Interpreting poetry

It is important that students understand the metalanguage of poetry as this provides them with a language for deconstructing poetry and for articulating their interpretation and analysis of poems.

Following is an extensive list of poetic techniques. Teachers should consider the ability level of their students when deciding which techniques to focus on in the teaching of a poetry lesson or unit.

  • enjambment
  • irony
  • motif
  • paradox
  • symbol
  • one

There are many comprehensive glossaries that can be accessed online such as the following:

The Poetry archive site provides detailed explanations of poetic terms, a section on 'How to use this term', and related poems that employ the technique to convey meaning.

Analysing a poem with students

Choose a poem to deconstruct with students. Model how to annotate the poem by identifying the language techniques the poet uses to shape and convey meaning. Once the language techniques have been identified, discuss the effect of these techniques on meaning. Write statements about the techniques to model the TIE strategy for students.

  • T : identify the technique
  • I : illustrate the examples
  • E : explain its effect

Example

The considered use of alliteration and assonance in the opening stanza of Kenneth Slessor’s ‘Beach Burial’, “At night they sway and wander in the waters far under”, creates an eerily quiet and sombre mood lamenting the dead soldiers.

Demonstration of how to use the TIE strategy.
Example of using the TIE strategy.

Guide students to use the TIE technique with the second stanza (to identify tone of sadness) and the third stanza (to identify symbolism). Students can then analyse the poem by drawing connections between the techniques and their effects that have been identified.

Resources

References

Australian curriculum – ACELT1637: Examining literature: Investigate and experiment with the use and effect of extended metaphor, metonymy, allegory, icons, myths and symbolism in texts, for example poetry, short films, graphic novels, and plays on similar themes.

NSW syllabus – EN5-4B: Investigate and experiment with the use and effect of extended metaphor, metonymy, allegory, icons, myths and symbolism in texts, for example poetry, short films, graphic novels, and plays on similar themes.

NSW literacy continuum  – Comprehension, Cluster 15, Marker 5: Critically evaluates the ways in which authors use and integrate language, structures and textual features to achieve particular purposes.

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