In this post, we will go through different types of poetries that you may come across in Year 9 English, a step-by-step method to analysing poetry and tips to improve your poetry analysis.
In High School English, you will find that most people hate poetry because its hard and confusing and difficult to understand. However, it doesn’t have to be! This article will show you how to analyse poetry so dealing with poems seems easy.
Poetry is a form of writing that uses language in an aesthetic way to explore a particular subject. This is usually, but not limited to, emotions or the human experience.
Unlike prose, poems are written in lines and stanzas.
The language of poetry is usually quite abstract and expressive, as opposed to being straight forward.
Each word is specifically chosen and put together with others for their artistic qualities: patterns, rhyme, or rhythm.
This is why it seems hard to decipher the meaning of poems.
When you think of the first poem ever written, it is always Homer’s epic, Illiad (c. 1194 BC).
However, the first dated poem was actually written approximately 1000 years before that… the Epic of Gilgamesh (c. 2100 BC) from Ancient Mesopotamia (now known as the region near Iraq, East Syria, and Southeast Turkey).
You see, poetry has existed in society for a very, very long time. And overtime, different types of poems emerged and evolved.
Today, there are well over 50 different types of poetry.
Let’s see what some of the most common ones are:
A poem with no defined rules for the way it is written.
Poets can choose the number of lines or stanzas, rhythm, pattern or rhyme that they want. They have full artistic control over the structure.
Haikus originated from Japan. They are three-lined poems that follow a 5-7-5 syllable structure.
They usually focus on a particular image or subject and describe to create an image for their audience.
First autumn morning
the mirror I stare into
shows my father’s face.
– Murakami Kijo
As mentioned earlier, epics are one of the earliest forms of poetry. eg. Epic of Gilgamesh (c. 2100 BC), Illiad (c. 1194 BC)…
Epics are basically narratives of novel length, written in a poetic way.
Because most people during this time couldn’t read, epics were narrated orally. So, it had to be interesting and easily remembered… hence, the poetic aspect.
As poetry followed a rhythmic structure with rhymes and patterns, it became easy for the travelling
All epics follow these conventions:
Ballads originated from Medieval France.
They are basically short, narrative poems that are usually sung with music.
It has a strict rhyme scheme of ABCB and is usually 4 lines per stanza. However, if a stanza has more than 4 lines, then the rhyme scheme becomes ABCBDB, OR ABCBDBEB…
Ballads also usually explore tragic themes and have supernatural elements.
Sonnets originated from Italy and started as love poems.
However, over time, it has been adapted by poets in different countries, creating a variety of different types of sonnets.
The Italian sonnets, also known as Petrarchan follow these conventions:
Inspired by these short poems, the English developed their own forms. Shakespeare and Spencer developed the two most recognisable variations
Despite this, they have a similar narrative structure. It introduces an issue, then tries to resolve the problem.
Example: Spenser’s Amoretti sequence
Acrostic poems are where the first letters of each line spell out a word. Usually, the poem is about the spelled out word.
Most of you would have written an acrostic poem back in primary school,
Concrete poems are also known as shape poetry.
They are poems that are arranged in a visual way to emphasise its subject. They form particular shapes, objects or images.
Example: Lewis Caroll’s, A Mouse Tail.
One aspect of poetry that makes it so appealing is that it is very abstract while being quite emotionally powerful.
You don’t need to explicitly say what you feel, or think, or experience. However, you can still write about it in a more metaphorical way and leave it up for interpretation.
That’s why for most poets, poetry is an outlet for inner thoughts, emotions, and experiences.
Another appeal of writing poetry is that it is also very aesthetically pleasing and beautiful. When you write prose, you need to make sure the sentences are grammatically correct and everything makes sense.
However, when you write poetry, you can have fragmented lines, single words stanzas etc. Basically, you can make a poem sound poetic and express your ideas at the same time.
As established, poetry is very different from prose writing. We need to know their unique features to properly analyse poetry.
Unlike prose, poetry tries to convey meaning with as fewer words as possible.
In other words, poetry is a condensed form of writing.
