Explaining a Poem

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[pic]In order to explicate or give a detailed literary analysis of a poem, it is useful to ask the following questions. You do not necessarily have to follow this order. 1. What is the literal sense of the poem?

• Can it be broken down into sentences?
• What is the meaning of each sentence?
• How could the poem be paraphrased: restated in prose form? • In what ways is the poem different from a prose paraphrase? 2. What is the diction of the poem?
• What sort of language does the poem use: formal or colloquial, abstract or concrete, vivid or vague, obsolete words, slang? • Does it create vivid expressions or innovative ideas by manipulating syntax (word order), semantics (word meaning), structure, effects or associations of normal language? • Do any words have other connotations: associations beyond the standard denotation, or definition? • Is the etymology (the history of a word's meaning) of any word important to the meaning of the poem? This information can be found in any good dictionary, but especially the Oxford English Dictionary. 3. What is the tone of the poem?

• What sort of attitude, mood or emotion does it convey? • Is it happy, sad, humorous, angry, nostalgic, serious, frivolous, sarcastic, ecstatic, grotesque? • Is there irony: a discrepancy between what is stated and what is meant, conveyed through a tone of voice or contradiction between words and the matter at hand? 4. What is the rhetorical situation implied by the poem?

• Who is speaking? to whom? on what occasion? for what purpose? • What is the speaker's relationship to you, the reader? Are you being spoken to directly? Are you being ignored? Are you overhearing the speaker? 5. Does the poem use figurative language?

• Does it contain simile: the comparison of one thing with something else using "like" or "as"? • Does it use metaphor: a comparison made by...
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