Translated and Adapted from the French


Helen H. Roulston


         Read the poem carefully. Do not let a word pass that you do not comprehend. Very often in searching a word in a good dictionary, you will find that it has more than one meaning. This is an essential step in analyzing a poem. You will thus have the opportunity to choose what seems to you to be the best meaning in the context of the work to be studied.

         Read the poem several times. It is essential that you know your text thoroughly to prepare a good explication. Read the text aloud. This is one of the keys that will permit you to arrive at a better comprehension of the poem. This reading will permit you to be more conscious of the rhythm which is a fundamental element of the tone of the poem. It will permit you thus to observe the most conspicuous sounds the usage of which is thus connected with the sense of the text. A poem in which the author has chosen to employ many o or u sounds makes an effect very different from that produced by a poem in which the vowels like i or e dominate. In a good poem these dominant sounds are in a tight relationship with the total significance of the poem. It is only in reading aloud, respecting the punctuation (and where the poet has not punctuated his work, in trying to imagine what it ought to be), that you will be really able to appreciate this essential dimension of the poem.


         Information essential for the explication of an entire poem. Who is the author? What is the title of the poem? When and in what collection was it published? Are there particular circumstances which have played a role in the creation of the poem?

         Information essential for the explication of a part of a poem. Give the information that has just been mentioned above. What stanza or stanzas, or better, what part of the poem does it pertain to? Outline very briefly what precedes the part of the poem that you are to explicate.


         The genre of the poem. Is the poem a fixed form? In this case what form is employed? sonnet? ballad? another form? Is the poem in stanza form? In this case, how many stanzas are there? How many lines are there in each stanza? Is the poem in free verse?

         The metrical pattern of the lines. What sorts of metrical feet are employed? iambic? trochaic? dactylic? anapestic? Which ones predominate? How many metrical feet are used in the lines? What patterns do you observe? Is the meter regular or irregular? Is there any free verse?

         The kind of rhyme. What is the rhyme scheme? aabb? abab? abcb? or another? If the poem is a short unit, like a sonnet, give the complete rhyme scheme. If the poem is in stanzas, give the pattern of one stanza, unless the stanzas vary. Then clearly indicate the differences. If the poem is a long single unit, give the prevailing pattern as concisely as possible, like aabbcc. Are the rhymes predominantly masculine or feminine? Are there slant rhymes? eye rhymes? Is the poem without rhyme in many sections or


         Explain as briefly as possible the goal which the poet proposes. Why has he written the poem? to recount a story? to make a description? to illustrate a lesson, moral or otherwise? to move or excite a person in particular? to move or excite the reader? to be set free from an obsession, i.e., for a catharsis? to explain a certain vision of life? to explain a certain aesthetic (theory of beauty)? to explain a state of his soul? to explain a way of life? to avenge oneself? to amuse oneself? to mock someone or something? to make an appeal to someone? for the sole pleasure of creating a work of art?


         This is the longest and the most detailed part of the explication. Explain what the author says. Do not make a paraphrase or a résumé. Begin by seeing if you can answer the following questions. In your writing you will not necessarily be able to follow the order in which the questions are presented. Also you will not be able to answer all the questions, only those which have a direct bearing on the particular poem.

         Organization of the poem. Is the poem a narration of an incident? a dialogue? a monologue? a mixture of these procedures? According to the theme or idea presented, is one able to divide the poem in several parts? How are these different parts linked or joined together? Is the transition made harmoniously or abruptly? Do you have the impression that the poem has been developed so that it follows a straight line in a progression directly and clearly? Does the development follow an ascending or a descending line? Between the beginning of the poem and its conclusion, do you have the impression of having traveled a complete circle? Does the poem go from a general idea to a specific one or vice versa? Is a specific incident or idea presented in the context of the poem? Does the poem pose a question to which one can respond? Is the argument given in the form of a syllogism? Is the poem so constructed as to produce an effect of surprise? What role does the form, the structure, play in the organization of the poem?

         The tone of the poem. How many voices are there in the poem? To whom do they belong? If there is only one voice, does the poet give his own voice to a personage in the poem? Does the poet speak for himself? Does he remain impersonal? Does the poet speak as one speaks in everyday life? Is the tone familiar? Does the poet amuse himself? Does he attempt to please or delight in a graceful manner? Is the tone one of badinage (joking)? Does the poet mock someone or something in order to shock or outrage? Is the tone ironic? Does the poet teach a lesson? Does he say how to or how not to do something? Is the tone didactic (preachy)? Does the poet speak of grand sentiment or grand problems in terms that are not those of ordinary conversation? Is the tone elevated? Are there other adjectives which can be clearly applied to the tone? solemn? serious? pathetic? amiable? impervious? cleverly cute?

         The language of the poem. Does the poet employ throughout an abstract or concrete vocabuary? Do the words belong to everyday or a more select language? Does the poet use old, archaic words? Can one group the concrete words in different appropriate categories, for example, of nature? of the senses? of the house? of a profession? of mythology? of the story? to another category? Can one group the abstract words in certain appropriate categories pertaining, for example, to certain sentiments or ideas? to love? to hate? to nostalgia? to patriotism? to another sentiment or idea? Are there words employed in a double sense? In the case of verbs are there different modes (active, passive, imperative) or tenses employed? Are there important changes of modes or tenses? Are certain words dominant or lacking? nouns? verbs? adjectives? adverbs? pronouns? others?<br>

         The syntax of the poem. Does the order of the words follow that of prose? For what purpose are certain phrases inverted? Are there any old-fashioned constructions?

         Stylistic procedures of the poem. Does the poet employ geographical, historical, mythological, literary, personal allusions? Are there puns in the poem? Does the poet employ personification of things? animals? abstractions? In personifying nature, does the poet fall into the "sympathetic fallacy," going so far as to impart to nature a sympathetic feeling directed towards man? Does the poet employ a systematic repetition of words or constructions? What sort of images does the poet employ? Are they successful? pleasing? unusual? common? trite? picturesque? grotesque? Are the images designed to describe a painting, a scene, one or more persons, animals, or things? to make a hint or a suggestions? to embellish, decorate? Are there images used symbolically, that is, to represent an attitude? an emotion? a belief? a value? Does the poet use comparisons (introduced by "an" or "like") known as similies? For example, "The sky, like an immense starry sea, shone above him." Does the poet use metaphors? For example, "The sky, immense starry sea, shone above him." Does the poet deliberately use a vocabulary and syntax which are difficult? Is the poem hermetic, self-contained?

         Effects of the sounds and rhythms. Are there vowels which dominate or are repetitive? Are there consonants which dominate or are repetitive? What effects are produced by these assonances or alliterations? Are there onomatopoetic words (words which imitate their meanings like "bang" or "crash")? Are there certain rhymes used deliberately for their sounds or for the effect produced by these sounds? Would the poet have obtained a different effect if he had employed a line of a different length? Are there any enjambments (the continuation of a sentence or idea from one line or couplet of a poem to the next)? What effect does the poet create by using them? Is the rhythm of the poem slow? fast? irregular? regular? Does it roll or flow easily? Is the rhythm constant throughout the poem? How does the poet integrate his rhythm with his meaning?


         Make a rapid résumé of your study of the text. Underline particularly the themes treated and the procedures used by the poet. Finally, give your personal evaluation of the poem--your reactions to it. Indicate what you particularly liked or disliked and the reasons for your reactions.


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