How to Structure Poetry Analysis
Poets condense the language and even veil meaning in figures of speech, giving the form a mysterious quality in some cases. Therefore, students are sometimes reluctant to tackle poetry analysis. When students break down the structure of poetry analysis, they can better enjoy these highly crafted works of art.
A poem's strength comes from its content. The speaker might be the poet or a specific persona; this is relevant for point of view. Word choice gives the poem its tone, adding to the tension in the story. For example, Edgar Allan Poe's choice in words such as “weary, dark, dreary” in "The Raven" creates a gloomy tone that makes the bird seem ominous; the poet's word choice and resultant tone are topics to discuss in poetry analysis. Poetry relates to certain movements such as Romanticism, in the case of "The Raven," which influences the content of the piece. When writing about or discussing poetry, students should evaluate how the content impacts the power of the poem.
The theme often answers the question "What is this poem about?" Poets create their works with the desire to express their ideas. Students should consider the poet's purpose in writing the piece. The central idea of a poem often relates to universal themes such as relationships, death, war and peace. Students can look for images that recur; imagery and symbols often hint at the theme. For example, in "Harlem," Langston Hughes compares a deferred dream to rotting food that eventually explodes. The vivid images in the poem suggest that unfulfilled dreams can lead to destruction; this is a theme from the poem.
Since poets frequently use figurative language, students should consider figures of speech such as metaphor, imagery and symbolism in their analysis. In "The Raven," Poe uses the bird as a symbol of death as evidenced by its darkness and permanence. Hughes uses the metaphor of rotting fruit in vivid imagery to deliver his message of dying dreams. Students should remark on their analysis of the figurative language by interpreting it as in the case of "The Raven," or evaluating effectiveness as in "Harlem."
Some types of poetry have a specific structure that includes rhyme scheme. For example, Dylan Thomas wrote his famous poem, "Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night" as a villanelle; the repetitive nature of this poetic form significantly impacts its power. Students analyzing Thomas' poem might guess at his intent in using a French form for English poetry. Likewise, Shakespearean sonnets usually include a turn, or a change in direction of the poem's argument. Poetry analysis of a sonnet includes the position and meaning of the turn. Students can speculate on the reason a lot of modern poetry is written in open forms in analyzing poetry.
Nadia Archuleta has a B.A. in English writing. She spent five years working abroad and has traveled extensively. She has worked as an English as a Foreign/Second Language teacher for 12 years.