How to Analyze Poetry A Hippo is Bounding Around on My Head A hippo is bounding around on my head. Gorillas are banging on drums. A rhino is charging me full speed ahead while a crocodile's eyeing my thumbs. A rattlesnake's winding his way up my side. A tiger is sniffing my clothes. A grizzly just grabbed me, his mouth open wide. A tarantula's perched on my nose. I'm drowning, surrounded by man-eating sharks. An elephant sits on my chest. Yes, that's how it feels when the teacher remarks, "Grab your pencils. It's time for the test.“ --Kenn Nesbitt Presentation created by: Brianne Jacobs
Step 1: Paraphrasing Step 2: Discover the subject (What is the poem about?) Step 3: Discover the speaker (Who is the speaker?) Step 4: Main Idea or theme Follow the Steps Defined Below To Understand Poetry Back to knowledge page
Step 1 Paraphrasing What Are They Talking About? Explain the poem in your own words
Step 2 Discover the Subject What is the poem about? Find out what the poem means
Step 3 Discover the Speaker Who is the speaker? Look for the speaker’s interests, idea, and feelings
Step 4 Main Idea or Theme The main idea or message of literary work Find out what the poem is about
QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER WHEN READING A POEM • Who is the speaker of the poem? • What does the poem try to tell us (figuratively)? • What is the tone of the poem? • How does diction or language affect the poem? • Is there a rhythm scheme to follow? • Are there any patterns in particular that might consider observation? • When was the poem written? • Who is the author?
Poets construct poems on purpose • Every word and space has meaning • All aspects (parts) of a poem contribute to the meaning • Most poems have many layers to uncover
Elements to Analyze • Visual Elements • Lyric Devices • Literal Meaning • Figurative Meaning • Imagery • Historical context • Theme We look at these parts to determine the meaning of the poem—some poets do not make use of all devices. As we investigate each part of the poem, we must ask, “why did the poem make use of this device?” “How does it contribute to the poem’s meaning?”
Visual elements • Before we even read, do we notice anything visually • about the poem? • Is the shape • unique? • Do we notice any • different uses of • punctuation or of another convention?
The Negro Speaks of Rivers Langston Hughes I've known rivers: I've known rivers ancient as the world and older than the flow of human blood in human veins. My soul has grown deep like the rivers. I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young. I built my hut near the Congo and it lulled me to sleep. I looked upon the Nile and raised the pyramids above it. I heard the singing of the Mississippi when Abe Lincoln went down to New Orleans, and I've seen its muddy bosom turn all golden in the sunset. I've known rivers: Ancient, dusky rivers. My soul has grown deep like the rivers. Many people look at this poem and feel that Langston Hughes shaped it like the flow of a river
Iwillrememberwith my breathto make a mountain,with my sucked-in breatha valley, with my pushed-outbreath a mountain. I will makea valley wider than the whisper, Iwill make a higher mountain than the cry,will with my will breathe a mountain. I willwith my will breathe a valley. I will push outa mountain, suck in a valley, deeper than the shoutYOU MUST DIE harder, heavier, sharper a mountain thanthe truth YOU MUST DIE. I will remember. My breath willmake a mountain. My will will remember to will. I, suck-ing, pushing, I will breathe a valley, I will breathe a mountain. Night Practice What does this shape make you think of? MAY SWENSON
I NEVER saw a moor-- I never saw the sea-- Yet know I how the heather looks-- And what a wave must be. I never spoke with God-- 5 Nor visited in heaven-- Yet certain am I of the spot-- As if the chart were given Emily Dickinson I Never Saw a Moor e e cummings In Just-- in Just- spring when the world is mud- luscious the little lame baloonman whistles far and wee and eddyandbill come running from marbles and piracies and it's spring when the world is puddle-wonderful the queer old baloonman whistles far and wee and bettyandisbel Both of these poems make unique use of conventions—we call this poetic license
Visual elements • Do we notice that the poem has a specific number of lines or stanzas? • Does the number of lines or stanzas make us think that it might be a specific kind of poem [like haiku or a sonnet?]
Lyric devices Lyric devices are elements that a writer makes use of to give his/her poem a pleasing sound Think about the songs you like, or childhood stories, many of them had fun rhymes or repetitive sounds Poetry is meant to be read out loud, therefore; it should sound pleasing to the ear
Lyric devices Rhyme is the most obvious lyric device • end rhyme • rhyme scheme (pattern) • internal rhyme • sight rhyme Do You like green eggs and ham? I do not like them Sam-I-Am I do not like Green Eggs And ham.
Lyric devices Rhyme Scheme We designate the end sound with a letter of the alphabet. Then we use the letters to graph a pattern A B B A Internal Rhyme Internal Rhyme is rhyming within a line. I awoke to blackflak. Sight Rhyme Words that are spelled alike but that are pronounced differently—said and paid or again and rain.
