How to Annotate Poems
Annotating is the process of analyzing and understanding a written work. Annotations are not just a summary of what is going on, but also an examination of the tone, speaker, language, imagery, symbolism or other characteristics. When annotating a poem, you must ask and answer several questions, such as identifying the speaker and discovering the poem’s purpose.
Before annotating a poem, you must read it again and again. You will probably not glean all the information you need for a proper annotation from just a few readings. The first reading will provide your initial reactions to the poem. A second reading enables you to write down some thoughts or to paraphrase what is happening in the poem. When you read a poem, focus on sentences rather than line breaks, as the breaks serve the structure, rhyme scheme and meter rather than logical sentence structure. Poetry is meant to be read aloud, so you should read through the poem multiple times aloud as well as to yourself.
You must ask a series of questions when annotating a poem. After you paraphrase the poem or look up any words you do not understand, you can identify certain elements of the poem. Ask yourself “who is the speaker?” and “what is the speaker’s tone?” Recognize language the speaker uses or what opinions the speaker may have. Ascertain the intended audience, setting, poem structure (for example, is it a sonnet or other form?) and use of enjambment or end-stopped lines.
Poetry is notorious for utilizing a variety of literary devices, like simile and metaphor. Think about the poet’s use of imagery and how it is used to set the mood or create meaning. Determine what images symbolize. Look at any allusions and ask why the poet used them and what they imply. Search for opposites like light and dark or young and old. Identify shifts in the attitude of the speaker. Recognize the literal and abstract meanings.
Poetry is meant to invoke an emotional response in the reader. Oftentimes, readers can glaze over a poem and not really understand its meaning. Annotation involves the reader in an in-depth look at the poem; the poem can then stimulate a reader’s intellect as well as be entertaining. Poets are often very cautious of their word choices and structure; annotation helps the reader understand a poet’s intentions. Annotating poetry is also an ideal device for the classroom because it teaches about subjects such as literary devices, tone and form.
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