An Introduction to Poetry

An Introduction to Poetry
Learning to read poetry well and to savor its pleasures
involves learning to ask questions about how we
experience poems, how we interpret them, and how we
evaluate them. Such questions include the following:
What feelings does the poem evoke? What
sensations, associations and memories does it give
rise to?
2. What idea does the poem express, either directly or
3. What view of the world does the poet present?
What do you think of the poet’s view?
Interpreting Poetry
 When we interpret a poem, we concern ourselves less
with how it affects us than with what it means or
 Interpretation relies on our intellectual
comprehension and rational understanding rather
than on our emotional apprehension and response.
Read the first stanza of Robert Frost’s
“Stopping by Woods on a Snowy
Evening”. Based on your prior
knowledge and experiences reflect on
what thoughts and questions come to
Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.
What ideas or questions came to mind?
Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.
Frost’s poem opens with a speaker who seems concerned
momentarily about who owns the woods. The speaker seems
reassured that the owner can’t see him. One might wonder
why the speaker should be concerned and why he bothers to
mention it. Does he feel he is doing something wrong? The
poem also paints a picture of a man, of woods, and of snow.
It raises the questions: Why does he stop? What attracts
Elements of Poetry: Tone
 When we read a poem we hear the speaker’s voice. It’s
the voice that conveys the poem’s tone.
 Tone is the author’s implied attitude towards its
 Tone is an abstraction we make from the details of a
poem’s language: the use of meter and rhyme, the
inclusion or exclusion of certain details; particular
choices of words or sentence pattern, of imagery or
figurative language.
Elements of Poetry: Tone
An author’s tone is describe by adjectives. For example
you might say “The author of this novel sounds…”
cynical, depressed, cheerful, sympathetic, outraged,
positive, angry, sarcastic, ironic, solemn, vindictive,
intense or excited.
Tone is not an action, it’s an attitude.
Some examples of authors’
Elements of Poetry: Diction
 Like all good writers, poets are keenly aware of
diction, their choice of words
 In reading a poem it is necessary to know what the
words mean, but it is equally important to understand
what the words imply or suggest.
 Denotation is the literal, dictionary meaning of a
 Connotation is the associations and implications
that go beyond a word’s literal meaning.
Elements of Poetry: Diction
For example, with the word
Denotation: A feathered animal with wings
Connotation: Fragility, vulnerability, sky, freedom.
What about if we used the name of a specific bird? Its
denotation would remain essentially the same but how
would its connotation change?
Elements of Poetry: Diction
Other forms of diction include:
 Informal diction (personal writing)
Ex. I am going to tell Kathy I’m sorry that I forgot to
ask her to come to my birthday party.
 Formal diction (academic or literary writing)
Ex. I will inform Kathy that I apologize for forgetting
to request her presence at my birthday party.
Elements of Poetry: Diction
 Colloquial words – conversational language such as:
Hey, hiya, watcha, gonna, ya, ya’ll, wanna, doin’
 Slang – words or phrases that are not considered
standard in a speaker’s language but are acceptable in
certain social settings.
Elements of Poetry: Diction
 Jargon – the special language of a profession or group.
 Cacophonous words – harsh sounding words
Ex. maggot, detest, disgusted, moan, slime
 Euphonious words - pleasant sounding words
Ex. butterfly, puppy, luxurious, shimmer, trickle
Elements of Poetry: Syntax
 Meanings in poems are also conveyed through an
author’s arrangement of words into phrases, clauses
and sentences in order to achieve a particular effect.
 The ordering of words into meaningful verbal patterns
is called syntax.
 In Emily Dickinson’s “A Narrow Fellow in the Grass”,
the speaker says about a snake “His notice sudden is.”
 By placing the verb is unexpectedly at the end of the
line, Dickinson creates the sense of surprise we feel
when we suddenly come upon a snake.
Elements of Poetry: Syntax
Let’s go back to Frost’s poem “Stopping by the Woods on
a Snowy Evening”. He begins this poem with
Whose woods these are I think I know.
In normal word order one would write:
I think I know whose woods these are.
• To make the emphasis fall on “whose woods” ,
do you
this line?
are think
more Frost
thinks he knows as he looks at them.
• Changes the tone as this inverted syntax provides
the line with a more even rhythm and slows it
down slightly.
Elements of Poetry: Rhyme,
Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered
and weary,Assonance & Consonance
 Rhyme
final vowel
or consonant
sounds lore
in two--or more words.
