How to Write a Poetry Analysis, Tips for Explicating a Poem

Writing a poetry explication–a longer version of a poetry analysis–may sound like a difficult job, but it doesn’t have to be. As long as you explain the poem in detail following these simple steps, you shouldn’t have any great difficulty.

What is a poetry analysis?

A poetry analysis is an important part of understanding all writings. Luckily, there are many ways to go about this. Essentially though, they all accomplish one thing: explaining both the figurative and literal meaning of a poem and explaining the metaphors and symbolism used in the writing.

Let’s go ahead and look through a basic outline on how to explicate poetry.

Steps to Prepare for the Explication

  1. Read a short biography of the author. This is so you can have a feel for what a poem may be referring to when you attempt to interpret it. Of course, this isn’t always a must. It depends on you or your teacher.
  2. Read the title of the poem and the poem itself. What was your initial impression of the poem? Did you like it? Could you relate to it?
  3. Check the poem for rhymes. What lines rhyme? Take notes. If there are no rhymes, then write that too.
  4. What rhythm does the poem use? Does the poem use meter (pentameter, tetrameter, etc.)? What feet does it use (iamb, trochee, etc.)? What cadence symbols are there–is there any use of punctuation to slow the poem down? How many syllables are there per line? Take notes.
  5. Count the lines and stanzas. This will help you wish step number six.
  6. What type of poem is it? Look through the most common types of poems: sonnet, ode, epic, lyric, ballad, haiku, blank verse, and free verse. Which one is it?
  7. Go line-to-line looking at symbolism, alliterations, assonance, similes, and changes of rhythm. Why did the author use it? Does it mean something other than the literal meaning?
  8. What is the overall meaning of the poem? You may wish to use the author’s biography when determining this. However, feel free to add your own interpretation. Most poets want the audience to connect with their poems. How do you relate to it?

Next, you want to write your explication of the poem.

Poetry Analysis Outline

  1. You may wish to start your explication with a look at the title. Talk about why the author used the title and any definition that may change the meaning.
  2. Tell which poetic form the author used, the meter and the feet the author used.
  3. Go line by line looking at any poetic elements that occur or state why the poet used a specific word. Is there a double entendre? Talk about why the author may have used that particular language. If there is a change in rhythm, talk about it. Why did the author change the rhythm?You may wish to structure your writing based on the stanzas. For example, for every new stanza create a new paragraph in your writing about that stanza.
  4. At new stanzas, talk about why there is a new stanza. Is it changing the subject? Is it changing the pace? How about separating the plot?
  5. Once you are finished going through every line and stanza, you should talk about the overall meaning of the poem. What was the purpose of the writing? What meaning did the author have when he wrote the poem? Are there other ways may this poem be interpreted?
  6. Write your conclusion. This may include such things as restating the introduction or giving your own opinion about the writing.

There you have it. I hope this guideline will help you write your own poetry explication. However, if you are writing for a class, be sure to ask the teacher what they expect from your detailed analysis. Sometimes you will have to do more and sometimes even much less.

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.

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