How to Read Poetry

Frightened by Frost? Distressed by Dickinson? Improve your understanding and enjoyment of poetry by following these steps.

You will need

  • A poem
  • Patience
  • A literary dictionary or handbook

Step 1 Read poem several times Read the poem at least three times. Next, read it slowly, paying attention to individual lines or groups of words. Finally, read it aloud, focusing on the sound of the poem.

Step 2 Think about structure Think about the structure of the poem. Does it have a rhyme scheme? Is there a pattern, or is it free verse? Is there repetition? Consult a literary dictionary to learn about specific forms, such as the sonnet, villanelle, and sestina.

Step 3 Contemplate the content Contemplate the content of the poem. What happens in the poem? What is the mood? Is there a conflict? What seems to be the theme?

Step 4 Focus on sounds Focus on the way the poem sounds. Repetition of initial consonant sounds is called alliteration. Repetition of vowel sounds is called assonance. Look for a pattern of accented and unaccented syllables to find a poem’s rhythm.

Step 5 Look for figurative language Look for figurative language. Poems often use simile and metaphor to compare feelings and things. Personification occurs when human qualities are attributed to non-human things, and synecdoche substitutes a part for the whole.

Step 6 Think about voice Think about the voice of the poem. What is the point of view of the narrator? Is the tone intimate or distant? Is the language formal or informal?

Step 7 Put it all together Put it all together and enjoy reading the poem according to your own analysis. Use your new skill often – there’s a whole world of poetry to discover beyond “Roses are red, violets are blue.”