While I nodded nearly napping, suddenly their
 When corresponding sounds occur at the end of lines
a tapping,
we have end rhyme; when they occur within lines we
As of
gently rapping, rapping at my
chamber door.
“ ‘Tis
I muttered,
at my
 Edgar
Poe’s “The
Raven” illustrates
chamber door ---Only this and nothing more.”
Elements of Poetry: Rhyme,
Alliteration, Assonance & Consonance
 Alliteration is the repetition of consonant sounds,
especially at the beginning of words.
Ex. Ah what a delicious day!
 Assonance is the repetition of vowel sounds in successive
or close words.
Ex. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid.
 Consonance is the repetition of consonant sounds but not
at the beginning of words.
Ex. Sweet silent thought
Elements of Poetry: Rhyme,
Alliteration, Assonance & Consonance
Going back to Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Raven”, what evidence do
you see of alliteration, assonance or consonance?
Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore --While I nodded nearly napping, suddenly their came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
“ ‘Tis some visitor,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door --Only this and nothing more.”
Elements of Poetry: Rhyme,
Alliteration, Assonance & Consonance
Why would a poet use rhyme, alliteration,
assonance and consonance in their writing?
 To affect the pace at which the reader reads the poem
which in turn may effect its tone and mood.
 To emphasize particular words or phrases.
 To create a structure and focus for their poem.
Elements of Poetry: Imagery
Poets take in the world and give us impressions of what
they experience through images.
 Imagery is language that addresses the senses (sight,
smell, taste, touch and sound).
 Imagery is not only used to create a mental picture for
the reader but to also help convey tone, mood and
Elements of Poetry: Imagery
Consider the first stanza of Li Ho’s poem “A Beautiful
Girl Combs Her Hair”
Awake at dawn
she’s dreaming
by cool silk curtains
What images do these lines convey? How does this
affect the tone and mood of the poem?
Elements of Poetry: Figures of Speech
 A simile makes an explicit comparison between two
things using the words like or as.
 For example, “A sip of Mrs. Cook’s coffee is like a
punch in the stomach.” This simile suggests that Mrs.
Cook’s coffee is very potent.
 “Mrs. Cook’s coffee is as strong as the cafeteria’s coffee”
is not a simile because the comparison is literal. Mrs.
Cook’s coffee is compared to something like it, another
kind of coffee.
Elements of Poetry: Figures of Speech
 A metaphor, like a simile, makes a comparison
between two unlike things, but it does so implicitly,
without the words like or as.
 “Mrs. Cook’s coffee is a punch in the stomach.”
 Or, as Macbeth tells us, “Life is a brief candle.”
Practice: Is it a simile or metaphor?
She is as cute as a kitten.
I am as busy as a bee.
Sea of grief
It broke my heart when my dog died.
Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what
you’re going to get.
Other Figures of Speech
 Pun – A play on words that relies on a word having more
than one meaning or sounding like another word.
Ex. Vacuuming sucks; Corduroy pillows are making
 Synecdoche – A figure of speech in which part of
something is used to represent the whole.
Ex. A person in prison is “behind bars”; Germany invaded
 Metonymy – When something closely associated a subject
is substituted for it.
Ex. Lend me your ears; That was a delicious dish.
Other Figures of Speech
 Personification – The attribution of human
characteristics to nonhuman things.
Ex. The trees screamed in the raging wind; The mice
conspired in the cupboard.
 Apostrophe – An address to either someone who is
absent or dead and therefore cannot hear the speaker
or to something nonhuman that cannot comprehend.
Ex. “ O Life”
Other Figures of Speech
 Paradox – A statement that initially appears to be self-
contradictory but that, on closer inspection, turns out
to make sense.
Ex. “The pen is mightier than the sword”
 Oxymoron – A condensed form of a paradox in which
two contradictory words are used together.
Ex. Cold fire; jumbo shrimp
Other Figures of Speech
 Understatement - deliberately expressing an idea as
less important than it actually is either for ironic
emphasis or for politeness and tact
Ex. "The grave's a fine and private place, But none, I
think, do there embrace.“
 Hyperbole – A figure of speech, exaggeration in order
to add emphasis without intending to be literally true.
Ex. Teenagers eat everything in the house.
Practice: Is it a pun, synecdoche, metonymy,
personification, apostrophe, paradox, oxymoron,
understatement or hyperbole?
The temperature rose to 55 degrees today. It was a little
Lend me a hand.
You’re clearly confused.
I just bought a new set of wheels.
The stars danced playfully in the moonlit sky.
Any questions?

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