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How to Analyze a Poem

If poetry is not your thing, then you will dread the assignments that ask you to analyze poetry. However, even though you "hate" poetry, your ultimate analysis may find you citing lines from Emily Dickinson or Edgar Allen Poe.

Whether you like it or not, the beauty of poetry is that there are so many types of the art form. With such a selection, you are bound to find some that you like, some with which you associate, and even others that you may remember. And if not, there are aspects to poetry analysis that you will inevitably find doable. Here are some pros and cons with poetry analysis:

PROS: CONS:
- Short length - Can be confusing
-Subjective meanings - Someone has usually analyzed it before
- Can be fun - Can be dreadful

With these words said, here are some tips by which to analyze a poem:

  1. Select the poem carefully
  2. In a poem analysis, you will generally be given a selection of two or three poems. You must pick one to analyze. Because of this great option, you will be able to select a poem that speaks to you (or at least one that you can attempt to analyze). Be careful. 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).

  3. Research the poet
  4. 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.

  5. Research the poem
  6. 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.

  7. Create an outline
  8. Organization, as always, is the key to all essay writing and analysis. Your outline should consist of an Introduction, a Thesis Statement, three pieces of analysis (evidence), and a conclusion bringing it all together. Put these basic sentences into an outline structure, which will make the writing of the paper (or presentation) much easier.

  9. Write the paper
  10. Once you have researched your poet, poem, and organized your thoughts, you are ready to write the paper. Follow your outline and you will have no trouble completing this assignment.

    If your analysis of poetry is meant to be an oral presentation, follow the same steps. You will still need an outline, as presentations are no different than written papers in content. The only difference is presentation. Your outline will serve as your notes. It will be your guide as you speak to your teacher and class.