Additional Step-by-Step Method of Thoroughly Explicating a Poem In addition to the sections, which are mentioned in the basic explication de texte, please review these divisions to further assist you in the complex work of analysis. Meaning: can you paraphrase in prose the general outline of the poem? Do not simply answer yes or no; attempt a brief paraphrase. Antecedent scenario: What has been happening before the poem begins? What has provoked the speaker? "Poets make certain stanza-forms their own. Dante wrote the whole of the Divine Comedy in three-line pentameter stanzas with interlaced rhyme, and ever since, anyone writing in this form or one of its modern adaptations—from Percy Bysshe Shelley in the nineteenth century through Wallace Stevens and Seamus Heaney in the twentieth century—evokes Dante" (Vendler 74). 1. How does the information contained in this statement aid us in our interpretation of poetry? What does it tell us into utterance? How has a previous equilibrium been unsettled? What is the speaker upset6 about? 2. Division into parts: How many? Where do the breaks come? 3. The climax: How do the other parts fall into place around it? 4. The other parts: What makes you divide the poem into these parts? Are there changes in person? In agency? In tense? In parts of speech? Look for any and all dynamic changes within the poem, rather than consider that the poem is a static structure. 5. Find the skeleton: What is the emotional curve on which the whole poem is strung? (It even helps to draw a shape—a crescendo, perhaps, or an hourglass-shape, or a sharp ascent followed by a steep decline—so you will know how the poem looks to you as a whole.) 6. Games with the skeleton: How is this emotional curve made new? 7. Language: What are the contexts of diction; chains of significant relation; parts of speech emphasized; tenses; and so on? 8. Tone: Can you name the pieces of the emotional curve—the changes in tone you can hear in the speaker's voice as the poem goes along? 9. Agency and its speech acts: Who is the main agent in the poem, and does the main agent change as the poem progresses? See what the main speech act of the agent is, and whether that changes. Notice oddities about agency and speech acts. 10. Roads not taken: Can you imagine the poem written in a different person, or a different tense, or with the parts rearranged, or with an additional stanza, or with one stanza left out, conjecturing by such means why the poet might have wanted these pieces in this order? 11. Genres: What are they by content, by speech act, by outer form? 12. The imagination: What has it invented that is new, striking, and memorable—in content, in genre, in analogies, in rhythm, in a speaker? Sound Units:The sound units of a poem are its syllables. The word "enemy" has three successive sounds, en-eh-mee. Readers are conscious of a sound effect when they hear two end-words rhyme; but poets are conscious of all the sounds in their lines, just as they are of the rhythms of a line. Word Roots: These are the pieces of words that come from words in earlier languages, often Greek, Latin, or Anglo-Saxon. Poets usually are aware of the roots of the words they use. When I consider everything that grows
Holds in perfection but a little moment,
That this huge stage presenteth naught but shows
Whereon the stars in secret influence comment;
When I perceive that men as plants increase,
Cheered and checked even by the selfsame sky,
. . . .
then the conceit of this inconstant stay
Sets you most rich in youth before my sight . . . In Sonnet 15, Shakespeare makes poetic use of words such as con-sider (from the root stars) a word he later uses in the same poem. He also expects them to notice that the word "consider" is composed of two parts, con- and -sider, and that the next I verb (perceive) is followed by a...