ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Understanding Poetry: Tips and Advice

Updated on November 23, 2016

Introduction

Robert Frost once said, "Poetry is when an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found words." It can be complicated, but when understood, it can tap into our deepest emotions. Whether it's for a school assignment or as a hobby to liberate our souls, understanding poetry is very important.

1. Read the poem multiple times

Poetry can be deep and have several meanings. The first and most important point is to read the poem many times. In order to understand it, you need a clear picture of the characters, phrases, settings, etc. Try reading the poem very slowly and reading it quickly. If you need to, print the poem out and write notes on and around the poem's text. Take special not of what confuses you. Look for the words and phrases that you like. Read it so that you feel comfortable with the entire flow and structure of the poem.

2. Read the poem loud

Reading a poem out loud allows you to feel the rhythm and cadence of the words. There is a special power to the poem as you speak the written words. You can feel their power and meaning so much more forcefully. Often this can give you some insight into what the poem means. The words can bring about certain emotions as you read them. When you read, try varying the tempo, emotion and volume with which you read the poem. Try whispering the words or shouting very loudly. Imagine you are talking to a lover or an enemy. Throughout all of these readings, notice how the words and presentation make you feel.

3. Look Up Unfamiliar Words

Most poems are fairly short. As such, each word is chosen with a lot of thought and intent. Look up the words to make sure they mean what you think they mean. This will allow you to understand exactly what the author was trying to say. It is also important to realize that many words have other, less familiar meanings. It is possible that the author was referencing other definitions or connotations. Particularly when you come across a word that strikes you, look up alternative interpretations of that word to try to identify exactly what the author was saying.

4. Analyze the Title

The title can give you useful insights into the topic of the poem. Sometimes, the title is just a word or a name and the meaning is obvious. Other times, the title is a short phrase or seems to reference something that seems unrelated. Look at how the title relates to the rest of the poem and what the author was trying to add or say by selecting this specific title. Do this several times as you try to analyze the poem. The title may have different meanings as you understand more. Pay particular attention to a title that seems abstract or unrelated. These deep titles often have ties to the text if you spend time pondering the connections.

5. Identify the Tone

Figure out the mood or attitude of the poem. Is the author happy, annoyed, depressed? Why does he or she feel this way? What emotions are they trying to get the audience to feel? The actual words are important, but so is the tone behind them. You should also look for any shifts in tone. Does the author start sad and then switch to happy? Do they start out praising someone and then end up criticizing them? This takes a careful eye, but being able to identify shifts in tone is crucial. Try focusing on the words around the shift in tone to identify the heart of the poem and the source of the emotion.

6. Identify Themes

Often, poets use themes in their poetry. Look for repeated words or types of words. Sometimes they use symbolism. Perhaps they are talking about one topic but describe it in Biblical terms. Why did they describe something with the particular words that they did? Look for sentence structure or difference in word choice. There can be meaning almost anywhere.

7. Look at the History and Context

If you can, find out when and where the poem was written. What was going on at the time? How would this have influenced the author? What about the poet in particular? What is his or her history? What relation does the subject material in the poem have to him or her? How do their life experiences influence the poem? By understanding the external factors that influenced the poem, you can develop a greater understanding and appreciation for the poem itself.

Conclusion

Analyzing poetry can be extraordinarily rewarding. It takes hard work and requires a different sort of analysis. It was written with more than just the mind. It was written with the heart and soul. Consequently, it needs to be understood with just the mind. Good luck!

Please add you advice and insight in the comments below.

How do you feel about poetry?

See results

Comments

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • William15 profile imageAUTHOR

      William 

      4 years ago from America

      Absolutely, Jodah. I think that exposure to art and culture is one of the most important things for tolerance and progress.

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 

      4 years ago from Queensland Australia

      Thanks for writing this hub William. It is great that you wrote it from the perspective of a non- poet yourself. I hope those who find it hard to appreciate poetry read this, so they can have more understanding of where us poets are coming from, and learn how to enjoy its wonders.

    • William15 profile imageAUTHOR

      William 

      4 years ago from America

      Thanks, guys. MsLizzy, I respect anyone who attempts to write poetry. It's one thing to analyze and critique, but it's quite another to create. Good for you.

    • Howie Watts profile image

      Howie Watts 

      4 years ago

      Great points and advice William.

    • DzyMsLizzy profile image

      Liz Elias 

      4 years ago from Oakley, CA

      I don't do rhyme or meter (at least, not on purpose). I write in free, or blank verse, and it does come straight from the heart and soul; sometimes nearly pre-written, so that I must scramble to set it to paper before I lose a word.

      When it comes to evaluating; understanding; interpreting the poetry of others, particularly some of the "old masters," I do struggle. The language of poetry is not always literal; with some, it seldom is. When an author is speaking in metaphors, understanding can be difficult.

      This was a well-presented piece, and has valuable clues and information. Voted up, interesting and useful.

    • AudreyHowitt profile image

      Audrey Howitt 

      4 years ago from California

      Very useful ---I am glad that poetry is growing on you

    • William15 profile imageAUTHOR

      William 

      4 years ago from America

      Thanks, I appreciate it. I used to really actively avoid poetry, but it's grown on me.

    • Ryem profile image

      Ryem 

      4 years ago from Maryland

      While I write poetry, it is sometimes a little confusing to understand poems written by others. These are some really good tips.

    working

    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, hubpages.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://hubpages.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

    Show Details
    Necessary
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Features
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Marketing
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Statistics
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)