Steps before explicating:
First reading: Read the poem intuitively and
emotionally, allowing it to "happen" to you as much as
Before re-reading the poem, notice but do not
analyze, the form and length of the poem. Consider the
title and determine whether it could function as an allusion,
symbol, or poetic image.
Notice the date of
composition/publication, or the general era of the poet. Identify the
In rereading the poem:
Read the poem once through, noting the places
where the rhymes and rhythms are easy or hard. Jot down
any reaction you have to the poem. Decide what the meaning of the
poem is TO YOU.
Continue re-reading the poem until you can read
it smoothly. Not until you have formed some sense of an overall
experience for the poem are you ready to analyze it.
Study the poem line-by-line and establish a
dramatic situation as follows:
- What, if any, is the narrative action
(e.g., a man stops by the woods)?
- How many personae appear in the poem? Do
they all take part in the action? To what extent?
- What is the relationship between the
characters? Do they interact?
- What is the setting for the poem? Time of
day or year? Does the time period change during the
- Is the action happening in the present? Or
is the narrator remembering a past incident?
- What does the setting look like? Do the personae act
in any particular manner because of the setting?
Establish the point of view as
- Who is speaking? Is he thinking, talking to
himself, or addressing someone else? Is the poet speaking directly
to the reader, or through a narrator?
- Is the narrator able to understand or see
everything happening to him, or does the reader know things the
narrator does not?
- What is the correlation between point of
view and dramatic situation? Does point of view change when the
dramatic situation changes?
- Do point of view and dramatic situation
seem complete and consistent? If not, mark these places, because
they may provide good clues about the meaning.
Locate the images and metaphors as
- What are the concrete images--those that
are formed from objects which can be touched, smelled, seen, felt,
or tasted. What do these images look like? Is the image projected
by the poet consistent with the physical object?
- If the image is abstract, or so different
from natural images that it can't be associated with a real
object, then what are the properties of the image?
- What part do dramatic situation and point
of view play in presentation of the images?
- Is any image repeated in the poem? How has
it been changed? Is there a controlling image (e.g.,
- Are any images compared to each other? Do
the compared images form a metaphor, or do they simply reinforce
- Is there any difference between the way the
reader perceives the image and the way the narrator sees
- What seems to be the poet's attitude toward
the image? Does he laugh at it or take it seriously?
Determine the sound patterns of the
- Does the poem's sound conform to any
traditional sound patterns, such as those of nursery rhymes or
- Is the rhyme pleasing, harsh, emotional?
Can you articulate what mood the sounds are put in (fear,
jocundity)? Is the sound casual or formal?
- What devices has the poet used for creating
sound (e.g., types of words, rhyme, or rhythm)?
Control of words:
Look up any unfamiliar words or words of which
you are unsure of the meaning.
Determine any allusions, symbols, allegory, or paradox.
Rhyme and Structure:
Determine how form of stanza, rhyme, and
overall structure are working.
- Is the stanza a traditional form? Is the
poet adhering to or deviating from the structure?
- How does the rhyme scheme work to hold the
stanza, poem together?
- What type of rhyme appears? Rhyme
- Is the poem composed of stanzas? How are
they tied together?
Characterize the persona; determine if
his statements can be taken at face value or whether there is a
discrepancy between the speaker, poet, or reader?
Look for paradox, hyperbole, irony, and try to
determine the poet's tone (attitude) toward his persona, reader, and
Place the poem in historical
Correlate the controlling devices, seeing the
poem as a composite of emotion, intellect, craftsmanship, and
- What ideas is the poet trying to convey? Is
it a new idea?
- Does the poet seem sure of his positions?
Is he probing or preaching? Is he optimistic or
- Is the poet trying to achieve social,
moral, or religious criticism or change? If so, how does the poem
relate to the present age and the age in which it was
- Does the poem appeal primarily to the
emotions, intellect, or both?
- Is the poem relying especially on any
particular device for affect (e.g., sound, imagery,
List all the themes (central ideas) and motifs
(smaller, recurring, ideas incidents, controlling images, or symbols)
relate them back to the poem and draw parallels between
Read other poems by the same author,
particularly those in the same volume. Read as much criticism as you
can. Be sure to acknowledge any ideas other than your own that you