The sheer number of articles on The Tutor Pages on how to analyse poems shows what a hot topic this is. Many students feel intimidated and overwhelmed when faced with a new poem, but here are some tips on how to break down the mass of words into something more understandable!
Start at the very beginning. It may seem obvious, but begin with the title. What does it mean? Are there multiple interpretations? Is it a play on words?
Get to the bones. Look at the form and structure of the poem. Is is organised in stanzas? What length? Do the stanzas vary in length? Why might that be? Do the lines run on?
Yes it’s English, but what kind? Consider what vocabulary is being used, and if there are any interesting or unusual words or phrases. Think about the style of language – are there any dialect words? Why has the poet chosen to use them? Does the style ever change? Why?
Words and pictures. Does the poet employ any imagery? How do they do this? Are there any similes or metaphors? How about symbolism?
Talk to yourself. Read the poem out loud – is there a definite rhythm to it? How does the rhyming scheme work? Does this emphasise the themes within the poem?
Context is everything. Think about the background of the poet and the wider historical and cultural context of the poem. Do certain themes run through the writer’s other poems?