For example, let’s say you want to write:
“I can’t believe Frank betrayed me. I thought he was my friend but he just exposed my project plans to everyone. I’m so angry”
However, to write a poem, you want to condense this into something like:
“He was like a rose.
And roses will always have its thorns.”
Do you notice anything?
It is very vague.
When we condense language, our words are put up for interpretation… especially when it is written in a metaphorical way.
However, this is the beauty of poetry. Poetry conveys meaning in an abstract way.
Meter is a pattern of syllables in a poem. It is used to create a rhythm or melody.
There are two types of meters:
This is based on stressed and unstressed syllables in a line.
Think ba-DUM, ba-DUM, ba-DUM.
Where Ba is the unstressed syllable (soft), whereas DUM is the stressed syllable (hard).
In English poetry, you will come across these common forms of meters:
This is based on the number of syllables in a line.
For example, a haiku is based on a quantitative meter.
“First autumn morning
the mirror I stare into
shows my father’s face.”
It follows a 5-7-5 syllable pattern.
Rhyme is commonly used in poems. However, not all poems use a rhyming scheme.
Rhyme is basically when the sounds of the endings of words sound similar. Eg. go, blow, toe
When we refer to rhyme schemes in poems, we use letters.
Eg. ABAB CDCD… where each letter indicates a different sound.
When you analyse poetry, you will find that poets use a lot of figurative language and devices.
This is because it is a form of condensed writing.
So, using these devices will help composers effectively and efficiently create meaning.
Remember, figurative language convey more vivid images to get the message across.
eg. “I am cold” vs “I am freezing to death”
Here are some techniques you should look for when you analyse poetry:
Analysing poetry may seem daunting, but it doesn’t have to be!
Remember, when you analyse poetry you need to follow the Matrix MethodTM.
Let’s go through a step-by-step method to analyse poetry, using Wilfred Owen’s Dulce et Decorum est.
Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs,
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots,
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of gas-shells dropping softly behind.
Gas! GAS! Quick, boys!—An ecstasy of fumbling
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time,
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime.—
Dim through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
In all my dreams before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.
If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,—
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.
The first thing you need to do is to read the poem. Don’t try to look for techniques yet, just try to understand what is going on.
Here, you should be looking at the:
Obviously, some poems are harder to understand than others. These tips will help you make sense of it:
Let’s have a look at Owen’s poem.
Now, to further our understanding of the poem, we need to read more closely.
If you still don’t know exactly what is going on, you should…
When we look at each stanza, we are trying to figure out the details of the poem.
We know that poems can sometimes be ambiguous in what they’re trying to say.
So, take this chance to translate confusing lines and write a brief summary of what happens in each stanza.
Don’t be afraid to annotate your poem and write notes. The more you write down, the easier it is to return to the poem when you have an assignment.
Let’s take a look at Owen’s poem.
In the first stanza, Owen compares the soldiers to “beggars” and “hags”. He describes the negative immpacts of war by identifying that some of the soldiers are lame, drunk, blind and deaf.
In the second stanza, Owen gives a vivid description of the trenches. There is “gas” and “an ecstasy of fumbling”. We can see that the soldiers are in a hurry to escape the gas.
In the third stanza, we see a man who inhales the gas and is dying.
The fourth stanza highlights how society glorifies war. We see soldiers as heroes in a glorious conflict, especially those who died. But Owen tells us that it really isn’t glorious, and the heroes died horrific, unromantic deaths.
Now that we have a detailed understanding of the whole text, we need to unpack the techniques. These techniques will be useful in your analysis of the poem.
Let’s look at Owen’s poem.
Now that you have all the information needed to analyse poetry, you have to look at the whole text to find out what the composer is trying to say.
In other words, the composer’s purpose.
When we look at Owen’s poem, we can conclude that Owen is criticising society’s romanticisation of wars and the mischaracterisation of the heroes that support such myths. Instead, he confronts his audience of the harsh reality and destructiveness of war and its human impact on the soldiers.
Now, that you’re confident in your poetry analysis, let’s take a look at something that also has some poetic features… Shakespeare! Shakespeare wrote his plays, for the most part, in verse.
In our next article, we’re going to show you how to analyse Shakespeare and give you the chance to apply your new analytical skills.
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