Understanding and analyzing poetry is one of most difficult and taxing exercises in literature. A single poem can hold many different meanings for people, and there is no one correct way to read a particular poem. If you’re tasked to analyze a poem, or if you want to find the meaning of a poem that you really like, here are some ways to do it.
Exegesis versus Eisegesis
The critical reading of any poem is required to understand the deeper images and meanings to be discovered in it. The same goes for reading any other kind or form of literature; analysis requires your active attention and engagement. There are two important concepts that you should know about:
In exegesis, the text is understood critically. The meaning is drawn out from the text only, and the interpretations also come from the text. Exegesis is a very difficult reading, but it is the best way to analyze a poem.
In eisegesis, the reader makes the mistake of putting his or her own ideas in the reading and analysis of text. Eisegesis is useful in some instances, but definitely not for poems. The goal of analyzing a poem is that the meaning should be drawn out naturally, instead of the reader implying and imparting ideas not found in the text itself.
For some, naturally understanding poetry is inherent and doesn’t need to be “taught” in a traditional manner. For others the ideas are harder to grasp as poetry is often not black and white. Private tutoring at home can help you if you are having trouble understanding. Personal coaching in a relaxed atmosphere can greatly enhance the way someone understands and feels poetry.
Poets and critics debate on form, and there are many opinions about form and its importance. Here are some important things to remember about form:
Rhyme may be considered obsolete and passé, but many poems are still written with rhyme considered as part of the form. Literary devices like rhyming words, alliteration, and repetition are used in many poems; however, it’s important to note that not all verses that use a stylistic device can be properly considered as poems.
Meter, or prosody, is the structure of the poem. Rhythm is important in poems, especially if the poem is read aloud.
Many poems follow a specific metric structure; sonnets, for example, have 14 lines with a rhyme structure followed all throughout the verse. Haiku follows a metric scheme of at least 17 syllables.
Free verse is a popular form of poetry. Poets and critics agree that verses need to have a particular form to be considered a true poem; free verse considered as poetry should still be part of the whole poem. A mishmash of verses and words in free verse can only be considered “poetry” if the meaning drawn out of it is poetic.
Meaning in poetry is often ambiguous. Some poets may choose to write poems that are ambiguous, but most poets use many literary devices to convey a meaning to their verse:
Style. For a work to be considered “literary,” it has to use literary language. Style is very important not only to establish the poet, but also to establish the poem. Style controls the form and the meaning of the poem, and is the reason why some people appreciate a work.
Images. When you analyze a poem, it’s important to look for images and other elements to help you visualize the event taking place. Like fiction, good poetry shows the event instead of telling it, and allows the meaning to be drawn out naturally from the verse.
Feeling. Emotions are very important elements of poetry. For a poem to be of a significant value to the reader, it has to evoke certain feelings and emotions naturally. The keys to a good poem is that the emotion – like the meaning – should be subtle and moving, and it should be retained in one’s memory.
The analysis and critical, careful reading of poetry is an art in itself. With these tips, you can find a deeper and more moving meaning to any good poem that you read.
Plagiarism is not a crime; it is simply bad manners.
Many people think that they can get away with copying other people’s work simply because it’s already out there, or because they’re too lazy to reword ideas or cite them properly in papers or other formal documents. Avoiding plagiarism is easy, provided that you follow these tips and reminders.
What is Plagiarism?
Plagiarism happens when a person uses or very closely imitates the language and ideas of another author or writer, and he or she will claim original authorship of it. There are three common ways to commit plagiarism:
Using an idea that’s not yours, but you pass it off as your own. All ideas come from somewhere, and even the most original and groundbreaking ideas have to come from somewhere. If you use an idea that you know is not yours but pass it off to be your own, you are committing plagiarism.
Citing text improperly or recklessly. For formal papers and academic documents, citations are absolutely necessary for text or ideas lifted off or taken from another author. Plagiarism occurs when you do not cite an idea with the recommended format, or if you do not cite the text at all.
Copy-paste. Thanks to computers and the Internet, more information is available to many people. Plagiarism becomes so much easier with computers, because some people can merely highlight text or copy an image, paste it on a blog or a document, and pass it off as their own.
Plagiarism may not be a crime in itself, but for academics and journalists, the offense is very grave. Academic dishonesty can lead to suspension and expulsion, especially if a paper is found to be plagiarized. Journalists and writers frown upon plagiarism because it seriously violates professional ethics.
The key to avoiding plagiarism is to use original text as much as possible. For blogs and essays released to the public, it’s very important to use sentences and passages that are unique to you and that you’re not copying them from somewhere. Remember that plagiarized work, especially ones that are copy-pasted, can be detected very easily.
Paraphrase and Précis
There are times that you do know your ideas come from somewhere, but you need to write them in such a way that they are original, especially if you’re not writing formal documents or academic papers. Paraphrasis and précis are your two best tools for expressing other people’s thoughts in your own words: Paraphrase is a writing form where a certain passage is reworded into the writer’s own words, but the thought remains the same. Paraphrasis is used best when you have to rephrase a few passages from a text. Précis is a writing form where the whole text is summarized in the writer’s own words. Instead of rewording specific passages, a précis is a short paraphrase of the entire text written in the past tense.
