Poetry Analytic Strategies If you cant explain it simply, you dont understand it well enough Albert Einstein After reading a poem are you left lost & confused? Never fear! Here are some strategies out there to help you out. While there are many more out there than just these, (Which I will call The Big Four of Poetry) for the purposes of this class, we will always analyze a poem using these strategies.
This way you will become comfortable with the techniques, and have them in your back pocket if you ever need them. The Big Four of Poetry 1. What, How, Why Questions 2. SOAPS 3. TP-CASTT 4. DIDLS: (Especially helpful for analyzing tone in poetry) What, How, Why
Questions The quick analytic method 1. What, How, Why Questions: This strategy is fairly simple You take a poem and ask 3 simple questions: What do you notice? (e.g. a simile) How does it work? (e.g. it compares a lover to a red, red rose thats newly sprung in June; a lover is like a red, red rose... newly sprung in June in the following ways: x, y, and z. Why does the poet place the simile here; how does this simile, at this point in the poem, contribute to the poems main idea(s).
Note: the What/How/Why sequence of questions works particularly well with art as well. Example: Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night - Poem by Dylan Thomas Do not go gentle into that good night, Old age should burn and rave at close of day; Rage, rage against the dying of the light. Though wise men at their end know dark is right, Because their words had forked no lightning they Do not go gentle into that good night.
Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay, Rage, rage against the dying of the light. Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight, And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way, Do not go gentle into that good night. Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay, Rage, rage against the dying of the light. And you, my father, there on that sad height, Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night. Rage, rage against the dying of the light. What do you notice? While there are MANY things that we could pick out. (Tone, rhythm pattern, rhyme pattern, repetition, and so on) this strategy focuses on choosing one thing, and then analyzing it. So lets pick. Extended Metaphor
How does it work? Now you take the item you noticed and break it down: Extended metaphor compares life and death to the cycle of a day. Death compared to night: Do not go gentle into that good night. Dying to a sunset: Rage, rage, against the dying of the light. The cycle of a day is a lifetime: Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight. Why? What is the purpose of the metaphor? Remember, we always must assume that there is purpose behind the poets choices.
With this metaphor Dylan Thomas is able to take advantage of the obvious associations we have with death = darkness and life = light. The reference to the day is always full of beautiful imagery and its fleeting presence: caught and sang the sun in flight and blaze like meteors and be gay. Represents lifes short span, yet holding the potential to be wonderful. His references to sunset and night: dying of the light, do not go gentle into that good night at their end know dark is right, remind the reader how quickly and inevitably life is going to slip away from us all. S.O.A.P.S. an acronym for a series of questions that students must first ask themselves, and
then answer, as they begin to plan their compositions. S.O.A.P.S. S = Subject O = Occasion A = Audience P = Purpose S = Speaker Subject What is the poem about? The general topic, content, and ideas
contained in the text. How do you know this? How has the subject been selected and presented? And presented by the author? Students should be able to state the subject in a few words or phrases. Occasion The time and the place of the piece; the context that prompted the writing. Writing does not occur in a vacuum. All writers are influenced by the larger occasion: an environment of ideas, attitudes, and emotions that swirl around a broad issue. Then there is the immediate occasion: an event or situation that catches the writer's attention and triggers a response. What promoted the author to write
this piece? How do you know from the text? What event led to its publication or development? It is particularly important that students understand the context that encouraged the writing to happen. Audience The group of readers to whom this piece is directed. The audience may be one person, a small group or a large group; it may be a certain person or a certain people. What assumptions can you make about the audience? Is it mixed racial/sex group? What social class? What political party? Who was the document created for and how do you know? Are there any words or phrases that are unusual or different?
