Introduction to Poetry: Poetic Scansion; Form and Performance


Close Reading: Basic Technique

1. Get some basic information
a. For poetry that could mean coming to a consensus about what the poem is trying to say in lay terms. Who is speaking and about what? What is its subject? What are its major themes?
b. This step should be the briefest; you want to try to get “the” meaning in nugget form here. But remember, that’s not the task of close reading in general; nor is it the task of analysis. One of the tricky aspects of close analysis is that it’s easy to think that once you “get” the poem, you’re done. But instead of trying to put the text in a nutshell, we want to expand it. Think about it this way: just one of Shakespeare’s comedies, The Tempest, has a minimum of 37,700 scholarly books or articles written about it (and counting!), according to Google. And that’s just what Google has in its databases.
c. So how do you get from one piece of text to thousands upon thousands of writings and analyses?

2. Begin by asking questions about language and form
a. For poetry, try to identify the meter and rhyme scheme; note where an otherwise regular meter (iambic pentameter, for example) goes awry
b. Make notes about the regularity or irregularity of the rhyme and meter
c. How many lines are in a stanza? Is each stanza the same length? Is each line the same length (same number of metric feet)?
d. Is there a refrain?
e. What does the poem sound like? Are there repeated sounds? Repeated words?
f. Does the poem contain many or few active words/verbs?
g. Alternatively are the words mostly descriptive? If so, what do they describe?
h. Are there particular/alternative connotations to the words used in the poem?
i. What’s the speaker’s perspective?

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3. Next, move from those observations to a consideration of how they create the identified meaning?
a. What’s the relationship between these formal characteristics and what we identified as the content (or meaning) of the poem?
b. How, for example, might they suggest a deeper meaning than we originally thought?
c. Do they demonstrate an irony or contradiction we may have missed before?

4. Finally, you can begin to think about the larger implications of your analysis, and you can pose an argument that answers the question, “So what?”
a. So, what does it mean for <fill in the blank: culture, gender, literature, tradition, etc.> that the author uses this particular word/rhyme scheme/meter instead of another one?
b. So, what does it mean for <fill in the blank> that the author composes a sonnet instead of free verse or vice versa?


Step 1. Perform a close reading of the poem attached, using the steps for close reading poetry attached. Make particular note of the use of language and poetic form. How do these formal elements connect to the poem’s overall meaning?

Step 2. Next, explain HOW specifically the poem defamiliarizes common images, symbols, themes, or even words. Then, explain how the elements you have analyzed contribute to the poem’s self-referentiality.

Step 3. Finally, conduct a search for an analysis of the poem using. Summarize the analysis and provide the complete title of the source, the author’s name, the title of the database, as well as the search terms you used.