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.