Top Three Elements to Analyze Poetry

 

In order to analyze a poem, we must read and understand the poem. We have to consider its literal meaning and implied meaning; we have to examine its language and its structure too. As poetic language is such, it is open for many interpretations, so different people might interpret a poem in different ways. In this post we are to focus on three elements which certainly are essential to interpret a poem you encounter.

We have discussed many ways of approaching to analyze a poem seen or unseen. You may read them here:

Analyzing poetry using TWISTUP method.

How to write a better answer in the exam

The most important three elements we are going to discuss in this post voice and tone and diction.

 

Voice and Tone

When we read or hear a poem, we hear a speaker’s voice. It is this voice that conveys the tone of the poem, poet’s implied attitude towards its subject.

 

Voice

Look at the following extract of the poem Phenomenal Woman by Maya Angelou:

“…I say,

It’s in the reach of my arms

The span of my hips,

The stride of my step,

The curl of my lips.

I’m a woman

Phenomenally…”

 

What can you think of the woman voicing the poem? Can you see her personality? Can you guess her age, ethnicity or level of maturity? 

The voice is defined in its simplest form as – ‘the essence which makes the poem alive.’ Voice reminds us that a human being is behind the words of a poem revealing his or her individuality by means of the poem. This revelation may be the most significant part of what we receive from the poem. So, it is necessary to spot the person and his or her characterization to better understand the poem.

 

Tone

The tone of a poem is the poet’s attitude towards his or her subject matter. It might be serious, sad, humorous or angry. You can identify the tone by paying attention to the images in a poem and to the poet’s word choice/diction.

Let’s take a look at the extract of the poem War is Kind by Stephen Crane

“Do not weep maiden, for war is kind.

Because your lover threw wild hands towards the sky

And the affrighted steed ran all alone,

Do not weep

War is kind.”

 

What do you feel about the speaker’s attitude towards the subject matter? What kind of emotions it carry?

Tone, the quality of somebody’s voice especially expressing a particular emotion such as love, anger, sympathy or pity. It carries the poet’s attitude which targets creating particular mood in the mind of the reader.

If the speaker speaks in our presents, it is quite easy to understand his tone and attitude but with poems we have to extract it from the details of language used in the poem. The range of tones we find in poems is as various and complex as the range of voices and attitudes we come across every day. One of the more important and persistent is the ironic tone and voice. Just like in the extract above.

 

Diction

In all forms of literature authors choose particular words to convey effect and meaning to the reader.  Writers employ diction, or word choice to communicate ideas and impressions, to evoke emotions, and to convey their views to the reader. 

In reading any poem, it is necessary to know what the words mean (dictionary meaning), but it is equally important to understand what the words imply or suggest. (connotations) The dictionary meaning of ‘dictator’ is: a person exercising absolute power, especially one who assumes absolute control without the free consent of the people. but dictator also carries additional connotations or both personal and public associations. It may call up images of bloodbaths, purges, executions or it may trigger associations with certain dictators in the world.

The diction may be high or formal diction, neutral diction or Informal or low diction (colloquial or slang); high or formal choice of words create an elevated tone. In neutral diction standard language and vocabulary without elaborate words are used and may include contractions. Low diction refers to the language of everyday use.  It is relaxed and conversational.  It often includes common and simple words, idioms, slang, jargon, and contractions.

You should see that the diction reflects the attitude of the poet about the subject matter, that means by understanding the diction, you can spot the tone of the poem easily.

What can you tell about the diction of the extract from the poem Burnt Norton by T.S. Eliot

“Words strain,

Crack and sometimes break, under the burden,

Under the tension, slip, slide, perish,

Decay with imprecision, will not stay in place,

Will not stay still.”

 

What can you tell about the diction? is it formal, neutral or informal? What emotions carried by the standing out harsh words like ‘burden’, ‘strain’

Because poets often hint indirectly at more than their words directly state, it is necessary to develop the habit of considering the connotations of words as well as their denotations. Poets choose a word particular because it suggests what they want to suggest. Misinterpreting denotation and connotation in a literary work translates into misinterpreting tone and theme.

Therefore, it is advisable to read the poem more closely, pick out the words that stand out and refer the dictionary meaning and make guessing related to the main obvious theme. 

 

Most students find it hard to decipher the meaning of the poems in their exams. If you got these points correct, I hope you will not be lost at there again. Practice is what makes your analytical skills sharpen. So, keep on practicing.

Hope this post should be important to you. If so, share the post among your friends. You can subscribe to the blog to receive notifications on new posts right into your mailbox. Please leave a comment if there are things to be improved or added or omitted. 

 

 

 

 

 

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5 Comments

  1. Great Work Sir appreciate your effort to make this website as well as for these type of anylisis of poems.. This helpful for me so much to do my literature work.... So only thing to say is THANK YOU SIR .. APPRECIATE YOUR EFFORT šŸ™‚

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    1. Thanks. It's very kind of you to leave a comment of appreciation. I am happy you have found the website helpful.

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  2. thankyou sir this is very useful. could you please provide more notes on poems such as ode to a nightingale etc

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