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How to Decipher Poetry


Even the most voracious readers of prose often shy away from poetry. Some readers are naturally drawn to the mysteries that lie within lines and stanzas, which fit into a variety of poetic forms such as lyric verse, odes, haiku, epics and ballads, free verse and others. However, if you feel intimidated by the idea of reading and understanding poetry, you only need interest, patience and commitment, along with some simple tools to help you navigate the world of poetry. Once you become more comfortable with the process of deciphering poetry, you will probably quickly find yourself an enthusiastic explorer of the medium.

Read as an Explorer of Poetry

Poets often fill their works with challenging vocabulary and esoteric allusions to help create their vision. Consider your first reading of the poem -- or poems -- you choose your chance to mine the poem for its arcane treasures. As Shmoop.com suggests, try to become an archaeologist and an explorer within the poem you are reading. Don't leave any potential gem unearthed. Keep a pen in hand and make a note of each word or reference that you don't understand. Once you finish the first reading of the poem, consider it your mission to learn more about the references and words -- using a dictionary, encyclopedia and other reference sources -- then prepare to apply them to the context of the poem.

Read the Poem Aloud

When you read the poem aloud, you find the rhythm of the work. Whether the poet has constructed a poem in iambic pentameter, feminine rhyme scheme or lyric verse, you will hear it once you have spoken the words in the open air. In addition to the basic composition elements of the poem, such as meter and rhyme, you will also hear any variations from that basic construction, which will further help you understand the nuances of meaning in the poem.

Read the Poem More Than Once

Each time you read a poem, you will find something new that serves as a clue to the text, especially if you have taken the time to look up any obscure references or unfamiliar terminology you came across in your initial reading. When you read a poem more than once -- even several times -- you peel its layers and steadily come to a greater understanding of the ideas that the poem is conveying to you.

Tie It All Together and Enjoy the Poem

Once you have collected all the core information about the poem and have read it aloud a few times, you will have all the tools you need to decipher the poem's meaning. Examine how everything that you have read and studied works together to create the subject, theme and ultimate conclusion of the poem. Most importantly at this point, read the poem in a more relaxed setting and frame of mind. You have all the information laid out before you, and what is left is to allow yourself to enjoy the work and let the meaning reveal itself to you.

About the Author

Melissa Cooper writes on topics including education, fitness and business, using her Bahelor of Arts in English at Ohio State University. An effective researcher in her expert subjects, Cooper has produced a newsletter and an internal office website that focused on fitness and well-being.

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