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How to Read a Poem
Transcript of How to Read a Poem
Details and important tidbits of information are easily overlooked on the first read-through.
9. Study the structure of the poem
Look for rhyme scheme, if any, and the poem's internal rhythm. These will help you make sense of the poem's internal mechanisms
7. Look up words you're unsure of or associations you struggle with
The dictionary is your friend! Don't be embarrassed if you find yourself confronted with a word you don't recognize, just look it up. Poets love to play with language and often words have interesting connotations that the dictionary can elicit.
1. Read the poem
5. Use your prose reading skills to clarify what the poem is about
Treat the poem as any other piece of text and read it to work out what is literally going on.
How to Read a Poem
2. Identify the speaker and the situation
Who is narrating the poem? What is the voice? Next, ask yourself "what is happening"
4. Read the sentences literally
It's easy to get sidetracked by metaphor and poetic language, so start from your comfort zone and read literally at first.
6. Read each line separately and note unusual words and associations.
Reading each line as a discrete unit helps you catch details that might otherwise go overlooked. Noting interesting words or metaphors also becomes easier with this method.
8. Note any changes in the form of the poem
Often, shifts in the way the poem looks or uses space signifies a change in the poem's point of view, tone or overall message.
Off to an obvious start.
10. Re-read the poem
Think particularly about what message and emotion the poem is attempting to communicate to you.
The Ingredients of Poetry
Think of an image as a picture or a sculpture, something concrete and representational within a work of art. Literal images appeal to our sense of realistic perception, like a nineteenth-century landscape painting that looks "just like a photograph." There are also figurative images that appeal to our imagination, like a twentieth-century modernist portrait that looks only vaguely like a person but that implies a certain mood.
Stanzas are a series of lines grouped together and separated by an empty line from other stanzas. They are the equivalent of a paragraph in an essay. One way to identify a stanza is to count the number of lines.
A poem may or may not have a specific number of lines, rhyme scheme and/or metrical pattern, but it can still be labeled according to its form or style. Here are the two most common types of poems according to form:
1. Lyric Poetry: It is any poem with one speaker (not necessarily the poet) who expresses strong thoughts and feelings. Most poems, especially modern ones, are lyric poems.
2. Narrative Poem: It is a poem that tells a story; its structure resembles the plot line of a story [i.e. the introduction of conflict and characters, rising action, climax and the denouement].