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  • Category: Exam Questions

    How to interpret a poem properly for examination?

    Want to know how to interpret poems on your own in literature exams instead of vomiting tuition notes in the exam hall? Learn how to interpret poems on your own.

    Hello Experts,
    Simply I would like to know how a poem can be interpreted well for getting good marks. It is known to all that most of the students sit in the examinations on the basis of memorization. They just follow the notes given to them by preparing their teachers or home tutors and they vomit in the examination hall. But, I want to prepare my notes by myself. Especially, I would like to interpret the poems in my own way. So, please suggest me how I can explain a poem properly.
  • #95369
    Could you please mention which class / year you read in? Techniques of interpreting poetry will be different for senior school students, graduation students, and post-graduation students. Also, please mention whether you are talking about English literature here or anything else.
    Kumaraditya Sarkar

  • #95380
    Sorry for not mentioning my class, actually I forgot. Well I am a student of B.A 2nd year having English major.

  • #95394
    Well, for interpreting poems or any other piece of literature, first of all you need to understand the time. Every work is a product of its own age; if Pope would have written in Eliot's time, he would write another Four Quartets instead of The Rape of the Lock. Try to understand the socio-historical background of the work first. Analyse the contemporary, society, science and popular beliefs, economy and so on.

    For example, if you are studying Wordsworth, ask yourself why that person was writing Romantic lyrics and not social commentaries like Dryden. In Dryden's time, there was no newspaper - the poets had to write pamphlets and let people know about socio-politicial scenarios. In Wordsworth's time, newspapers took over that part. Will you buy a volume of poetry about any political issue when you can know about it from newspapers? Thus, poets could, or had to, turn their focus to nature, inner selves, and mysticism.

    Go through some good history of England books. There is a series by Pelican on history of England, with one volume focusing on one century. Also read European history in general. To interpret 18th century and Victorian literature properly, you need to understand the contemporary socio-economic changes before and after the Industrial Revolution.

    Secondly, try to find out whether the biography of the poet can add any extra parameter to your understanding of the poem. If someone does not know that Milton was blind, he cannot interpret Samson's lament over blindness in Samson Agonistes as Milton's own lament. Similarly, if you do not know that T. S. Eliot had double hernia resulting in impotence and a failed marriage, you cannot interpret Prufrock as the daydreaming of an impotent man [Before 1970s, critics often missed the bus by interpreting The Waste Land as the epic portrait of the post War Modernist world, while it was actually autobiographical]. This approach is known as bio-historicism.

    Next, try to figure out whether the words, phrasing, figures of speech, rhythmic pattern and all such ornamental things add any extra flavour to its interpretation or not. For example, if someone does not understand the English language, he can still figure out the tonal difference between Blake's "Tyger, tyger, burning bright / In the forests of the night" and Gray's "The curfew tolls the nail of parting day / The lowing herd wind slowly o'er the lea". In the first case, the trochaic tetrameter (with catalexis) clearly denotes the tone and mood of child rhymes. In the second, Grays's iambic pentameter conveys seriousness and is a perfect conveyance for an elegy beginning with a daybreak scene. This is called formalistic approach, and is especially handy to interpret metaphysical and modernist.

    Many poets, especially Eliot, is often quite allusive; and if you do not understand what the allusions or references mean or symbolize, you miss the bus. It is particularly useful to have a handbook of classical (mainly Greek and Roman, sometimes Egyptian, Indian and Norse) mythologies. Edith Hamilton's Mythology and William Hansen's Handbook of Classical Mythology are undoubtedly two best books to recommend.

    There are few good books available in the market to teach critical appreciation of poetry. H.L.B. Moody's Literary Appreciation: A Practical Guide is a must for every English major student. This book will show you step by step how to write critical appreciations of English poems, with pieces for practice.

    Heroic, Mock-heroic, Pre-Raphaelite and Romantic poets drew heavily on figures of speech, so have some good rhetoric and prosody books. Another must-have book for graduation level students of English literature is M. H. Abram's Literary Terms.

