greek and Roman myths are consistently used in poetry.
Sound devices of Poetry:
Alliteration – the repetition of the initial sounds of words in a line or lines of verse. (“It bleeds the black
blood of the blueberry”).
Assonance – the repetition of vowel sounds within words in a line or lines of
verse. (“And roll back down the mound beside the hole.”)
Consonance – the repetition of consonant sounds within words in a line or lines
of verse. (“blueberry”; “The little boy lost his shoe in the field”).
Onomatopoeia – the use of a word that, through its sound as well as its sense, represents
what it defines. (Bees buzz; “The vorpal blade went snicker-snack”).
Rhyme – usually this word refers to “end rhyme” – that is, words at the end of one line having the same
vowel sound as words at the end of one or more other lines; rhyming words that do not end with a
vowel sound, further, customarily also end in the same consonant or combination of consonants.
Masculine rhyme – words which rhyme on a single stressed syllable. (“spears”
and “tears” are masculine rhymes, as well as true rhymes.
Words that are not true rhyming words but that almost
rhyme are called off-rhymes or slant-rhymes. “Dizzy” and
“easy” are examples of off-rhyme/slant-rhyme).
Feminine rhyme – words which rhyme and have more than one syllable.
(“buckle” and “knuckle” are feminine rhymes)
Rhyming patterns:
Tercet, or Triplet
Terza Rima
Spenserian Stanza
aa bb cc dd, etc.
aaa bbb ccc ddd, etc.
abab cdcd, etc.
aba bcb cdc ded, etc.
abab bcbc c (the first eight are iambic pentameter;
the final line is an alexandrine).
Syntax of Poems
Caesura – a structural and logical pause within and only within the line, and usually, but not always,
within a metrical foot itself. (“Forlorn! the very word is like a bell.” Immediately after “Forlorn!” there is
a pause, a caesura).
Stanza – the term used to describe a group of lines in a poem.
Enjambment – the intentional interruption of a logical phrase in a line or lines of poetry.
The enjambment speeds up the line.
Blank verse – lines of unrhymed iambic pentameter.
Free verse – verse that is free from metrical design. It might be free from metrical
design, but it does have an overall design to it.
Repetition – this can refer to the repetition of a single word or phrase or line of poetry.
When it becomes a regularly repeated feature of a poem, it turns into
refrain, which simply means a line (or even a stanza) which recurs again
and again, usually at regular intervals (the chorus of a song is an example).
Types of poems
Dramatic Monologue – a speaker address a silent listener. As readers, we overhear the speaker in a
dramatic monologue.
Elegy – a formal sustained poem lamenting the death of a particular person.
Epic – an extensive, serious poem that tells a story about a heroic figure (The Odyssey is an example).
Haiku – a Japanese form composed of three unrhymed lines of five, seven, and five syllables.
Haikus are easy
But sometimes they don’t make sense
Idyll – poetry that either depicts a peaceful, idealized country scene or a long poem about heroes of a
bygone age. (“Idylls of the King” is about the legend of King Arthur).
Lyric – a poem originally meant to sung, but now it refers to any short, concentrated poem expressing
personal feelings.
Narrative – a poem that tells a story.
Ode – usually a long, complex lyric expressing profound emotion.
Pastoral – a poem that depicts rural life in a peaceful, romanticized way.
Villanelle – a 19-line poem consisting of five tercets (3) and a final quatrain (4) on two rhymes. The first
and third lines of the first tercet repeat alternately as a refrain closing the succeeding stanzas and joined
as the final couplet of the quatrain.