How to Understand Poetry

Understanding poetry is sometimes a difficult task, especially when you are new to the genre. Not to mention that when you are dealing with older poetry the more difficult it can be to uncover the true meaning of the writing. Nonetheless, the more we understand poetic elements, figures of speech, vocabulary, and sometimes the life or culture of the author, the better we will comprehend the poem.

Poetic elements are an extremely important part of poetry since poets use these elements to dictate the rhythm, structure, and meaning of the writing. Elements of poetry also serve as a tool for descriptions. Meter, cadence, rhyme, alliteration, assonance, consonance, repetition, and others are used quite often and are important to the emotions and interpretation of the reader. Readers should be able to identify an element and its purpose in that particular poem.

For example, similes and metaphors are used in almost all poems. Being able to use descriptive concrete words gives the author the power to control the readers imagination. To understand a poem you must understand the references and similes.

Likewise, the vocabulary a poem uses can have many effects on the interpretation. On the surface, its possible for one meaning to stand out. However, the poet may have used a double entendre in order to create a possible alternative. A dictionary is a great tool we can use for comprehending and analyzing poetry.

Nonetheless, analogies can be one of the hardest aspects of a poem to recognize. This is because they may take up an entire stanza or even the whole poem. The easiest way to identify analogies is by knowing the history of the author’s writing and a short biography of the poet. However, in some cases, we can easily guess the meaning. In others, knowing symbolism is important to identify context clues.

Symbolism is constantly used throughout poetry. It’s something which is one thing but means something else. This isn’t always the case but it is usually. Typical symbolic references include spring or green grass–renewal, hormones, or energy, honey or pollen–hormone reboot, darkness–sadness. Colors also have meanings like green-renewal, white–purity, red–seductive, black–death. However, symbols, especially colors, are largely culturally relative. Different cultures will have different meanings.

In brief, we must know the poem’s intent, the writer’s background, and the different elements that the author uses in order to get a true understanding of it. This might sound difficult, and it is, but not everything in life is easy. A short poem can be as profound as an entire novel. We just have to know how to look at it to get the big picture.

Gary R. Hess

Gary was born and raised on a small farm in rural Kansas. Today, he is teaching various nationalities English in Southeast Asia. Get his newest poetry eBook here.