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Poetry response essay example

Do you feel like reading and analyzing poetry is like trying to decipher an ancient, lost language? Well, never fear! The process is fairly methodical and isn't as difficult as it may seem at first glance. To analyze poetry, you just have to figure out what the poem means and identify what tools the poet uses to make that meaning both clear and understandable.

Part One of Two:
Determining What the Poem Means Edit

Read the poem once silently to yourself slowly. The first time you read through a poem, record any “gut reactions” you have to the poem: any emotional connections you have with what the author is saying, reminders of personal detailed experiences, things you like or dislike, or things you like to share with others. Think in terms of, “How do I feel about this? Why? Why not?” These reactions can help you focus on the type of response the poet is looking for in a reader and also give you the true feeling of life.
  • For example, read Bliss Carmen’s “The Vagabond Song.” Your first impressions may be ones of brightly colored leaves, edged in frost. Or summer turning to fall. It may call up memories of time spent in the woods when the leaves are all changing. [1]
Read the poem again and find the literal meaning of the poem. The literal meaning is the most straightforward version of the poem and does not refer to any poetic devices. Translate the poem into conversational English. How would you tell the poem’s story to a friend? Think in terms of, “What’s the most common dictionary definition of this word or phrase?” This can be a difficult step, but remember that all good poetry, even when it seems incredibly inaccessible, is still based on words that carry literal meaning. [2]
  • For “The Vagabond Song,” the story is of the poet witnessing the change from summer to fall. He feels like fall is the most captivating season, and it sets his blood going to think of the leaves changing.
Read the poem again to find the connotative meaning of the poem. Take several keywords or phrases from the poem and consider the kinds of connotations they carry. Think in terms of, “Why this word and not another?” Refer to your first reactions: often connotative meanings, rather than denotative, are what engage our emotions.
  • Take the word “mother,” for example. The dictionary would define mother as “a female parent.” OK, but the word “mother” probably creates emotions and feelings in you: it paints a picture in your mind. You may think of love and security or you may think of your own mother. The emotions and feelings that a word creates are called its connotative meaning.
  • For “The Vagabond Song,” take the phrase “gypsy blood.” Technically gypsy blood means the blood of someone who is of Romani descent. Yet in the poem, the connotation of “gypsy blood” is that of a wandering spirit. The poet may have home or permanent place to live, but when the fall season comes, he suddenly feels restless.
Find the symbolic meaning of the poem. Record any allusions you recognize, references to symbols, etc. Think in terms of, “What could this stand for? Why?”
  • In “The Vagabond Song,” consider the word “native.” The line reads, “There is something in the autumn that is native to my blood.” Native in this case, does not mean that the speaker was born with autumn in his blood. Instead it is a symbolic representation of the concept that the speaker feels like he was born to be a part of the autumn, that he feels most alive in the autumn, and that autumn is an inherent part of himself. Native means intrinsic, siren-like, and joy-inspiring.
  • For another example, consider the word "light." This may not refer to the literal condition that means the opposite of darkness; often "light" is used to symbolize knowledge, truth, peace, joy, or spirituality.
Stop and ask yourself, “What is the author trying to say? ” What is his goal for this poem? What kind of a reaction is he trying to get out of readers? Why?” Try to identify the author’s purpose for writing.
  • For “The Vagabond Song,” Carmen’s purpose for writing is to celebrate the transition from summer to fall. He wants to express the feelings he gets when the leaves begin to change and a sudden restlessness grips him.

If you're still having trouble understanding what the author is trying to say through the poem, go back and read through it a few more times. Pay attention to the kinds of emotions the poem relates to. Often a poet's goal will be simply to help readers feel a certain way or sense the reality of an imagined scene.

Write your own poems and try to analyze them yourself! This will help you learn to analyze the poems of others.

Try not to get frustrated. Some poetry can be very challenging to understand. All in all, just practice! Don't give up. Learning to appreciate complex poetry is a skill that takes time to develop.

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