Lyric devices • Another important lyric device is alliteration • This is the repetition of same sounds • The words in a poem can start or end with the same sound • Assonance • Consonance Six sleek swans swam swiftly southwards
Lyric devices The tide rises, the tide falls,The twilight darkens, the curlew calls;Along the sea-sands damp and brownThe traveler hastens toward the town,And the tide rises, the tide falls. Darkness settles on roofs and walls,But the sea, the sea in darkness calls;The little waves, with their soft, white handsEfface the footprints in the sands,And the tide rises, the tide falls. The morning breaks; the steeds in their stallsStamp and neigh, as the hostler calls;The day returns, but nevermoreReturns the traveler to the shore.And the tide rises, the tide falls. • Repetition of words or phrases creates certain patterns or cadences of sound The Tide Rises, the Tide Falls Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Literal Meaning • Poems have many layers of meaning. • The literal meaning is the first layer—what is happening in the poem? • What is the poem about? • To understand the literal meaning a reader needs to paraphrase [summarize in his/her own words] • Long poems must be paraphrased line by line or stanza by stanza in order to be understood
Figurative meaning • Figurative devices contribute to a deeper or secondary layer of meaning • Metaphor/simile • Allusion • symbolism
Symbolism When an object stands for another object or an idea Universal Symbols Particular Symbols When a symbol has basically the same meaning to people of various geographies, time periods and cultures When a symbol has a unique meaning to a specific group of people and various meanings depending on the group interpreting it.
Symbolism Other common symbols Colors are often symbolic Royalty Nature/ecology Death/sorrow Danger Purity/innocence
She may be the face I can't forget The trace of pleasure or regret May be my treasure or the price I have to pay She may be the song that summer sings May be the chill that autumn brings May be a hundred different things Within the measure of a day IMAGERY Details which use the five senses to describe a vivid mental picture "Holes in my confidence, holes in the knees of my jeans.” --Paul Simon "I was as empty of life as a scarecrow's pockets." --Raymond Chandler --Elvis Costello
IMAGERY Often the imagery helps to create the tone, or mood of a poem. We describe tone with words like: lighthearted, somber, suspenseful, introspective, etc. The Raven --Edgar Allan Poe What images can you pick out of this poem? What tone do they evoke? Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore,While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,As of someone gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door." 'Tis some visitor," I muttered, "tapping at my chamber door;Only this, and nothing more."
So, What’s the Point? You ask.
We analyze a poem to find the meaning.We look at all of the parts to determine the whole.We pick it apart to see what the poet has hidden for us.
We are trying to figure out theTHEME My trick: Theme = The me(ssage) What lesson, truth or message is the poet trying to impart to us? Usually it can be stated in one sentence. Theme is not the subject. If you can point back to the poem and show where you got the theme, you cannot be wrong. However, some interpretations can be more right based on correct interpretation of symbolism, allusion or other parts of the poem.
THE CRIME SCENE Here is a poem by Langston Hughes titled “I, Too.” I, too sing America. I am the darker brother. They send me to eat in the kitchen When company comes, But I laugh, And eat well, And grow strong Tomorrow, I’ll be at the table When company comes. Nobody’ll dare Say to me, “Eat in the kitchen,” Then. Besides, They’ll see how beautiful I am And be ashamed— I, too, am America.
Investigation You must pretend the poem is a literary corpse who has been a victim of a crime. Here, the interpretation is the murderer, and you should begin its forensic investigation in order to capture the victim’s killer. Like a real crime scene, some evidence is internal while other evidence is external. In other words, some evidence lies within the poem itself, whether explicit or implicit, while other evidence must be researched.
QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER WHEN READING A POEM • Who is the speaker of the poem? • What does the poem convey? • What is the tone of the poem? • How does diction or language affect the poem? • Is there a rhythm scheme to follow? • Are there any patterns in particular that might consider observation? • When was the poem written? • Who is the author?
THE INVESTIGATION I will now “investigate” Hughes’ poem in order to seek the murderer of the crime—my own interpretation of course. Using some of the detective tools listed above, I will surely discover important leads that will enable me to find the perpetrator of the crime. WHO- First, I researched the victim’s history. I discovered that the poem was written by Langston Hughes, a prominent African American writer—and an icon figure during the Harlem Renaissance (in the 1920’s). WHAT and WHERE- The Harlem Renaissance was an art, literary, and music movement that began in Harlem, New York by the Black community who sought to enlighten the masses with their folk lore, history, experience, oppression, celebration, and creativity. Interesting facts, huh? I also noticed in the first line the word “America,” which is a symbol of freedom, prosperity, and democracy or perhaps an allusion to Rev. Samuel F. Smith’s song entitled “America.” I have identified the speaker of the poem as a male figure because of the second stanza, where it informs he eats in the kitchen and grows strong. During slavery, slaves who worked inside the home were allowed to eat at the kitchen table only when their master’s were not present. The description of strong may be suggestive of a male figure who probably also did outside work. All of a sudden, the speaker’s tone of voice turns very optimistic beginning with the word “Tomorrow.” It is interesting to see how the form of the poem emphasizes important key words or phrases by setting them apart or isolating them from the rest of the text. As in the word, “Tomorrow,” for instance, where the speaker of the poem allows the reader to conceptualize the word in order to change the mood from a shameful past in America’s history, the slavery period, to a more positive and freer America. No longer will the slave eat alone or when the master is not present because this time, the speaker says, the slave will eat at the dining table just like everyone else, and he will have the same authority as everyone else. Here, the speaker has emphatically announced his liberation and equality status and has concluded with a statement of immersion—an all inclusive thematic conclusion instead of an exclusive one—“I, too, am America.” Without a doubt, according to my interpretation, the speaker of the poem speaks about positive change within the degrading confinements of American segregation and racism on Blacks. So tell me, Sherlock Holmes, what is your interpretation?
Annotating the poem Be sure to make notes while you read your poem. Look for literary devices: similes, enjambment, metaphors, ironic tone or situation, or paradoxes. Also make notes about the speaker (narrator), form (closed or open), and theme.