Consider the title of the poem carefully. What does it tell you about the poem’s subject, tone, and genre? What does it promise? (After having read the poem,
you will want to come back to the title in order to consider further its relationship with the poem.)
What is your initial impression of the poem’s subject? Try writing out an answer to the question, “What is this poem about?”–and then return to this question
throughout your analysis. Push yourself to be precise; aim for more than just a vague impression of the poem. What is the author’s attitude toward his or her
What is the poem’s basic situation? What is going on in it? Who is talking? To whom? Under what circumstances? Where? About what? Why? Is a story being
told? Is something–tangible or intangible–being described? What specifically can you point to in the poem to support your answers?
Because a poem is highly compressed, it may help you to try to unfold it by paraphrasing the poem aloud, moving line by line through it. If the poem is written
in sentences, can you figure out what the subject of each one is? The verb? The object of the verb? What a modifier refers to? Try to untie any syntactic knots.
Is the poem built on a comparison or analogy? If so, how is the comparison appropriate? How are the two things alike? How different?
What is the author’s attitude toward his subject? Serious? Reverent? Ironic? Satiric? Ambivalent? Hostile? Humorous? Detached? Witty?
Does the poem appeal to a reader’s intellect? Emotions? Reason?