How to Analyze a Poem in an Essay

Any literary analysis is a tough task since literature includes many elements that can be interpreted differently. However, analyzing poems with all the figurative language they usually include may seem even harder. You never know what the author actually meant!

While analyzing poetry, you should pay attention to the form of writing and its content. The purpose of this article by experts is to give you a hand in understanding how to analyze a poem. First of all, there is some general information regarding the topic. Then, you will find a detailed step-by-step guide, followed by an example.

To do poetry analysis, you need to read the poem, focus on its title, understand the speaker, think of the structure, analyze the tone & language.

So, don’t worry, you can definitely rock this assignment! Knowing is half the battle, and practice is the other half!

❓ What Is the Purpose of Poetry Analysis?

Sometimes you may find yourself lost in the structural elements and metaphors of the poems. You start wondering what the purpose of poetry analysis is. In fact, it’s a matter of your personal opinion. The aim is to review someone else’s understanding of the poem, appreciate it, and maybe introduce a new point of view.

👣 How to Analyze a Poem: Main Steps

The fact is that poetry has a lot of exciting stuff to offer. However, it can seem quite overwhelming when you don’t know where to begin. The secret tip is to break it down into small tasks. That is why we suggest you look through the following steps when you need to write a poem analysis essay.

Step #1: 
Read the poem
Let’s start with small things. Read the poem and focus on it as a whole, catching the overall mood. To have a more profound feeling of the lines, reread it. This time, do it slowly and try to see if you can notice something new.You may find taking notes beneficial. What is your first impression of the poem? What do you think is the main idea? Think about the shape and size of it. Can you feel its rhythm?
Step #2: 
Focus on the title
Now, go back to the title. Think about why the author decided to identify the poem with it. Usually, it serves as a hint for the core idea of the whole piece. However, sometimes, it may be precisely the opposite, to bring in some irony.How does the title affect your impression of the poem? Does it set some specific expectations regarding the setting or action? Or maybe it’s ambiguous and introduces multiple possibilities, so you can’t tell how it relates to the text?
Step #3: 
Understand the speaker
Even though you may not be able to identify the speaker, there is always some specific point of view present. Understanding it may help you feel the message of the poem better. Answering the following questions can help you imagine the speaker behind the pretty words.Who do you think tells the story? What are the clues about the speaker’s personal traits?Who is the poem addressed to? How is the speaker connected to what he says in the poem?
Step #4: 
Focus on the poem’s form
Now, let’s take a look at the structure of the chosen poem. Classical poetry usually follows a set of rules and has an entirely predictable form. But don’t forget that modern poems are famous for being free of any rules, so don’t get frustrated if you can’t see a pattern. There is a slight difference between a verse and a stanza, but both of them indicate a group of lines in the poem. The piece that you chose to analyze might have a form of blank verse with no rhythms or a sonnet of fourteen lines. Some of the other most popular formats include couplet, tercet, quatrain, and sestina.
Step #5: 
Think of  the poem’s tone
After we’ve talked about the speaker, we can’t miss looking into the tone of the poem. The author tries to convey a specific mood and attitude via the speaker and poetic devices. Moreover, see if any events bring up the themes.For instance, some poems may sound like songs; others may set a grieving mood. Does the tone switch at some point in the poem? Why? Are there any words that cause your feelings to change? What is the role of syntax in the poem’s tone? Don’t forget to note down the setting details here (time and place).
Step #6:
Analyze the poem’s figurative language
We have already seen that the author uses language to set the mood and tone. However, there is a specific tool that can be found in almost every poem – figurative language. It is precisely the opposite of the literal meaning of the phrases. So any time the words don’t make sense to you, it’s probably figurative language. It adds one more layer of understanding of the poem. Usually, it comes in the form of comparison.Can you identify where the author uses it? What is the true meaning behind those words? Why does the author choose to use this figurative language?

📑 Poetry Analysis Essay: Outline

Nothing can help you with the writing process more than creating an outline for your poetry analysis essay. It can help you organize your ideas and thoughts better so that you don’t get lost. After completing the outline, the only thing you need to do is to follow the plan!

✔️IntroductionIt is always better to start your essay with a hook, which is meant to grab the reader’s attention. Then proceed with some general information about the poem. The last sentence should be your thesis statement.
✔️Main bodyInclude all the steps mentioned above in the main body.Write about your first impression of the chosen poem.Describe how the title is related to the content.Answer the questions from the section above and write down what you understand about the speaker.Work through the structure and form of the poem.Present your findings regarding the tone.Include a detailed analysis of the figurative language used in the poem.
✔️ConclusionParaphrase your thesis statement and add a few sentences about your main findings. If possible, make the last sentence memorable so that it will provoke a discussion or leave some food for thought.

Finishing this part of the writing process is basically half of the job. After this, you can complete your paper in no time!

👀 Poetry Analysis Essay: Examples

Go through this example of a poem analysis essay to better understand how it should look. Note that the sample is structured according to the outline and the writing steps described in the above sections.

Poem Analysis Essay: A Dream Within a Dream by Edgar Allan Poe

IntroductionHow do you tell the difference between a dream and real life? Edgar Allan Poe elaborates on this issue in his famous poem, A Dream Within a Dream, published in 1849. Stylistically, it is somewhat different from his other works, but this technique is worth analyzing. He looks into the concept of time and perception, allowing the speaker’s philosophical monologue to flow easily. Creating an illusionary tone with the changing rhyme pattern, Poe desperately questions life’s reality and expresses his frustration with the quick passing of time. 
Main body #1: Read the poemThe poem creates a feeling of a dream in which the narrator is lost. The speaker is disoriented and asks for guidance, as can be seen from the multiple questions. Moreover, it points out the possible romantic relationship at the core of the poem.
Main body #2: Focus on the titleThe title of the poem, A Dream within a Dream, is tightly connected to the theme of illusion. It gives a clear understanding of the context of the poem. The speaker supposes that people live in the state of a dream without even realizing it. 
Main body #3: Understand the speakerThe narrator is not introduced, but several facts can be concluded from the speech. The melancholic and frustrated tone might be an indication that the speaker has lost someone and suffers from depression. There are some hints that his lover is gone: regretting the wasted time and recalling the past sweet memories like a dream.
Main body #4: Focus on the poem’s formPoe’s poem is divided into two stanzas forming 24 lines. To achieve his goal of creating a dream-like illusion, the author changes the rhyming pattern, which follows the scheme AAABBCCDDEE FFGGHHHII, making nine couplets and two triplets. Therefore, despite drastic turns and a seemingly chaotic structure, it is well balanced.
Main body #5: Think of the poem’s toneEven though it seems like the poem’s tone is neutral, hints of depression can be caught. The narrator contemplates the reality and even the meaning of life. Poe uses the word “weep,” setting a helpless and futile tone for the poem. Therefore, the reader is supposed to feel pity or empathy towards the main character.
Main body #6: Analyze the figurative languageThe author highlights how time slips away by using personification and comparing it to the sand: “Grains of the golden sand.” Moreover, there are several examples of metaphor, such as the line: “One from the pitiless wave.” The wave is called “pitiless” because it washes away the sand no matter what.
ConclusionUsing a surprising rhyming pattern, Edgar Allan Poe creates a depressive tone in the poem, encouraging the reader to wonder whether life is just an illusion where no one has control over the speedy flow of time. It may be suggested that the narrator grieves for his lover, feeling lost and frustrated. With the help of personification and metaphors, the author conveys the main idea of the poem. Is life an illusion?

🔗 References