Poetry Analysis: Notes and Questions Understanding and appreciating poetry is difficult for many students. Part of the problem is that you expect to understand it the first time you read it. You may pick up the general idea and a few of the literary elements, but a deeper analysis requires more readings. Below is a list of questions that you can use to help analyze a poem. Surface Level You can develop an understanding of the surface level of a poem by asking several basic questions. Who is the speaker (or speakers)? Who are the characters in the poem? What is the subject or situation in the poem? What are the events in the poem? Where do the events in the poem take place? When do the events in the poem take place? Deeper Level You can develop a deeper understanding of a poem by asking several questions about how the poem is written. This requires that you look at both the structure and the content of the poem. Is there a rhyme scheme? If so, what is it? How is the poem divided? Does it have multiple stanzas or just one? Are there any unfamiliar words? If so, find out what they mean. What kind of vocabulary does the author use: conversational, formal, informal? Are the sentences and lines in normal word order or are some things inverted? Are there repetitions or patterns in the poem? Are certain words or phrases repeated? Does the poem ask a question and then answer it? Are there examples of figurative language? (similes, metaphors, assonance, hyperbole, personification, alliteration, onomatopoeia, etc.) Is there a pattern in the imagery that is used? Application Level Now is the time to apply what you learned in the surface level and deeper level. Take the information that you learned in those two levels and apply it to the following questions. What is the central idea the poet is trying to convey? What is the attitude or tone? What is the theme of the poem? Is it simple or complex? Is there a universal theme? What lines contribute to the development of the theme? How does the central idea, tone, or theme apply to your world? Evaluation Level You have now read the poem several times and have developed an understanding of the poem. Now ask yourself whether or not you thought the poem was good. You will need to be able to provide reasons and support for your opinion. Some questions to ask might be: Was the poem successful in establishing a significant theme? Did the poet use language effectively? Did the poem speak to you personally?
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