Use Proper Citations
For academic works like theses, term papers, and dissertations, citations are absolutely necessary if you’re quoting text or citing references. Your department may have a particular style manual used for academic papers, and you should consult the style guide from time to time to check if you’re citing references properly.
Remember that you should stick to the rules of citing other people’s work; do not attempt to make your own “unique style” of citations especially if you’re making a formal academic text.
Plagiarism is the height of bad manners, especially for writers, journalists, academics, and students. With these tips, you can write anything with confidence, without committing academic and professional dishonesty.
Some people’s biggest exposure to poetry is in nursery rhymes and things like, Roses are red, violets are blue . . . . Unless someone has taken poetry courses in high school or college, its unlikely he or she will know many useful poetry terms like meter, strophes, trochees, iambs or any of the other words used to describe the techniques and word constructions that are used to write a poem.
If you want to write poetry or you want to be a more careful reader of it, learning these terms will help.
Iambic Pentameter Definition
Lets define some terms to help explain this one. Meter refers to the pattern of syllables in a line of poetry or even an essay.
The most basic unit of measure in a poem is the syllable and the pattern of syllables in a line, from stressed to unstressed or vice versa.
This is the meter.
Syllables are paired two and three at a time, depending on the stresses in the sentence.
Two syllables together, or three if its a three-syllable construction, is known as a foot.
So in a line of poetry the iamb would be considered one foot. Because when you say the words, the is unstressed and iamb is stressed, it can be represented as da DUM.
An unstressed/stressed foot is known as an iamb. Thats where the term iambic comes from.
Pentameter is simply penta, which means 5, meters. So a line of poetry written in pentameter has 5 feet, or 5 sets of stressed and unstressed syllables. In basic iambic pentameter, a line would have 5 feet of iambs, which is an unstressed and then a stressed syllable.
Or said in another way:
Languages possess inherent rhythms resulting from the interplay of the unstressed and stressed syllables as well as contrast between short and long vowel sounds. In the English language, the rhythms are typically analyzed in the context of a verse, whereby the language’s rhythm usually manifests itself in formal patterns, which can be categorized along 2 separate lines.
The first category is on the basis of the pattern on unstressed and stressed syllable in each line, where “feet” is the term given to the groupings of the syllables.
Each foot follows a given pattern, whether unstressed followed by stressed, stressed followed by unstressed, or two syllables that are equally stressed.
“Iambic” is a term used to refer to a particular type of foot, which is an unstressed syllable that is followed by a stressed syllable, as is the case in the word “compare”.
The concept of the iambic meter traces its origins back to classical Latin and Greek poetry, where it is defined by the alteration of short and long syllables.
English verse adopted this framework by replacing the long syllables of classic meter with stressed syllables and the short syllables with unstressed syllables.
Besides the pattern on unstressed and stressed syllables, lines of verse typically have specific lengths. The lengths are expressed as the feet or number of pairs in a particular line. Lines that have five feet are essentially written in “pentameter”.
Iambic pentameter therefore refers to a line with 5 pairs of syllables, where each of the pairs is an iamb that is comprised of a stressed syllable, which is then followed by an unstressed syllable. It is not a must for the syllables to be paired within a particular word, but it can be comprised of 2 words because the English language’s natural inflection is still able to define an iambic rhythm.
In the modern times, iambic pentameter is synonymous with the works of Shakespeare. Shakespeare almost always used iambic pentameter when writing in verse. He wrote most of his famous plays in iambic pentameter, save for the lower-class characters that speak in prose. Here is a paraphrased excerpt from Sonnet XVIII:
“Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? You are more lovely and more temperate:
These famous lines naturally fall into iambic pentameter. It is not a must for iambic pentameter to be part of the verse that rhymes. It can serve equally well in blank verse characterized by having a rhythmic meter in the absence of rhyme, as this excerpt from Robert Frost’s “Birches” shows:
When I see birches bend to left and right Across the line of straighter dark trees, I like to think some boy’s been swinging them. But swinging doesn’t bend them down to stay.
While iambic pentameter’s structure is properly defined, it does not mean that it cannot either be mixed with other schemes or varied. In some cases, this departure from strict form has a significant contribution to the effect as is clearly evidenced in “Birches”. After the 4 iambic lines that follow strict iambic form, Frost continues:
Ice-storms do that. Often you must have seen them Loaded with ice sunny winter morning After a rain
The break in the formal scheme of the poem, which is caused by the simple declaration that “ice-storms do that” brings attention to that simple statement, whether it is considered by the reader as a simple matter-of-fact aside or a dramatic effect by the poet.
Besides allowing variations from the canonical form, whether a given line is actually written in iambic pentameter is often open to interpretation. For example, the line that is probably the most famous from Shakespeare’s most famous soliloquy that Hamlet delivers:
To be, or not to be: that is the question.