Does the speaker use language the specific for a unique audience? Does the speaker evoke God? Nation? Liberty? History? Hell? How do you know? Why is the speaker using this type of language? Purpose The reason behind the text. In what ways does he convey this message? How would you perceive the speaker giving this speech? What is the document saying? What is the emotional state of the speaker? How is the speaker trying to spark a reaction in the audience? What words or phrases show the speakers tone? How is the document supposed to make you feel? This helps you examine
the argument or it's logic. Students need to consider the purpose of the text in order to develop the thesis or the argument and its logic. Speaker Speaker The voice that tells the story. Whose voice is going to be heard? Is this voice from a fictional character or the writer? What is their background and why are they making the points they are making? Is there a bias in what was written? You must be able to cite evidence from the text that supports your answer. No independent research is
allowed on the speaker. SOAPS Example Nothing Gold Can Stay by Robert Frost. Natures first green is gold, Her hardest hue to hold. Her early leafs a flower; But only so an hour. Then leaf subsides to leaf. So Eden sank to grief, So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay. Subject The poem describes the budding and dying of nature, and compares it to the fall of Eden, and the end of a sunrise to make a general statement that nothing perfect can last forever. Occasion The poem was composed in 1920, just after WWI has ended. Frost was in his 40s around this time. It seems as though
Audience I assume the audience is for a larger group of people. Specifically, youth. Possibly America Purpose informs the audience of the inevitability of change, specifically losing the best qualities and fall into the cycle of loss with change. TP-CASTT Getting more technical
TP-CASTT This is a more methodical way of analyzing poetry. Plus, sounds academic and snappy which is also very important ;). With TPCASTT, you essentially go through each point (Title, Paraphrase, Connotation, Attitude, Shifts, Tone, Title, Theme) until you have gained a thorough understanding of the poem. T Title Before you even think about reading the poetry or trying to analyze it, speculate on what you think the poem might be
about based upon the title. Often time authors conceal meaning in the title and give clues in the title. Jot down what you think this poem will be about. P Paraphrase Before you begin thinking about meaning or trying to analyze the poem, dont overlook the literal meaning of the poem. One of the biggest problems that students often make in poetry analysis is jumping to conclusions before understanding what is taking place in the poem. When you paraphrase a poem, write in your own words exactly what happens in the poem. Look at the number of sentences in the poem your paraphrase should have exactly the same number. This
technique is especially helpful for poems written in the 17 th and 19th centuries. Sometimes your teacher may allow you to summarize a poem. Make sure you know the difference between a paraphrase and a summary. C Connotation Although this term usually refers solely to the emotional overtones of word choice, for this approach the term refers to any and all poetic devices, focusing on how such devices contribute to the meaning, the effect, or both of a poem. You may consider imagery, figures of speech (simile, metaphor, personification, symbolism, etc), diction, point of view, and sound devices (alliteration, onomatopoeia, rhythm, and rhyme). It is not necessary that you identify all the poetic devices
within the poem. The ones you do identify should be seen as a way of supporting the conclusions you are going to draw about the poem. A Attitude Having examined the poems devise and clues closely, you are now ready to explore the multiple attitudes that may be present in the poem. Examination of diction, images and details suggests the speakers attitude and contributes to understanding. You may refer to the list of words on Tone that will help you. Remember that usually the tone or attitude cannot be named with a single word. Think complexity.
S Shift Rarely does a poem begin and end the poetic experience in the same place. Note shifts in speakers and in attitudes. As is true of most us, the poets understanding of an experience is a gradual realization, and the poem is a reflection of the understanding or insight. Watch for the following keys to shifts: Key words, (but, yet, however, although) Punctuation (dashes, periods, colons, ellipsis) Stanza divisions
Changes in line or stanza length or both Irony Changes in sound that may indicate changes in meaning Changes in diction. T Title Now look at the title again, but this time on an interpretive level. What new insight does the title provide in understanding the poem?
T Theme What is the poem saying about the human experience, motivation or condition? What subject or subjects does the poem address? What do you learn about those subjects? What idea does the poet want you to take away with you concerning these subjects? Remember that the theme of any work of literature is stated in a complete sentence. http://neo.uwb.edu.pl/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/Poem-analysis.pdf
Example: Hope is the Thing with Feathers Hope is the Thing with Feathers Hope is the thing with feathers That perches in the soul And sings the tune without the words And never stops - at all And sweetest - in the Gale - is heard And sore must be the storm That could abash the little Bird That kept so many warm Ive heard it in the chillest land And on the strangest Sea Yet never - in Extremity, It asked a crumb - of me. Emily Dickinson T Title The poem is going to be about hope, possibly comparing it to a bird. Maybe the poet finds comfort in birds.
P Paraphrase: Hope has feathers It dwells within the soul It sings its song without words And never stops ever Its song is most beautiful in a storm And terrible must be the storm That could shame (or embarrass) this little bird That has kept many people warm.
