How to Read a Poem

Tips on How to Read a Poem (basics)

  • Read it. Read it outloud or subvocally. Hear the music.
  • Read it again.
  • Consider your first impressions. How does the poem initially make you feel? What is the tone of the poem?
  • Look up words you don’t know and write definitions in the margins. Also paraphrase (put into your own words) difficult parts.
  • Read it again while trying to figure out what’s going on, in a general way, in the poem. What is going on in the poem?
  • Read it while thinking about the different parts of the poem and how they are organized in a way that contributes to the progression of the idea, story, or “argument.” Is it broken into sections? Stanzas? etc… How does it move forward?
  • Zoom in close to the lines!!! Think about the way the sounds and other formal features work to create the poem’s effect or work to support its themes. Consider rhyme, assonance, alliteration, enjambment etc…
  • Think about all the metaphors, symbols, and other figurative elements in play. What is suggested by these aspects? What can you say about choices regarding comparisons?
  • Think about and name any other poetic devices that occur in the poem. What other literary terms apply?
  • Mark up the poem!!! Underline important, exciting, or confusing parts. Write notes about your reactions to or interpretations of specific lines as well as the whole thing.
  • Now read the whole poem again and put it all together.

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