Twenty-Five Step Guide to Analysing Poetry

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This guide is intended to be used as a template for analysing poems. Whilst several examples are given in order to illustrate the points being made, the template itself is designed to help you approach the analysis of a vast range of poetry. Few, if any, poems will offer something to write on each of the 25 points, but if you apply these steps to a careful reading (and re-reading) of the text, you will be able to build insightful interpretations from any carefully constructed and meaningful piece of poetry.

Title: if the poem has a title, give that some careful thought. The title will have been subject to the same level of creative thought as the rest of the poem. Think of it as an integral part of the poem.  To lose sight, for example, of the title of Grace Nichols’s poem, “Praise Song for My Mother” would be a real hindrance to your hopes of grasping the spirit of the poem.

2. Now focus on those words, images and phrases that caught your attention on your first (or second) reading. Use these as the beginning for your approach to steps 6 and 7.  “In Paris with You”, by James Fenton contains the made-up word ‘maroonded’, as well as several other elements which might seem to undermine the serious topic (dealing with the end of a long-term relationship by throwing oneself into the arms of someone new). Think about this strange and playful word, ‘maroonded’, and the changes in rhyme scheme and metre Fenton employs (see steps 21 and 23) as you work towards step 25 for this poem.

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