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How to Read Poetry

    • 1). Scan the poem quickly, noting the title and basic structure and length of the poem. If the poem is several chapters long or the length of a book, it may be a narrative poem, which tells a story. A very short poem likely does not contain many events. Check if the poem appears to contain a consistent pattern in terms of line lengths, which could indicate rhyme or meter. Sometimes poems are shaped like images, such as a tree. These are concrete poems and their shape hints at the subject of the poem.

    • 2). Read the poem once. Note the narrator, the person speaking the poem. The narrator may be quite visible and use the first person, or never refer to herself at all. Deduce the narrator's perspective, both physically and emotionally. She might be considering an object, scene or idea from a particular vantage point.

    • 3). Compare the ending of the poem to the beginning. Decide what direction the poem takes, and observe if anything happens or if the narrator learns anything.

    • 4). Consider the tone or mood of the poem. A poet creates mood through his choice of words. For example, use of words such as dark, gloomy and overcast set a sombre tone for the poem.

    • 5). Note the use of literary devices. Literary devices include figurative language, such as metaphors or similes, ideas that are not meant to understood literally. Also note poetic devices, such as alliteration or onomatopoeia, plays on language and letters. Other literary devices include imagery and irony.

    • 6). Read the poem two or three more times in your head, and then once out loud. Try to read aloud as if you were the narrator, feeling what he feels and seeing what he sees. If you haven't been able to pick up the tone or mood of the poem yet, you should be able to get a better sense of it as you read out loud. Jot down more observations about the features of the poem you notice as you read.

    • 7). Consider your personal reaction to the poem. Decide what emotions or ideas the poem invokes in you. Bear in mind the social, cultural, religious, political or ethnic aspect you bring to the poem that might influence your interpretation or opinion of it.

    • 8). Connect all of the descriptions, observations, notes and reactions you have had about the poem in any way possible. Perhaps the mood matches the character's perspective. Maybe the imagery in the poem gave the poem a particular effect. An ironic ending might signify a critical view of something. Try to piece together your observations into a central meaning through which the poem becomes understandable. This central meaning or focal point could be as simple as a striking portrayal of a scene in nature or as complex as a critique of racism.

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