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How to Write a Critical Analysis of a Poem

Updated November 21, 2016

With poetry, the author is always very deliberate with his word choice and format to convey meaning. Poems are meant to be read aloud, which is why they have a very lyrical quality or at least have an interesting rhythm that punctuates the elements of the poem. A critical analysis of the poem allows the reader to have a better understanding of the symbols and language used in the piece. This often offers a more intimate appreciation of the work.

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  1. Find a specific theme in the work that gives the poem larger meaning. Consider the entire piece, including the title. Perhaps the poem is a symbol about growing old or a loss of innocence or maybe the overarching theme is the importance of the environment. If so, the context for the theme is hidden in the words and presentation.

  2. Create a critical analysis checklist that you can follow when reviewing the piece. This allows you to dissect the poem into individual pieces that helps you understand the poem as a whole. For example, make a checklist that lists title, setting, point of view, rhyme scheme, meter, genre, conflict or context. Use these elements as a guide for your analysis.

  3. Review the plot of the poem. Answer the questions: What is happening? To whom is it happening? Once you have an understanding of what is being described in the poem, you can start to apply its meaning in your analysis.

  4. Analyse the rhyme scheme of the poem, if any. Not all poetry has to rhyme. However, poems are often written for the intention of being read, so there should be a rhythm when read aloud. When performing your analysis, be sure to read the poem aloud alone or with a friend to hear the way it sounds, not just to see the words on the page.

  5. Consider the format of the poem. It could be free form, without any identifiable pattern, or it can fit into a specific writing scheme. This is often a deliberate act on the part of the author. In your analysis, you should describe what this format could mean and how it helps or hinders communication of the message.

  6. Review the figurative language of the poem. Poetry is known for using literary devices, such as simile, metaphor, personification, irony and metonymy in the work. This not only constitutes the body of the poem, it demonstrates the author's control over language. Evaluation of this language is a crucial part of your analysis.

  7. Form a thesis statement based on your understanding of the poem's meaning. When writing any sort of academic work, your paper should have a clear thesis. For example, "The pitfalls of arrogance and power as described in the poem 'Ozymandius.'"

  8. Find parts of the poem that support your thesis statement. Throughout the body of your analysis, you should provide clear clues as to where you got your thesis. Use actual lines from the text, as well as a thorough analysis of word choice.

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About the Author

Liza Hollis has been writing for print and online publications since 2003. Her work has appeared on various digital properties, including USAToday.com. Hollis earned a degree in English Literature from the University of Florida.

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