Poetry analysis is an aspect of literature that students often either love or hate. Writing a poetry analysis essay is no mean feat and requires background research and a sound understanding of the various techniques used by poets.
It is also desirable to offer your own interpretation as to the underlying meaning and intention of the poem. Structuring and planning your essay correctly is an essential part of the process and, along with a detailed reading of the poem, should be one of your first steps.
So how do you write a poetry analysis essay?
Your essay should be in three main parts; an opening paragraph, the main body of text and a conclusion. The opening paragraph should introduce both the poem and poet along with any relevant background on both. The key word here is relevant!
The main body will include all the detailed analysis, including an explanation of the techniques used (imagery, meter, structure etc.) and your thoughts on the meaning and message of the poem. The purpose of the conclusion is to clarify what you feel the poem is about and how the author has achieved in putting that across to the reader.
Let’s look at these sections in more detail.
The introduction of your analysis essay should include the basic information about the poem, such as the title, author and when it was written. You should also include relevant background information. For instance, if you are analyzing a poem by one of the famous war poets such as Rupert Brooke, it would be a good idea to include information such as which war they served in and what capacity.
The main body of the text is where you detail your actual analysis. It is vital that you back up any points you make with quotations from the poem. You need to be very clear about the points you are making. Make sure you do not repeat yourself and avoid ‘fluff’ or ‘filler’ (stringing out a point for longer than necessary to bulk out your essay).
The conclusion is the portion of the essay where you focus on one main idea. What is the meaning of the poem, and what is the poet trying to say? Concisely bring together the main elements of your analysis to back up your point.
What features should you include in the main body?
You need to include a paragraph on each of the following in your essay;
Although simple, the title of a poem is often worth some analysis in itself. What does the title make you believe the poem will be about? Is it misleading, or does it give you a true sense of what is to come? The title will also often indicate the style of language adopted by the poet and the form that the poem will take. A poet will often think long and hard about the title they give their poem and what effect they wish it to have on the reader, so considering this is an essential first step in your analysis.
Form and Structure of the Poem
Looking at the structure and form of the poem is another vital step of your analysis. There are several questions you need to ask yourself (and answer) with regards to structure. Does it follow a strict pattern, and what effect does this have on the poem? Does the structure help break up the ideas in the poem, and if so, how? For example, if the poem is detailing a ‘day in the life’ of someone, how does the poet break this up, and why? Equally, if the poem does not have a strict structure, why do you think that might be? Is there a logical reason?
When considering the poem’s overall meaning, you must be crystal clear on the meaning of the individual words used in addition to the meaning of the poem as a whole. Poems written in different eras will often include words that may have a different meaning in today’s language. To avoid misinterpreting the poet’s intentions, you must research any words that may be open to interpretation or have a different meaning today and in the past. The same applies to poems written in specific dialects, which may include colloquial words and phrases unique to certain parts of the world.
The poem’s tone can tell you several things that will help you grasp the overall meaning and intention of the poem as a whole. For example, who is the speaker? Can you glean what age and gender they might be from the language used? Can you determine where in the world they might be from and what their personality might be like?
The poem’s tone might also give you clues as to who the intended recipient of the poem is. Is it a declaration of passion or a eulogy to a lost loved one? Is there an intended recipient at all? Many poems are not aimed at anyone in particular but rather are an expression of the poet’s thoughts and feelings.
Another question to ask regarding the tone of the poem is what the author’s intentions were. Is the poet raging against a war fought a hundred years ago or a secret passion known only to the poet? Does the poem’s intention stand the test of time, or is the message behind the words timeless (the pointlessness of war, for example)?
Language and Imagery
In addition to analyzing the literal information in the poem, you must investigate the ‘connotative meaning’; in other words, the meaning that is not immediately apparent. Analyzing the language, symbolism, imagery, and other poetic devices will give you a more in-depth understanding of what the poet is trying to convey. Make sure you understand the effect of each of these devices.
Imagery essentially paints a picture with words and is a poetic device used to describe things eloquently. How the poet uses imagery could indicate the poem’s mood or the time and place in which it is set.
Symbolism is another essential device to consider in your analysis. Symbolism often takes the form of using a physical concept to describe a thought or feeling. An example of this might be a rough sea representing a tortured mind or a bird being set free symbolizing freedom.
The meter and rhythm of a poem is another aspect to consider. Does the poem contain a device such as iambic pentameter, or does the rhythm of the words and phrases feel more natural and replicate the rhythm of everyday speech? Is there a reason why the poet might have written the poem in a particular meter or rhythm?
Rhyming can often impact the rhythm of a poem and give the poem a certain feel. Rhyming may be used to provide the poem with a humorous feel, or it may be used to add emphasis to certain words. What effect does the rhyming have on the overall feel of the poem?
Symbolism, meter and imagery are important devices to consider, but there are other features that you also need to be mindful of in your analysis. These include alliteration, personification, and the use of similes and metaphors. You must always remember include quotations from the poem to back up your point when analyzing aspects of the language used.
Lastly, in your conclusion, you need to outline the main ideas you have investigated in the main body of your essay and detail how you feel about the poem and what you deduce the meaning and purpose of the poem to be. By the time you have completed your analysis, you should be in an excellent position to do this, as you will almost certainly have formed a very definite opinion about the poem.
If you have planned your essay well, used quotations to back up your points and formed a clear opinion about the poem, then you are sure to write an essay of which you can be proud.