The easiest way to paralyze a teenager is to tell him to clean his room. Faced with such a monumental mission, he becomes powerless. Break the chore into separate tasks (change your bed, put your laundry in the hamper, find the floor, etc.), however, and your reluctant adolescent will likely find that he is able to declare victory over what had earlier seemed impossible.
In the same way, students can become overwhelmed when faced with a poem and open-ended instructions to dissect it. Textbooks tend to provide poems accompanied by questions that focus on one aspect of poetry at a time. These, sad to say, do not help students synthesize their knowledge over time so that they are able to apply it to any poem of any style.
This guide provides the basics of poetry analysis, asking students to look at aspects such as diction, imagery (descriptive and figurative), meter, sound, symbolism and theme. Once they have practiced with this guide repeatedly on many poems, they will find that they no longer need it, and can approach any poem with an analytical eye and ear.
A few notes:
Students will use the guide repeatedly for each poem they are assigned; they will not write answers for any particular poem on it.
There are no symbols used in the guide for stressed and unstressed syllables; stressed syllables are underlined instead. Instruct your students to mark these syllables using the symbols you have taught them for indicating stresses.
Terms used are defined and, in most instances, accompanied by examples.
Accompanying the guide is an example of an annotated poem, which you may use or for which you may substitute one of your own.
The guide’s teacher’s notes contain suggestions for eight poems available online for classroom use.
Your students will use this guide as poetic water wings, useful while they are learning the rudiments of poetry analysis but later to be jettisoned once they gain skill and confidence.