a kwikguide to analysing poetry
With any poem, it is very important to get a "well-rounded feel" for what the poem is generally all about and what the poet is trying to achieve. Read the poem several times, if possible coming back to it over a period of days. At GCSE level, most poems you will study have several "layers" of meaning so you must consider both the "surface" and the "deeper" levels within the poem.
The poet's intention in writing the poem will have developed out of some motivation or inspiration (i.e. why the poet felt it important to write about this subject). You must try to develop insights into what this motivation might have been.
This motivation may well relate in some way to the context in which the poet lived and wrote - the effect of time, place and situation. Think about the way the poet might have reacted to the ideas and general beliefs that prevailed in the society in which the poet lived.
Make notes of the ideas, feelings (i.e. moods and tones of voice) and images the poem creates as it progresses and its meanings develop. Especially notice how these ideas and images are sequenced and are built up - this forms the structure of the poem. Look at each image or idea and work out how it was created (i.e. the methods or techniques the poet has used for the reader to respond to); ask yourself why such methods and structures might have been chosen.
You should also consider if particular fashions in writing (called literary traditions) are obvious within the poem. These may have influenced the form or style (see below) the poet chose for the poem in a way that is important to its overall effect or meaning (hint: this may be difficult - often such things may only be discernible to a more experienced reader of poetry).
As complex as many poems may seem to be, a poet's raw materials are simple enough: nothing more than words. And - believe it or not - words have just two main qualities that poets can put to use: form and content.
FORM and CONTENT
This is a useful way of considering the effects that are possible using words. You will read below what each term means, but you should realise that - in reality - the two are intimately combined and cannot be truly separated. However, they are a helpful way of looking at the effect words can be used to create meaning.
What is FORM?
Form is a technical word used to describe what something looks or sounds like. This could be the way a poet uses lines or stanzas (i.e. verses) to add to the meaning or impact of the poem in some way. Form does not change the meaning of a word but it can add something useful to the meaning or visual impact of the poem. Form is to do…