A highly revered and influential art form, poetry is one of the most difficult and demanding literary works to interpret and understand. Poems range in length, style, theme and form and require an astute eye to draw out their meaning. To effectively analyze a poem, you must learn what to look for and where to find it. By following these steps you can begin to unravel the mysterious world of poetry.
Read the poem several times. Multiple readings are required in order to get a feel for the poem's theme and emotion. Often, reading it aloud will help you recognize how the grammar and form function as well as feel the emotion it is intended to evoke.
Note any words or phrases you do not understand in the poem, including in the title, and use a dictionary to look them up. It is imperative to know the meaning of every word used in the work as poets choose them carefully.
Establish the dramatic situation of the poem by determining who the speaker is (it is not always the poet), where the poem takes place and what actually happens during the work. Understanding these things will help you recognize point of view, imagery and dramatic element necessary to analyze the poem's meaning.
Study the poem line by line noting the style. A good poetry book such as "The Poetry Handbook" by Mary Oliver or a Web site such as Purdue University's Online Writing Lab will help you recognize technical form such as meter, rhyme, and pattern.
Interpret sensory images and objects by analyzing what they signify, or the emotion they evoke. Sometimes this may be a single object such as a rose or an active image such as a funeral procession. Brainstorm what these things mean and how they make you feel to help unravel the theme and tone of the poem.
Determine the meaning of the poem by putting all of the previous elements together. A poet creates his work by combining words, images and emotions to convey a point. Once you have now broken them down individually, you can see how they work together to convey a central message or theme.