I have heard this bird sing in the coldest places And on the strangest Seas However it has not once even in extreme need or cases Has it ever asked anything of me. C Connotation: Extended Metaphor Hope is a Bird Metaphor gives the impression that hope is a sweet little bird living within the human soul. This birds who exists to sing and therefore give hope to everyone who hears its song. The metaphor has both positive and negative connotations. While the bird
exists solely to keep people warm, it goes through extreme adversity. Minor metaphor Storms and strange seas to difficult situations Personification and sore must be the storm- / that could abash the little Bird Personifying the storm makes it seem more cruel, that is intentionally causing harm to the bird, who is described as little = helpless Noticeable Diction: Gale (line 5) strong wind storm Sore (line 6) painful, distressing Abash (line 7) humble, weaken Extremity (line 11) - the extreme degree or nature of something Alliteration without the words(line 3), sore must be the storm (line 6), strangest sea Rhythmic pattern/scansion - Iambic Trimeter
A- Attitude Speaker Because the speaker is not explicitly named, we assume that the speaker is the poet, Emily Dickinson. We know that this poet has been through hard times. Ive heard it in the chilliest land - / and on the Strangest Sea, and has managed to keep hope throughout it. The audience Potentially someone who has lost hope, or is going through a time of need. It could also be a general audience because hope, and difficult situations are something that affects everyone. Tone (Attitude) Optimistic
S -Shifts There does not seem to be a shift in tone, as the speaker remains optimistic throughout. The different stanza outline different aspects of hope: stanza one Hope is found within humans; stanza two world tries to prevent you from having hope; stanza three hope does not ask for anything in return, only just to be used. There is a brief shift in tone in the second stanza, when the poet mentions how terrible the storm must be that would destroy hope. And sore must be the storm -/ That could abash the little Bird /That kept so many warm (lines 6-8). The tone here is a bit perturbed, which is in contrast to the rest of the optimistic tone.
T Title Title is very indicative about what the poem is going to be about. The poet is optimistically states that hope is like a bird that can be found in everyone, and is always there when it is needed. T - Theme Human spirit prevails in the worst of circumstance. Hope is always there for those who need it. DIDLS
Excellent for analyzing tone DIDLS D = Diction: the connotation of word choice I = Images: vivid appeals to understanding through the senses D = Details: facts that are included or those omitted L = Language: the overall use of language, such as formal, clinical jargon. S = Sentence Structure/ Syntax: how structure affects the readers attitude.
Diction The connotation of the word choice. What words does the author choose? Consider his/her word choice compared to another. Why did the author choose that particular word? What are the connotations of that word choice? Considering diction Laugh: Guffaw, chuckle, titter, giggle, cackle, snicker, roar. Self-confident: proud, conceited, egotistical, stuck-up, haughty, smug, condescending House: home, hut, shack, mansion, cabin, home, residence Old: mature, experienced, antique, relic, senior, ancient
Fat: obese, plump, corpulent, portly, porky, burly, husky, full-figured Images Vivid appeals to understanding through the senses concrete language. What images does the author use? What does he/she focus on in a sensory (sight, touch, taste, smell, etc.) way? The kinds of images the author puts in or leaves out reflects his/her style? Are they vibrant? Prominent? Plain? NOTE: Images differ from detail in the degree to which they appeal to the senses. Considering images The use of vivid descriptions or figures of speech that appeal to sensory experiences helps to create the author's
tone. My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun. (restrained) An old, mad, blind, despised, and dying king. (somber, candid) He clasps the crag with crooked hands. (dramatic) Love sets you going like a fat gold watch. (fanciful) Smiling, the boy fell dead. (shocking) Details Facts that are included or those that are omitted What details are does the author choose to include? What do they imply?
What does the author choose to exclude? What are the connotations of their choice of details? PLEASE NOTE: Details are facts or fact-lets. They differ from images in that they don't have a strong sensory appeal. Considering Details Details are most commonly the facts given by the author or speaker as support for the attitude or tone. The overall use of language, such as formal, clinical, jargon The speakers perspective shapes what details are given and which are not. Language The overall use of language, such as formal, clinical, jargon. Consider language to be the entire bosy of words
used in a text, not simply isolates bits of diction. For example, an invitation to a wedding might use formal language, while a biology text would use scientific and clinical language. What is the overall impression of the language the author uses? Does it reflect education? A particular profession? Intelligence? Is it plain? Ornate? Simple? Clear? Figurative? Poetic? **Make sure you don't skip this step** Considering Language When I told Dad that I had goofed the exam, he blew his top. (slang) I had him on the ropes in the fourth and if one of my short rights had connected, he'd have gone down for the count. (jargon)
A close examination and correlation of the most reliable current economic indexes justifies the conclusion that the next year will witness a continuation of the present, upward market trend. (turgid [swollen], pedantic) Sentence Structure/ Syntax How structure affects the reader's attitude What are the sentences like? Are they simple with one or two clauses? Do they have multiple phrases? Are they choppy? Flowing? Sinuous like a snake? Is there antithesis, chiasmus, parallel construction? What emotional impression do they leave? If we are talking about poetry, what is the meter? Is there a rhyme scheme? Considering Sentence Structure How a sentence is constructed affects what the audience understands. Parallel syntax (similarly styled phrases and sentences) creates interconnected emotions, feelings and ideas. Short sentences are punchy and intense. Long sentences are distancing, reflective and more abstract.
