How to Identify Themes in Poems

Themes are universal topics that affect people from all backgrounds, cultures, races, religions and genders. To grasp the theme or themes that a poem aims to convey, the student must first read the poem thoroughly, identify the main topic and then think about the clues that the title of the poem gives regarding possible themes. The themes will relate to the struggles, issues and concepts that all people must encounter or be aware of; therefore, these themes also aide in uniting the human race. Try to identify with the issues the poem highlights to help recognize the themes.

Step 1

Read the poem thoroughly the first time through, making sure to reread the title after finishing.

Step 2

Reread the poem, and this time, jot down the main points and topics the poem addresses. These notes will help identify the poet's focus, characters and message.

Step 3

Decide if the title is hinting at the main theme or one of the themes in the poem. For example, Robert Frost's poem titled "Birches" focuses on a boy swinging from birch trees, which in the "big picture," addresses the speaker's longing for the innocence and ease of childhood.

Step 4

Analyze the notes and decide what universal topics and/or human struggles and realities the poem addresses. For example, in "A Psalm of Life" by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, the speaker worries about time and making the most of it, which many people can identify with.

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