Tips for Reading a Poem

At some point in your life, you may pick up a book of poetry. Maybe it will be a collection by a single author, such as The Meandering Mind e-book, or it could be a collection by a bunch of different writers. Regardless, you can try to pick up the book and read it like you would a novel, but you are unlikely to get much out of it.

While some poems and books of poetry are narrative, meaning that they tell a story, many poems and books of poetry are not. You often have to read one poem at a time and really think carefully about what it’s trying to say. Here are some tips for getting the most out of a poem as you read it.

Consider the Context

Start by asking yourself what you know about the poet. It is not strictly necessary to find out about the poet before reading the poem, but if you do know something about him or her, it may provide a clue as to what he or she was trying to express in the poem.

Look out for allusions to historical events and figures or other literary works. These may be subtle or overt. The poet may draw your attention to it specifically or seem to mention it off-handedly. However, a poet does not make an allusion for no reason, so try to figure out how the historical context or literary work relates to the theme of the poem.

Determine Who the Speaker Is

A trap that many readers fall into while interpreting poetry is to assume that the poem reflects the writer’s point of view. While a poem may be autobiographical, many poets write from the perspective of someone else. It may be a real person or a product of the poet’s imagination. The speaker may be named in the poem or anonymous. What you know about the poet’s life may give you a clue as to who the speaker is.

These are just a couple of preliminaries for reading and understanding a poem. With more practice, you can delve much deeper.