    I think these basic concepts will help you attempt your first answers and critical appreciations of English poetry. If you require to know any specific thing, write in details about that particular problem.

    Statutory warning: Do not depend on popular note and guide books. They often misinterpret and mislead. Be attentive in your classes; class lectures simply have no alternative.

    Kumaraditya Sarkar

  • #95408
    For properly inteperating a poem you need to first read the given poem at least two times with great focuss. First of all read first paragraph and mark the words whose meanings are not known to you. After this try to read that line again and again in which that word lies. Now try to put your own word instead of that word whose meaning is not known to you. It would be like filling the correct word.
    Now when you have somewhat understood the poem, the main competition is in answering the questions given. Basically in poem, the first question is of filling the correct word. To best answer this question you need to see only the first word before the given blank space and the last word after the given blank space. Now as you have seen your two words, try to search them in poem. When you successfully searched the word or group of words that come in between these words, write those words in your answer but remember if the searched group of words is more than four words try to shorten up them and then write in the blank space given.
    After all these the next question in poem is where you need to provide answer to the given question. To answer this question you have to first understand what that question really wants. After that try to find the paragraph in which tells about related notions and extensively search for your answer. When you have found the answer to the question, try to write it in your own words briefly. Basically the first question comes from either first or second paragraph. So first try to search your answer in these paragraphs as it will save you much time.
    After this the next question is where you have to provide meaning of the given word. In this question paragraph number would be provided to you, so you have to see the meaning in that paragraph only. First of all mark the words which you suspect that could be the answer to that question. Now in place of those words try to read the sentence by putting in the word given in question. The sentence which you think suits most for that word could be the answer to that question. Now write the word which you marked in that sentence.
    Hope this would be of great help to you.


  • #95511
    As a student of B.A. English, you will be given extracts from poems for interpretation. As a part of preparation, I can suggest you to follow these points:

    1. Read the poem thoroughly, several times. Read once, twice, thrice or even more. Try to pour your heart into the poem while reading. Read with your entire mind for the pleasure of reading a piece of creativity.
    2. Try to understand each and every word without opening the dictionary. Sometimes, dictionary meaning can ruin the beauty of the poem.
    3. Usually, deep, complex and hidden emotions are compressed into a single word which a mere dictionary meaning won't be able to justify.
    4. To understand the poet's point of view it is important to know the biography of the poet, the time he/she wrote this particular poem and how the society was at that point of time.
    5. It is also important to understand if the poet is the speaker of the lines or the speaker is someone else.
    6. As a reader, you should create an image of the speaker and the surrounding with the help of words used by the poet.
    7. Poets usually give hints and clues through their choice of words used in poetry.
    8. While writing the answers based on questions from extracts of poems, start by introducing the name of the poem and the name of the poet. Also include one or two sentences about the poem on a whole and then start answering the actual question which can be the interpretation of two lines from a long poem.
    9. If the question demands interpretation of an entire poem, then start by introducing the name of the poem, name of the poet. You can write a few sentences about the poet. In the first paragraph, try to write in general about the poem. In the later paragraphs try to describe each stanza of the poem in it proper order. At the end, try to write a summary of the entire poem.

  • #95698
    To interpret good poems make a habit of reading many poems this will refines your skills, increase your imaginations and words to describe something as poem without practice you will run out of imagination after four lines. While listening a poem pay attention to its rhythms, sounds, feelings, rhyme scheme. To write a poem find an interest for you, which thrills you the most, the things which inspire you to write about it, you can write love poem, verse, description of nature anything. Read more articles to increase your vocabulary or you can prefer a newspaper to increase your vocabulary. Add the poetic devices to your poems like irony, metaphor, simile etc. Reading verse of rap songs are also useful.

  • #96639
    In school level you have to interpret a poem using the following points;
    1.Read the poem thoroughly for several times.
    2.Try to understand the rhythm of the poem.
    3.Understand the meaning of every word in the poem with the help of a good dictionary.
    4.Ask your teacher to help you to understand the inner meaning of an allegorical poem.

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