The speech clearly opens in iambic pentameter where stresses are one the 2nd, 4th, and 6th words. However, the next two words can be read in a manner of ways, by stressing either “is” or “that” but this will depend on the preference of the reader. The more popular and traditional approach is seemingly placing emphasis on “that”, which basically departs from iambic pentameter. Emphasizing “is” has the effect of retaining the lamb.
It is obviously impossible to term one reading correct while calling the other incorrect. At the very least, it is clear than the different readings create different effects, which are further enhanced by the treatment of the words in the rhythmic flow of the line.
The famous line from Shakespeare further illustrates a different variation since it contains eleven syllables. The departure from canon is relatively common among different variations where lines end in a last but unstressed syllable, which is referred to as a feminine ending.
It is generally accepted that iambic pentameter became the dominant form in English poetry after Chaucer, even though Chaucer might have written more in iambic pentameter than is immediately apparent to later readers.
After his death in 1400, changes in pronunciation rendered a final letter “e” after the word silent, and there is reason to believe that Chaucer actually intended for the letters to be pronounced.
When it comes to the reasons why iambic pentameter is so dominant, comparisons are often drawn to the tetrameter, which is the iambic pentameter’s main competitor.
The tetrameter contains 8-syllable, 4-line beats, iambic or otherwise. Tetrameter is the form popularly used in nursery rhymes and matching cadences. It imposes a very regular rhythm, which might be a limitation in itself.
Iambic pentameter offers a less rigid as well as more natural flow that is able to approximate natural English speech better. However, this does not imply that the English language is naturally spoken in iambic pentameter, but it could be that the form is better able to accommodate the intonation and pace of the language smoothly while still allowing for the underlying form to be heard clearly.
If you would put the key inside the lock
This line has 5 feet, so its written in pentameter. And the stressing pattern is all iambs:
if YOU | would PUT | the KEY | inSIDE | the LOCK
da DUM | da DUM | da DUM | da DUM | da DUM
Thats the simplest way to define iambic pentameter.
Great examples of a iambic pentameter poems would be many of Shakespeares sonnets. He often wrote sonnets and whole lines of dialogue from plays in this meter.
Other Poetry Definitions
It can help to understand the other forms of feet and meter that are used in poetry. These are all determined by the stressing pattern.
DA dum (FORest) = Trochee
DA DUM (RED CAT) = Spondee
da da DUM (like a WOLF) = Anapest
DA da DUM (CUT the FLESH) = Dactyl
da dum (and the) (-ing the) = Pyrrhic
Understanding the rhythm of poetry and how to read a line to determine whether iambic pentameter or some other meter is used can help you learn to write your own poetry and better appreciate the writings of classic and modern poets.
POETRY: Iambic Pentameter Examples
Iambic pentameter is only one of the many forms of poetry structure, and has been popular for centuries; yet, sometimes people still ask, what is iambic pentameter?
Iambic pentameter consists of alternating five pairs of stressed and unstressed syllables and each line features ten syllables. Blank verse is the un-rhymed form of this structure and is the English language’s most commonly used metrical pattern in poems.
Iambic pentameter examples are one of the best ways to explain this particular form of poetry.
The most famous example comes in the works of William Shakespeare who frequently used this particular structure in his work.
Interestingly, this form was mostly used for characters in the upper classes, leaving his lower class characters to speak in prose. Such a dynamic gives an idea to the weight given to the iambic form.
Of course iambic pentameter is not the only high-brow form of poetry. The petrarchan sonnet, or Italian sonnet, named for its developer Frances Petrarch has been revered for centuries as the oldest form of sonnet.
Poets such as John Milton, whose Paradise Lost is a definitive work in iambic pentameter, Edna St. Vincent MillayEdna St. Vincent Millay and Elizabeth Barrett Browning are known for utilizing this form of verse in their works.
Even though the sonnet typically uses iambic pentameter, it also includes other forms such as tetrameter and hexameter. The Italian sonnet is actually divided into two sections: the octave and sestet. The octave is the first eight lines consisting of an “1 2 1 1 1 2 2 1” rhyme scheme.
The sestet can have a variety of rhyme schemes including “3 4 3 4 3 4,” “3 4 4 3 4 3,” “3 4 5 3 4 5,” “3 4 5 3 5 4” or “3 4 3 5 4 3.”
Free verse tends to break all these conventions leaving boundaries set by any metrical form behind. Although free verse may have its own distinct rhythm, it does not need to rhyme or follow any particular stress patterns.
Many modern poets follow this form, following the example of famous names including T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, Carl Sandburg and Walt Whitman.
Even with this throwing away of convention, free verse poetry can have distinct cadences and rhythms depending on the poet’s personal style.
Poetic rhythm can range from a lyric poem to a Spenserian sonnet. Poetic styles need not be as restrictive as an iambic form as long as the poetic structure is true to its writer’s vision and is original.
Poetry in any form should be expressive and take its readers into a different realm of experience.