1. Does the poem have an argumentative (or logical) organization, like Keats's "Ode on a Grecian Urn," " Hopkins's "Windhover," or Arnold's "Dover Beach," or a narrative organization, like Coleridge's Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Tennyson's "The Kraken," Rossetti's "Troy Town," Eliot's "Journey of the Magi," and Yeats's "Leda and the Swan"? Or do patterns or clusters of images unify it?
2. Who speaks (in) the poem? In other words, are we supposed to assume that the words are literally those of the poet, as in Wordsworth's "Tintern Abbey" and Keats's "When I have fears?" Or does some persona or invented speaker speak the poem, as in Tennyson's "Tithonus," Browning's "My Last Duchess," and Eliot's "Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock"? What essential difference is there between poems spoken by the poet and those by a poet's created character? (One good rule of thumb, especially when reading poems written after 1840: assume that the speaker is not the poet until you are sure one way or the other).
3. Does the poem use artificial, high, or elaborate diction, more common language, or a mixture of both? What does each choice imply about the poet's conception of poetry and reality in general?
4. What verse or stanza forms characterize the poem -- eg, In Memoriam stanza, sonnet, couplet, blank verse? Do these forms relate closely to the subject and theme of the poem? Does the use of couplets limit Pope, for example, to stating brief epigrams or the use of separate stanzas shape the way Yeats organizes "Sailing to Byzantium"? Note how passages or blocks of thought relate to the overall organization, since many times separate thoughts or times or feelings appear in each section.
5. What forms of alliteration (repetition of consonant sounds) and assonance (repetition of vowels) characterize the poem and how do they create mood, tone, and so on? How does rhyme affect the poem? In other words, do the rhymes bring the reader to a stop at the end of each line or does the reader read past them? Does the meter of the poem work in concert with these other stylistic effects?
Last modified September 2007