How to Analyse and Annotate a Poem

Analysing and annotating a new poem is, frankly, a terrifying thing. Click on through for a step-by-step method to how to approach it. It’s like eating an elephant – you couldn’t do it in one go, but if you cut it up into small enough pieces…

Basic Principles:

Annotate your poem with:

• Brief notes
• Significant words and phrases
• Links between parts/words
• Comments on structure
• Rhyming schemes
Make notes on paper for:
• Interpretation
• Themes
• Detailed analysis as in Step 3

Step 1: Basics (Annotate Text)

Get in to the habit of annotating your poetry in pencil – that way you can alter it as your ideas develop. You will erase or expand upon everything that you highlight in this part.
1. Underline any individual words you don’t know
2. Put a cross in the margin by any groups of words that you can’t understand
3. Put an asterisk in the other margin to show any ’bits’ where you know the meaning of the individual words – but can’t make sense of what they are supposed to mean in the poem
4. Put brackets round any ’bits’ of the poem – individual words or groups of words – that seem especially odd, that don’t seem to fit in
5. Pick out any bits of the poem that you quite like the sound of – whether or not it seems to make sense

Step 2: Detail (Annotate Text)

1. Look for patterns, repetitions, repeated words, phrases, ideas – and developments of these in the poem (maybe draw pencil ’arrows’ between them)
2. What links can you make between the title and the actual words of the poem? Pick out and list some specific vocabulary. Make a note of line numbers.
3. What word ‘pictures’ or images can you find within the poem? Use circles in the margin to mark them
4. What do you notice about the punctuation and organisation of the poem into lines and verses? Where does your eye tell you to stop? Where does the punctuation tell you to stop? Count the sentences; count the lines; count the stanzas.
5. What do you notice about the ’shape’ of the poem? What does it look like on the page (this is called form or structure). Write some very brief notes to show how the poem is organised.

Step 3: Analysis (Write notes on paper)

Look at these areas below. What message is the poet trying to get across in his or her use of these devices?

Title
First impressions
Tone
Imagery
Themes – often these will be ambiguous, have double meaning
Speaker – who is the speaker in the poem? Are the poet and the speaker the same person?
Vocabulary – repeated words, synonyms or homonyms, ambiguity
Rhythm, Metre, Rhyme is the poet emphasising any themes or words through the use of any of these?

Step 4: Answering the Question

Using your notes and annotations, come up with an answer that responds to the question.
Read the question. What exactly is it asking?
• What is the point that you wish to make in your response?
• Formulate a piece of writing that gets your point across clearly and succinctly.
Include evidence for everything that you write.
• If I do not agree with your interpretation, and you have not provided evidence to support it, you will not convince me of your point of view.

And click here more easily printable format…

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~ by mrprestney on September 3, 2008.

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