Poetry Structure & Comprehension
A poem’s structure can help with comprehension. Poems come in various forms, lengths and subjects. Poets write poetry for different reasons and purposes but all poems utilize certain poetic elements. In addition to a poem's structure, poetic elements and devices can also help readers to organize, process and analyze the meaning and themes of poetry.
Sometimes, a poem’s shorter length can aid in comprehension, both of the poem and reading in general. This is true for simple poems and nursery rhymes like “Hey Diddle Diddle.” However, some short poems can be extremely complex and dense, making comprehension more difficult. For example, Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken,” while short has two meanings, one literal and one figurative. This poem requires critical thinking, maturity and analysis to comprehend its full meaning. Ultimately, the length of a poem may determine the time it takes to comprehend it and whether or not students find it accessible. According to an article from Hamline University, “Poems might be an avenue to reading comprehension because they are non-threatening, shorter pieces of text.” (See Reference 1)
Certain poems take the physical shape of the subject or theme expressed in it. For example, a poem about a bell might have words laid out in the shape of a bell. This gives readers an immediate understanding of the subject of a poem. If a poem is about love and it is laid out in the shape of a heart, the theme of the poem is also immediately evident.
Poetry utilizes various poetic elements and devices that can aid in comprehension. But, a reader has to be familiar with them before they can help them understand poetry. Rhythm, rhyme, personification, simile, metaphor and a host of other literary devices help with comprehension of a poem. For example, “She walks in beauty like the night” is a simile that can help readers understand how beautiful the poet finds the woman in the poem.
There are several methods for reading, comprehending and analyzing poetry that are used by teachers and students to unlock the meaning of poetry. The TPCASTT has students first look at the title of a poem, then paraphrase the poem before moving on to the connotation, attitude, shifts and theme of a poem. These methods of analysis provide systematic and strategic steps to follow when reading a poem.
Stacy Alleyne is a certified English teacher with a BA in English and graduate work in English, education, journalism and law. She has written numerous articles and her own dining column for the "Gazette."