Analysis of a Poem

  • What is its relation to the poem?
  • Is it a straightforward, simple title or does it have symbolic possibilities?
  • Does it recall any allusions?


(Introductory few lines, set apart from the beginning of the poem – often a literary quote that inspired the poem)

  • If any, what is its relevance to the poem as a whole?
  • Of what allusions does the epigraph remind the reader?


  • Is there a speaker/persona distinguishable from the poet?
  • Who is the speaker?
  • What is the speaker like?
(Do not assume that because there is no character speaking the words of the poem that the voice is necessarily the poet’s own, and the experience necessarily part of the poet’s personal history.)


  • Is there a more or less definite location for the “action” of the poem?
  • If so, what is it like?
  • How is the place appropriate for the action?
  • How does the play develop theme?
  • What other literary significance does the play have?
  • Is there a specific time of occasion?
(Often it’s impossible to give a definite date – modern, for example: sometimes you can be somewhat detailed about context - wartime, Christmas Eve, death of a cousin, etc.)
  • How is the time or occasion important to the poem?
  • Does the poem deal with past, present or future? Or a combination?
  • What is the importance of history or the past in the poem?


  • How would you describe the diction (word choice/vocabulary) in the poem?
(traditional, formal, romantic, colloquial, slang, harsh, etc. or a mixture)

Connotation and Denotation
  • Denotation is the dictionary meaning – or meanings of a word.
  • Connotations are overtones of a word, acquired by past history and associations, and by the way and the circumstances in which the word has been used. The emotional sensitivity to the word often comes across due to contextual use.

Imagery and Figurative Language

  • What kinds of images has the poem?
(Reminder – a sense experience need not be visual)
  • What figurative language is employed?
  • What does the use of specific symbol(s) contribute to the poem?
  • Is there limited use of a symbol, or does a motif (pattern) evolve?


(References to historical, literary, biblical situations, events, character, ideas etc. that are richly connotative words or symbols: allusions are a means of reinforcing the emotion or the ideas of one’s own work with the emotion or ideas of another work or occasion: an allusion is capable of saying a great deal in a short space)

  • Does the poet use allusion sin the poem?
  • What are the important allusions, and what do they mean?
  • What do these allusions contribute to the poem?


(Attitude of the poet towards the subject, the audience, or the poet him/herself)
  • Is the tone constant? Varying?
  • Identify the tone, taking into account its possible complexity; for example: serious, solemn, humorous, mocking, satiric, reverent, profound, casual, playful, fanciful, clam, intense, excited, ironic, bitter, formal, melodramatic, sentimental or a mixture of several.
  • Is the poem didactic? (Placing more weight on teaching or preaching than on poetry as experience)


(Reason for writing the poem)
  • Enlightenment? Entertainment? Observation? Prediction? Tribute? Eulogy? Warning? Other?

Structure, Pattern, Form

  • Does the poem have any obvious or major divisions?
  • If the divisions are not immediately apparent, upon close examination does the poem fall naturally into parts?
  • Is the poem written in stanzas? If so, does the stanza pattern vary? Is it repeated?
  • If the verse is rhymed, what is the basic pattern – is it consistent throughout the poem? Does the rhyme detract from the meaning?
  • How does the metre support the meaning?
  • Does the poem have a specific shape?

Other Techniques

  • Anecdotes
  • Deliberate lack of logical transitions
  • Withheld identification of place or event
  • A type of poetic in-joke
  • Lists of words, phrases
  • Broken rhythm or rhyme
  • Beginning with a question, followed with an answer

Interpretation and Analysis
(Overall meaning and theme)

  • Work out a consistent interpretation of the poem, making as much sense of it as you can
  • If you cannot grasp each line or part to your satisfaction, at least try to come to some understanding of the poem as a whole.
  • The poem is meant to be an experience, not a statement such as you would find in discursive prose.
  • Identify the “SOMETHING” that is conveyed to you
  • Don’t forget the idea that it is “How” the poem means that is essential



  1. Form: The way a poem looks- or its arrangement on the page- Poetry is written in lines, which may or may not be sentences. Sometimes the lines are combined into groups called stanzas. Poets deliberately choose the arrangements of words and lines. Some poets even plan the spaces between words and letters to create the form.

  1. Rhyme: Words that end with the same sound.

  1. Rhyme Scheme: The pattern of rhymes in a stanza in a poem. An example of rhyme scheme abab abab

  1. Rhythm: Internal 'feel' of beat and meter perceived when poetry is read aloud. The rhythm is the pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables in a line of poetry. Stressed syllables are those word parts that are read with more emphasis; they can be indicated with a ‘ mark. Unstressed syllables are those word parts that are read with less emphasis; they can be indicated with a U mark.

  1. Meter: The recurrence of a pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables.

  1. Free Verse: Poems that do not have a regular rhythm and sound more like conversation.

  1. Repetition: Repeating sounds, words, phrases, or whole lines in a poem. Repetition helps the poet emphasize an idea or convey a certain feeling.

  1. Refrain: The stanza that keeps on repeating after some lines in a poem.

  1. Figurative Language: Poets choose words and phrases that help the reader to picture ordinary things in new ways. Simile, metaphor, and personification are examples of figurative language.

  1. Imagery: Words and phrases that appeal to the five senses. Poets use imagery to create a picture in the reader’s mind or to remind the reader of a familiar sensation.

  1. Simile: A comparison of two unlike things using "as" or "like", e.g. "Her hair is as bright as the sun."

  1. Metaphor: A comparison of two unlike things not using “as” or “like”; implied comparison.

  1. Personification: Giving an animal or an object human qualities or motives.

  1. Theme: The message about life that the poem conveys. All of the poetry devices help the poet establish the theme.

  1. Hyperbole: Exaggeration for dramatic effect e.g. "This book weighs a ton".

  1. Oxymoron: A seeming contradiction in two words put together: "parting is such sweet sorrow."

  1. Paradox: A seemingly contradictory statement, e.g. “When you increase your knowledge, you see how little you know.”

  1. Onomatopoeia: Use of words resembling the sounds they mean, e.g., biz buzz, humming, pant and puff.

  1. Alliteration: Deliberate repetition of initial consonant sounds, e.g., "Build, build your Babels!"

  1. Assonance: Deliberate repetition of identical or similar vowel sound, e.g., "the tread of the feet of the dead".

  1. Consonance: Repetition of consonant sounds, e.g., “The chalk fell into the crack in the rock.”

  1. Epigram or Aphorism: Concise or witty saying. “An apple a day keeps the doctor away.”

  1. Apostrophe: A figure of speech in which someone absent or dead or something nonhuman is addressed as if it were alive and present and was able to reply.

  1. Diction: Poet's distinctive choices in vocabulary.

  1. Tone: Dominant feeling the poet feel towards the subject.