Loose sentences point at the end. Periodic sentences point at the beginning, followed by modifiers and phrases. The inverted order of an interrogative sentence cues the reader to a question and creates tension between speaker and listener. Short sentences are often emphatic, passionate or flippant, whereas longer sentences suggest greater thought. Sentence structure affects tone. (Good authors rarely use monotone) Key words (but, yet, nevertheless, however, although)
Punctuation (dashes, periods, colons) Paragraph divisions Changes in sentence length Sharp contrasts in diction. Important Notes on Tone and Shift in Tone Good authors rarely use monotone. A speakers attitude can shift on a topic, or an author might have one attitude toward the audience and another toward the subject. The following are some clues to watch for shift in tone: Key words (but, yet, nevertheless, however, although)
Punctuation (dashes, periods, colons) Paragraph divisions Changes in sentence length Sharp contrasts in diction. **Refer to the Tonal Word List to become familiar with tone words. ** Example: The Sea and the Skylark - Gerard Manley Hopkins On ear and ear two noises too old to end Trenchright, the tide that ramps against the shore; With a flood or a fall, low lull-off or all roar, Frequenting there while moon shall wear and wend.
Left hand, off land, I hear the lark ascend, His rash-fresh re-winded new-skeind score In crisps of curl off wild winch whirl, and pour And pelt music, till none s to spill nor spend. How these two shame this shallow and frail town! How ring right out our sordid turbid time, Being pure! We, lifes pride and cared-for crown, Have lost that cheer and charm of earths past prime: Our make and making break, are breaking, down To mans last dust, drain fast towards mans first slime.
Diction In the first two paragraphs the poet uses words that describe nature in terms that are new and fresh: Raw, Fresh, Re-winded, New skeind and Crisps. He also chooses words that show his fascination with natures ever changing state, from violent to peaceful: Noises too old to end, Ramps against the shore, flood or fall, low-lull or all roar, Pelt Music In the last two paragraphs the poet uses words that show his obvious disgust towards man-kinds industrialization and move away from nature: Shame and shallow, Sordid, Turbid, Past-Prime, Breaking down, Last dust and First slime.
Images In the first two stanzas, the images focus on the readers sense of sound and sight. Right from the first line of the poem, we are introduced into the element of sound: On ear and ear two noises too old to end. However, the poet then focuses on the visual aspect of the sound he is describing, the sea: the tide that ramps against the shore. Then he describes the sounds of the tides coming in, and going out: low lull-off or all roar. He does this again with the next stanza when describing the skylarks song, he visually describes the skylarks song, his rash-fresh re-winded, new-skeind score / in crisps of curl off wild winch whirl, so the reader can visualize the curling of the notes in the wind as the bird sings. Then he describes the bird singing, And pelt music.
As mentioned, these images describe nature as being continually renewed, fresh, and fascinating. The last two stanzas contain images that are visually and touch based. He compares the consistent renewal and freshness of nature to the disintegration of man-kind. He uses images such as shallow and frail town, make and making break, are breaking down to illustrate the unworthiness of humans, as they are so far removed from nature (reference to industry and industrialization). His final line is the strongest image of disgust: To mans last dust, drain fast towards mans first slime. Language elevated, poetic, almost obsessively matching up sounds and then juxtaposing them with opposing sounds.
Sentence Structure / Syntax Lots of interesting syntactical instances: Utilizes both caesura Trench-right, the tide that ramps against the shore and enjambment Left hand, off land spill nor spend. Ear and ear a jarring sound to start the poem two noises too old Repetition of sounds end/Trench Echo of en across the line break. Flood or fall alliteration describing the tides right, tide, ramp heavier jostling sounds low-lull off gentler sounds for retreating tide Wear and wend alliteration
Paired spondees left hand, off land Tonal Shift from reverence in the first two stanzas to disgust in the last two.
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