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How to Write Poetry Analysis – Your Ultimate Guide

October 23, 2015 - Posted toWriting

Content poetryanalysis

How to Write Poetry Analysis – Your Ultimate Guide

Many students dislike poetry – they find it hard to understand, and in the case of the poetry of the Middle Ages and before, almost impossible. As we move forward in time, however, poetry does become easier to understand, such as that written in the Romantic Period and later, but students often then object to the subject matter. They wonder, for example, how an entire poem can be written about a Grecian urn – what’s the point? Most of these same students, however, will recite lyrics to songs, and ultimately do understand that some poetry, if it can relate to their lives, is probably okay. Poetry analysis however? Not a real favorite. So when they are asked to write an essay about a poem, most admit they do not know how to write poetry analysis, and they do struggle. This post should take some of that “struggle” away.


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Defining Poetry Analysis

The word “analysis” means to take something apart, examine its parts, and then to put it back together again and draw some general conclusions. And this just what is done in poetry analysis. It should not be confused with the term literary criticism, however, because that focuses more on evaluation and judgement. An analysis is written for understanding, not judgement.

The Process for Crafting a Poetry Analysis Essay

As we move through each step of this process, we’ll take a look at two poems written by William Blake – “The Lamb” and “The Tyger.” Blake was of the romantic period, along with others like William Wordsworth, roughly from 1785-1835.

  1. Study the period in which the poet wrote. In the case of Blake and Wordsworth, the Romantic Period in poetry was rather a rebellion against the more scientific and scholarly themes of the Enlightenment period. Poets decided to take up themes of nature, emotion and personal reactions to things.
  2. Read the poem many times. The first time, you will just get a “gut” reaction. Write it down. The second time, you may focus more on the details of what the poet is saying. The third time, you may begin to pick up rhythm or some other element, such as the words used to describe something that are rather cool or unique. In Blake’s poem “The Tyger,” for example, you may pick up words like burning, fire, fearful, and dread. By contrast, in “The Lamb,” you will pick up on words like soft, tender, meek, mild and child. You know that these two poems are going to point out stark contrasts between these two animals.
  3. Write the poet’s main idea in one sentence. In writing these two poems together, for example, Blake is speaking to the fact that the same God created both of these creatures – one tender and sweet and one just the opposite, and he is rather marveling at that.

You have now found the theme or meaning of the poem. That is just the first part of poetry analysis. Now you will be looking at other factors that contribute to the overall effect of the poem. First, the technical.

  1. Note the Structure. Are there breaks or stanzas? If so, you should note that the poet is making a new point, just as an essay writer does when he changes to a new paragraph. “The Lamb” is the shorter of the two poems and has two stanzas; “The Tyger” is longer and has 4 stanzas.
  2. Is there a pattern of rhyme? In both of these poems there is a rhyming pattern – AA, BB, CC, and so forth, except for a few lines where Blake takes some “poetic license.”
  3. Is there a rhythm? Yes there is, although, again, there are some breaks in it. Generally, though, the rhythm is what we call Trochaic (/ x), which means a stressed syllable followed by an unstressed. Consider this first line: “Tyger, tyger, burning bright”- you can feel the rhythm as you say the words. And there are 3 ½ of those combinations. So, the lines has 3 ½ “feet.”

These are the technical aspects of poetry analysis. Now the Language. Poets do their best to try to appeal to the reader’s senses and/or to use words that conjure up images; they also use figures of speech (similes, metaphors, etc.) to give further meaning. All of these thing together are called “poetic devices.”

  1. Find examples of imagery in the poem. Blake’s lines describing the lamb include images of tenderness and softness: “gave thee clothing of delight; softest clothing wooly bright; gave thee such a tender voice; making all the vales rejoice.” Contrast that with the imagery of the tyger: “in what distant deeps or skies; burnt the fire of thine eyes!”
  2. Look for examples of figurative language and make note of them. “When the stars threw down their spears” is an example of personification, for example.

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Now you are ready to write your essay. Here is a good structure.

  • Introduction: Introduce the poem, author, and literary period. If, for example, you are analyzing “Because I Would not Stop for Death,” you will state the poem, then the author, Emily Dickinson, and note that it is from the modern period. You will then make a broad general statement about the poem. Robert Frost, for example, wrote a poem titled, “Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening.” His main thought was the contrast between the peace and serenity of that place compared to the noise and lack of peace found in town,, and that we often do not take the time to appreciate the stillness.
  • Body Paragraph 1: Speak to the main idea of concept of the poet. What was the message?
  • Body Paragraph 2: Cover the technical aspects of the poem
  • Body Paragraph 3: Address the poetic devices and their impact on the message.
  • Conclusion: You may address your own response to the poem and speak to those elements that you believed were most effective.

Do’s and Don’ts

Do's Dont's
  • Do read the poem many times – you cannot get everything out of it if you don’t.
  • Don’t turn you analysis into a criticism. No adding any personal opinion except just a bit in conclusion.
  • Do the research on the literary period. You will not have a full understanding otherwise.
  • Don’t skip the three major parts of an analysis – meaning, technical aspects, and poetic devices.

Common Mistakes

  1. Poetry analysis must always be written in the present tense. “The poet seems to be saying…”
  2. The author’s name should not be used after the introduction. Always refer to him/her as “the poet” or “the speaker.”
  3. Students often forget to designate the line number when quoting directly from the poem. It should go in parenthesis

Final Thoughts

Poetry analysis is not as difficult as you may originally think. Once you have completed one, additional analyses will be much easier. And, if you are having difficulty understanding the poet’s message, there is certainly no shame in researching what others have to say about it.

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