How To Get An ‘A’ Analysing Poetry

How To Get An ‘A’ Analysing Poetry


Do you want to get an ‘A’ when you’re analysing poetry? Read this post to find out how to do it.

This is a cheat sheet from a lazy student who wanted to get an A, but didn’t want to go through the laborious task of studying.

Now this might sound like a joke, but take it seriously. The student in question achieved Straight As in English and managed two subsequent English degrees with four hours a year worth of studying. Whoever they may be.

The following is a short manual for a student of English who through no fault of their own has found themselves in the unenviable situation of a High School or University poetry class and needs to get through it with a good grade.

This is also for the student that does not want to spend days reading journal articles on the topic, but who still wants to look like they might have in an exam.

How To Get An ‘A’ Analysing Poetry – For The Lazy Student

1. Understand What Is Being Tested

Analysing poetry is a glorified form of comprehension test. In this sense, it is really just an IQ test. Your examiner is trying to see how clear and interesting you can be by giving you an impossible task.

That is, they want you to explain to them what the poem means. Objectively, this is impossible. Poetry by nature is vague and susceptible to multiple interpretations. No poem will mean exactly the same thing to any two minds.

So, don’t try. Instead choose a mental stance, pick a side of an argument, and then make your reader believe that you are right.

This will show your examiner that you understand that the task is not to make a clear and concise interpretation of the work, but that you can apply language in a useful, persuasive, and intelligent way to solve the problem at hand.

But how?

2. You Have To Read The Poem

I know, I know, but you’re not getting off completely scot-free.

And, don’t just skim it. Read it through. Look up any words you don’t understand.

  1. Note the date.
  2. Note the poet.
  3. Note the title.
  4. Note the style.

This information will all give you context and help fuel your writing. It also provides you with four topics to write about on every poem.

Now you don’t need any of this information to get a good mark. You can simply argue well, deducing from the context of the poem, and making persuasive, and logical conclusions that are well reasoned.

But, if you know you have a test on Keats tomorrow, why make your life difficult by going in blind?

Every poet has two or three poems they are known for. All you have to do is ten minutes of Googling to find them.

Even better, find a nice 30-minute YouTube video on the topic and let it play as background noise while you do other things. In these instances, a sad disembodied British voice in the video is often a sign of quality. The less easy it is to picture the narrator camping, the better.

3. Know The Things You Need To Know

There is no getting around some things. You have to know what makes a poem a Shakespearian or Petrarchan sonnet for example. If you don’t already know these things, correct this as soon as possible. Here are some posts to help you:

  1. Poetry 101: Kinds Of Poems: The Ballad
  2. Poetry 101: Kinds Of Poems – The Villanelle
  3. Poetry 101: Kinds Of Poems – The Limerick
  4. Poetry 101: Kinds Of Poems – The Haiku
  5. Poetry 101: Kinds Of Poems – Free Verse
  6. Poetry 101: Kinds Of Poems – The Sonnet

You also need to know the words that are used to ask you questions about poetry and the words that are used to answer questions about it.

Here is a list of 40. Learn 10 a day for four days and review the list twice. For the rest of your life you can sound insufferable with ease at dinner parties!

4. Getting By With Nothing

We’ve all been there. We’re given a poem we have never heard of by an author whose name we can’t even pronounce. What do you do?

Don’t panic. Nobody expects you to know every poet. In fact, this is probably a test to see how you react to a poem for which you could not have prepared.

I always treated these tests as paintings. Beautiful, meaningless, modern-art paintings. Just a collection of wonderful colours like a Pollock or a Rothko. And, if Art students can get 20 marks out of Yves Klein’s Blue Monochrome (below), you can get through the blind poetry section of the exam.

How To Get An ‘A’ Analysing Poetry

Source: Yves Klein

Regardless of how little you know, there are always things to talk about.

Things To Talk About

  1. Mood, theme, and tone are your dearest friends. Tell the reader what the poem makes you feel, tell them what you think the writer was trying to say. Is it dark or light? Is it Happy or dreary? Is there a theme?
  2. If that is not enough look for symbols. Roses and skulls, colours and clouds are never just a description in a poem. Make them mean something then explain it in a way that is persuasive.
  3. If you need more then turn to the structure. Talk about how a freeform poem is a rebellion against authority or a symbol of a disturbed mind.
  4. You can always turn to the voice of the poem. Does the author use their own voice or do they affect somebody else’s voice.
  5. Lastly, you can dig into the choice of words themselves. Is this a simple poem full of basic English or does it come from an educated mind. Does the choice of words make you think that the poet is trying to make a statement of some kind? Are they using easy-to-understand language to reach more ears? Are they making it hard-to-understand as some sort of intellectual game so they won’t get into too much trouble over their meaning?

These are not just interesting ideas you can talk about. These are Points, Marks, and free GPA just staring you in the face waiting to be plucked off the page.

Last Word

You could also try studying, taking notes, asking questions… oh I’ve lost them. Oh, well, anyway, I hope this was helpful.

In all seriousness, most of what we are tested on in school or university is just a test of our general knowledge. If you read books, any books, if you are interested in the world around you, then you have nothing to fear. You are getting smarter every day and really that is what is being tested.

If you can prove that you are a person with a mind and not just a parrot writing verbatim the same points your teacher has just read to you in class, then you will do well. Prove to them that you have a mind and you will get an A when analysing poetry.

Looking For More Poetry Posts?

  1. Poetry 101: What Is A Poem?
  2. Poetry 101: How To Analyse A Poem
  3. Poetry 101: Creating Figurative Language Using Literary Devices
  4. How To Write And Talk About Poetry When You Don’t Have A Clue
  5. 17 Of The Most Powerful Excerpts From Poetry
  6. 15 Good Reasons To Write Poetry
  7. 33 Quotes By Poets On Poetry

Christopher :Luke Dean by Christopher Luke Dean (Who was always confused when his friends told him they were studying for English for hours. Multiple hours? What were they even doing? Maybe they were just reading books…)

Christopher Luke Dean writes and facilitates for Writers Write. Follow him on Twitter: @ChrisLukeDean

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