How to Write a Response to a Poem

For many young readers, the first classroom encounter with poetry is met with confusion, as unfamiliarity with the basics of meter, rhyme schemes, rhythm and verse structure make interpretation seem difficult. If you are a student with the assignment of interpreting a poem, you can proceed by analyzing the poem in terms of structure, language and meaning.

Analyze the poem's structure, which includes questions about the form of the poem, its genre, use of meter (rhythmic structure) and rhyme scheme. Notice whether the poet adopts a traditional form, such as the sonnet or haiku, or the modern convention of free verse. The number of syllables in each line is a clue to its structure, as is the arrangement of verses (stanzas.) Rhyme schemes are typically analyzed using the shorthand of matching letters (for example, "ABAB ABAB.")

Comment on the poet's use of language. If the word choice seems unusual, ask why the poet chose these particular words. Notice the ways in which the language sounds like music, paying attention to such elements as tone, pitch, rhythm and melody. Take note of uses of metaphor, simile, metonymy, alliteration, symbolism and imagery.

Interpret the meaning of the poem. What is the main idea the poet is trying to communicate? What mood does the poem attempt to establish, and what kind of emotional response does it evoke in a reader? Note the use of literary techniques such as irony, foreshadowing, suspense, narrative voice and setting.

About the Author

Colby Phillips' writing interests include culture and politics. Phillips received a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Oregon and a Master of Arts in philosophy from Boston College.

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