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How to Explicate a Poem: Analyzing Poetry Tips

By Gary R. Hess. Category: Poetry

Explicating a poem means to explain, interpret or analyze a poem. It discusses the form, type of rhyme scheme (abab, abbacc) and what theme/tone (serious, humorous, meaning) is used. The explication also analyzes important techniques used (alliteration, metaphor, simile) which contribute to the overall poem.

An explication is not a statement of how the poem makes you feel, unless it is supported with analysis of specific lines and is not a personal reaction based on your background or mood.

Explications of poems are sometimes longer than the actual poem. When discussing sonnets or similar length poems, one page is usually enough. However with long, narrative poems, they are naturally longer and the sdetails used are more selective.

Poetry can be a tiresome set of words when analyzing. The elements of analyzing poetry listed below will help you identify the meaning through its parts and give a sense of interpreting a poem. Since each poem is unique, there is no one way of going about this. Nonetheless, the general advice goes like this:

Interpreting poetry tips

  1. Read the title

  2. Read the poem. Look for the setting, topic and voice.

  3. Divide the poem into parts: intro, rising action, climax, declining action, conclusion.

  4. What tone does the poem have? Pay close attention to intonation, nuance and words used.

Now that the general structure and relationship of the poem is revealed, it's time to look at the elements of analysis: genre, voice, thesis, structure, setting, imagery, key statements, sound, language use, allusion, qualities that evoke the reader, historical/cultural, ideology.

Genre
What type of poem is it? Is it a cinquain, haiku, lyric, narrative, elegy, sonnet, epic, epistle? Different genres have separate attributes, purposes and emphases.
Voice
Who is the speaker? What point of view is the speaker? Is the speaker involved in the action or reflection of the poem? What perspective (social, intellectual, political) does the speaker show? The voice and perspective of the speaker tells of what world the poem is in.
Thesis
What is the poem about? What are the obvious and less obvious conflicts? What are the key statements and relationships of the poem? The thesis gives an indication of what tone the poem is written in: historical, social, emotional.
Structure
What is the poems 'formal structure' (number of meters, stanzas, rhyme scheme)? What is the 'thematic structure' (the plot)? Does it use a meter scheme?
Setting
What type of 'world' is the poem set in? The time, place -- is it concrete, tonal, connotative, symbolic, allegorical?
Imagery
What images does the poem use; the physical setting or metaphors used?
Key statements
What direct or indirect statements are made – repetition, actions, alliteration?
Sound
How does the sound, both rhythm and rhyme (if applicable), contribute to the poem.
Language use
What kind of words are used? Do the words have double meanings? What about connotations, puns or ambiguities?
Allusion
Does the poem have a meaning from another work?
Qualities that evoke the reader
What sort of learning or experience does the poem give its reader?
Ideology
What are the values and basic ideals of the world that are expressed?

Examples of poem analysis

The Segregated I – Analysis of I, Too by Langston Hughes

Poem Analysis of Invictus by William Ernest Henley