Poetry Analysis

Poetry Analysis Powerpoint
Poetry Analysis powerpoint.pptx

Seamus Heaney "Digging"

Things to consider:
Select the poem carefully
Many students jump to selecting short poetry as their preference for analysis. Sometimes the shorter poems are the most difficult and ambiguous poems. Often, longer poems are more like narratives (stories).

Research the poet
There will inevitably be research already performed on the poet you’ve selected. Reading about the poet’s life, history, style as you begin your analysis. Often the poet’s personal life is a direct impact on his or her work.

Research the poem
If you are analyzing a poem, it is probably quite well-known and already has much written about it. Research and read about the poem. Other literary criticism can aid you in your analysis. Be careful, however, not to copy, plagiarize, or ignore the original poem. You must come up with a new thought, a new analysis, for the poem. Simply copying someone else’s ideas will not be sufficient.

What is the dramatic situation?
Who is the speaker (or who are the speakers)? Is the speaker a male or female? Where is he or she? When does this poem take place? What are the circumstances? Sometimes you'll be able to answer all of these questions, sometimes you'll be able to answer only a few, and sometimes only vaguely.

What is the structure of the poem?
That is, what are the parts of the poem and how are they related to each other? What gives the poem its coherence? What are the structural divisions of the poem? In analyzing the structure, your best aid is the punctuation. Look first for the complete sentences indicated by periods, semicolons, question marks, or exclamation points. Then ask how the poem gets from the first sentence to the second and from the second to the third. Are there repetitions such as parallel syntax or the use of one simile in each sentence? Answer these questions in accordance with the sense of the poem, not by where a line ends or a rhyme falls. Don't assume that all sonnets will break into an 8-6 or a 4-4-4-2 pattern, but be able to recognize these patterns if they are used.
Think about the logic of the poem. Does it ask questions, then answer them? Or develop an argument? Or use a series of analogies to prove a point? Understanding the structure isn't just a matter of mechanics. It'll help you to understand the meaning of the poem as a whole and to perceive some of the art, the formal skills that the poet has used.

What is the theme of the poem?
You should now be able to see the point of the poem. Sometimes a poem simply says "I love you"; sometimes the theme or the meaning is much more complex. If possible, define what the poem says and why.

Is the grammar and meaning clear?
Make sure you understand the meaning of all the words in the poem, especially words you thought you knew but which don't seem to fit in the context of the poem. Also make sure you understand the grammar of the poem. The word order of poetry is often skewed, and in a poem a direct object may come before the subject and the verb. ("His sounding lyre the poet struck" can mean a poet was hit by a musical instrument, but as a line of poetry, it probably means the poet played his harp.)

What are the important images and figures of speech?
What are the important literal sensory objects, the images, such as a field of poppies or a stench of corruption? What are the similes and metaphors of the poem? In each, exactly what is compared to what? Is there a pattern in the images, such as a series of comparisons all using men compared to wild animals? The most difficult challenge of reading poetry is discriminating between the figurative ("I love a rose" - that is, my love is like a rose, beautiful, sweet, fragile) and the literal ("I love a rose" - that is, roses are my favorite flower).

What are the most important single words used in the poem?
This is another way of asking about diction. Some of the most significant words in a poem aren't figurative or images but still determine the effect of the poem. A good reader recognizes which words — usually nouns and verbs, adjectives and adverbs — are the keys to the poem.

What is the tone of the poem?
Tone is sometimes used to mean the mood or atmosphere of a work, or it can mean a manner of speaking, a tone of voice, as in "The disappointed coach's tone was sardonic." But its most common use as a term of literary analysis is to denote the inferred attitude of an author.
When the author's attitude is different from that of the speaker, as is usually the case in ironic works, the tone of voice of the speaker, which may be calm, businesslike, even gracious, may be very different from the satiric tone of the work, which reflects the author's disapproval of the speaker.

What literary devices does the poem employ?
The list of rhetorical devices that a writer may use is enormous. The terms you should worry about are, above all, metaphor, simile, and personification.

What is the prosody, or rhythm and intonation, of the poem?
Read the poem out loud and note the rhyme, meter, and sound effects. How do they contribute to the overall tone of the work? Look at the white space, which indicates silence between the words. Is there a pattern? How does the white space affect the reading of the poem?