AD's English Literature : How to analyze a poem : Technicality & Ethics

How to analyze a poem : Technicality & Ethics

The beautiful part in reading literature is the reading poetry. In fact, you too enjoy the practice of making clever rhymes or noting down your own feelings in loose sentences, known as poetry. The periodicals and newspapers make a large demand for these exercises in rhyme and rhythm: it is really nice to see you born as poet.

As a Student of Literature, however, you have to read rather than write most of Keats, Shelley, Wordsworth, Chaucer, Byron, Eliot, Sidney, Spenser, John Donne, and John Milton, some William Shakespeare, a little Dryden, and a certain amount of Tennyson. While reading a poem and reaching to its meaning you are following the prime of an objective observer rather than a creative articulator. Before we go any further, I want to set some straight points regarding an analysis of a poem.

*      You have to develop your own ideas based on the raw material of the poem you are about to read. This process is important to validate your own version of reading the text. As long as you approach the task positively, you cannot be wrong! The raw material of the poem is its words, syntax, versification, thought content and obviously its felicity of expressions. To extend these points you have to search for rhetoric, genre, style, type etc. As you know answers lay hidden in questions. So never stop questioning yourself over the text.

*      The next key point is reaching the author doing some research about the author’s life and work, using reference books. Always remember a poem is a natural plant in the field of author’s creativity. Authors might have a fertile land but the very climate is the time the author represents. So, reaching the author means reaching the author and his time. After re- reading the text you can see many a moon in the domain in your thought. Here you can compare the contents with the predictions you have made in the previous phase.

*      It is important, next, that you must select suitable related areas of study: such as history, geography, sociology, politics and philosophy. A related study of the text benefits for setting up pre and post-reading activities completing open-ended statements as no analysis is ever conclusive.
There are some general ways of analyzing a text in the poem. Now we will put a cursory look at these points.

*      Rhythm and Meter: Like the rhythms in nature, such as the motion of the planets, the succession of seasons, and the beating of the heart, poetic rhythm usually is organized in regularly recurring patterns. Such patterns regulate the motion of the music and aid the human ear in grasping its structure. The most basic rhythmic unit is the Iambic pentameter, alternates weak unstressed and strong stressed syllables to make a ten-syllable line (weak strong/weak strong/weak strong/weak strong/weak strong). Go into details --> Here

*     Rhetoric: Figure of Speech OR rhetoric is word or group of words used to give particular emphasis to an idea or sentiment. The special emphasis is typically accomplished by the user's conscious deviation from the strict literal sense of a word, or from the more commonly used form of word order or sentence construction. From ancient times to the present, such figurative locutions have been extensively employed by orators and writers to strengthen and embellish their styles of speech and composition. Broadly speaking rhetoric is the art of speaking in which we can locate dressing or ornamentation. But it is always to be remembered that it is not the essence of the poem rather one of the essentials.

There are few common rhetoric that we often meet in the lines of the poems. For Example:

Antithesis: In Antithesis  there is Placement or  juxtaposition ( placed side by side) of two words, phrases, clauses, or sentences contrasted or opposed in meaning in such a way as to give emphasis to contrasting ideas. Here is an example of antithesis is the following line by the English poet Alexander Pope’s Essay on Criticism: “To err is human, to forgive divine.”

Apostrophe: It is the device by which an actor turns from the audience, or a writer from readers, to address an absent or deceased person or entity, an inanimate object, or an abstract idea. For example: William Shakespeare invokes womenfolk in these satirical words: Frailty, thy name is woman (Hamlet) or the poet John Milton, in his poem Il Penseroso, invokes the spirit of melancholy in the following words: “Hail divinest Melancholy, whose saintly visage is too bright to hit the sense of human sight.” Il Penseroso  

Climax: It is an arrangement of words, clauses, sentences or even names in the order of their importance. The whole statement looks like ascending a ladder of argument: For example the famous lines from Julius Caesar: vini , vidi, vici.( I came, I saw, I conquered.)

Anticlimax: It is a sequence of ideas that abruptly diminish in dignity or importance at the end of a sentence or passage, generally for satirical effect. It is arranged like the descending order of importance as opposed to climax. The following sentences contain illustrations of anticlimax:
  1. "In moments of crisis I size up the situation in a flash, set my teeth, contract my muscles, take a firm grip on myself and, without a tremor, always do the wrong thing." (George Bernard Shaw)
  2. “Among the great achievements of Benito Mussolini's regime were the revival of a strong national consciousness, the expansion of the Italian Empire, and the running of the trains on time.”

Hyperbole, form of inordinate exaggeration or overstatement according to which a person or thing is depicted as being better or worse, or larger or smaller, than is actually the case.
 (1) Ten thousand daffodils I saw at a glance.
(2) Oscar has the appetite of a starving lion.

Metaphor: Here is a comparison between two unallied things in an implicit manner for the purpose of suggesting a likeness between the two. Unlike simile here is no use of  like, as or than.

 Examples: (1) The iron tongue of midnight hath told twelve.–Shakespeare. (The striker or clapper of the bell is being compared to the tongue of a speaking human being.) (2) The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth's shore
 Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled. - Matthew Arnold (The Sea of Faith is compared to the Christianity)

Onomatopoeia: Here is imitation of natural sounds by words. Examples in English are the italicized words in the phrases “the humming bee,””the cackling hen,” “the whizzing arrow,” and “the buzzing saw.”

Oxymoron: Here is a combination of two seemingly contradictory or incongruous words.
 Examples: of living deaths, dear wounds, fair storms, pensive pleasure, hellish paradise, sweet sorrow and freezing fires.

Personification: Here is a representation of inanimate objects or abstract ideas with the attributions of living beings.
Fortune brings in some boats that are not steered–Shakespeare.
Because I could not stop for Death, He kindly stopped for me. –Emily Dickinson.

Simile: Here is specific explicit comparison by means of the words “like” or “as” between two kinds of ideas or objects.
Examples: 1.William Wordsworth: “But, like a thirsty wind, to roam about.”
2. The barge she sat in, like a burnished throne, burned on the water.–Shakespeare.

*      Setting: The setting of a poem—the time and place of its action , the environment in which a story unfolds —is crucial to the creation of a complete work. Physical places such as deserts and outer space, as well as cultural settings such as hospitals and universities, help determine poets’ conflicts, aspirations, and destinies.

*      Genre: Type or kind, as applied to poem vary different categories:

Such as Sonnet, Satire., Mock-Epic, Lyric ,Epic etc.

So friends enjoy the sweet stream of words and have fun.

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An English Teacher;    M. A.(English) , D. Ed., B. Ed., UGC- NET Qualified

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