Poetry is a form of expression. The poet uses his/her own personal and private language, which leaves poetry open to different interpretations. Although the poet may have had one specific idea or purpose in mind, the reader’s response may be completely different. All readers bring with them their various backgrounds and experiences. What might be interpreted one way by one person, may be be interpreted entirely differently by another. Nevertheless, this does not mean that you may interpret poetry any way you wish. All interpretations must be supported by direct reference to the text. As with any type of literary analysis, you need a basic knowledge of the elements of poetry. The following guide and questions will help you.
- Read the poem in its entirety three times.
- Read it aloud once, so you can hear and feel the sounds of the words. Don't stop to try and understand it, just read.
- Read it a second time to get a general impression.
- What's happening in the poem?
- What is the title of the poem?
- Who is the speaker or narrative voice of the poem?
- To whom is the speaker speaking?
- What is the tone of the poem? Sad, happy, melancholy, bitter?
- Read the poem a third time to dig deeper into its potential meanings.
- What is the poem about?
- What is the poem trying to convey (a mood, a feeling, an event, an idea, etc.)?
- What is the purpose of the poem: to describe, amuse, entertain, criticize, narrate, inform, express grief, celebrate, or commemorate?
- How does the poem convey what you think it's trying to convey?
- How does the poem function? What makes it work? Not work?