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Formal Analysis of a Poem

What is its relation to the poem?
Is it a straightforward, simple title or does it have symbolic
Does it recall any allusions?
(Introductory few lines, set apart from the beginning of the poem often a
literary quote that inspired the poem)
If any, what is its relevance to the poem as a whole?
Of what allusions does the epigraph remind the reader?
Is there a speaker/persona distinguishable from the poet?
Who is the speaker?
What is the speaker like?
(Do not assume that because there is no character speaking the words of the
poem that the voice is necessarily the poets own, and the experience
necessarily part of the poets personal history.)
Is there a more or less definite location for the action of the poem?
If so, what is it like?
How is the place appropriate for the action?
How does the play develop theme?
What other literary significance does the play have?
Is there a specific time of occasion?
(Often its impossible to give a definite date modern, for example:
sometimes you can be somewhat detailed about context - wartime,
Christmas Eve, death of a cousin, etc.)
How is the time or occasion important to the poem?
Does the poem deal with past, present or future? Or a combination?

What is the importance of history or the past in the poem?

How would you describe the diction (word choice/vocabulary) in the
(traditional, formal, romantic, colloquial, slang, harsh, etc. or a mixture)
Connotation and Denotation
Denotation is the dictionary meaning or meanings of a word.
Connotations are overtones of a word, acquired by past history and
associations, and by the way and the circumstances in which the word
has been used. The emotional sensitivity to the word often comes
across due to contextual use.
Imagery and Figurative Language
What kinds of images has the poem?
(Reminder a sense experience need not be visual)
What figurative language is employed?
What does the use of specific symbol(s) contribute to the poem?
Is there limited use of a symbol, or does a motif (pattern) evolve?
(References to historical, literary, biblical situations, events, character, ideas
etc. that are richly connotative words or symbols: allusions are a means of
reinforcing the emotion or the ideas of ones own work with the emotion or
ideas of another work or occasion: an allusion is capable of saying a great
deal in a short space)
Does the poet use allusion sin the poem?
What are the important allusions, and what do they mean?
What do these allusions contribute to the poem?

(Attitude of the poet towards the subject, the audience, or the poet
Is the tone constant? Varying?
Identify the tone, taking into account its possible complexity; for
example: serious, solemn, humorous, mocking, satiric, reverent,
profound, casual, playful, fanciful, clam, intense, excited, ironic,
bitter, formal, melodramatic, sentimental or a mixture of several.
Is the poem didactic? (Placing more weight on teaching or preaching
than on poetry as experience)
(Reason for writing the poem)
Enlightenment? Entertainment? Observation? Prediction? Tribute?
Eulogy? Warning? Other?
Structure, Pattern, Form
Does the poem have any obvious or major divisions?
If the divisions are not immediately apparent, upon close examination
does the poem fall naturally into parts?
Is the poem written in stanzas? If so, does the stanza pattern vary? Is
it repeated?
If the verse is rhymed, what is the basic pattern is it consistent
throughout the poem? Does the rhyme detract from the meaning?
How does the metre support the meaning?
Does the poem have a specific shape?
Other Techniques

Deliberate lack of logical transitions
Withheld identification of place or event
A type of poetic in-joke

Lists of words, phrases

Broken rhythm or rhyme
Beginning with a question, followed with an answer
Interpretation and Analysis
(Overall meaning and theme)
Work out a consistent interpretation of the poem, making as much
sense of it as you can
If you cannot grasp each line or part to your satisfaction, at least try to
come to some understanding of the poem as a whole.
The poem is meant to be an experience, not a statement such as you
would find in discursive prose.
Identify the SOMETHING that is conveyed to you
Dont forget the idea that it is How the poem means that is essential