Before starting your explication of a well-known poem, determine when the poem was written and the age of the poet when he/she wrote the poem.
If you are explicating a peer's poem, please feel free to ask him or her questions about his/her poem.
Answering the following questions can help you explicate a poem:
1. What is the poem about? State the central idea or theme of the poem in one sentence._________________________________________________________
2.Who is the speaker? What kind of person is the speaker? Educational level of speaker? Intellectual level? What clues from the poem do you glean that reveal the type of speaker?
3. Who is the listener? Is there an identifiable audience for the speaker? What can we know about it (her, him, or them)?
4. What is the occasion? (birthday, wedding, funeral, starting school, important turning point, etc.)?
5. What is the setting in time? (hour, season, century, and so on)?
6. What is the setting in place (indoors or out, city or country, land or sea, region, nation, hemisphere)? Does the setting fit the content of the poem?
7. What is the tone of the poem? (Formal/Elevated? Informal? Vernacular? Slang?)
8. Is syntax (word order within the sentence) used in ways that we don’t usually hear or expect? If so, does the unusual structure work for this poem?
9. Where does the poem take you? Does it take you?
10. What is the most memorable line of the poem? What surprised you?
11. Discuss the diction (word choices) of the poem. Point out words that are particularly well-chosen and explain how they move the poem forward.
12. Point out significance of sound repetition and explain its function.
13. Discuss use of line breaks. What do the line breaks accomplish for the reader?
14. Discuss the overall form and/or pattern of the poem. Does the form of the poem fit the content?
15. Does the poem use rhyme? If so, what is the rhyme scheme?
16. What kinds of imagery are used? (Imagery = use of the five senses: sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell, as experienced through concrete language). Is the language direct? Flat? Embellished? Surprising? Accurate? Cliched?
17. Overall, is the poem lyrical (having musical qualities), metaphorical, or narrative (prose-like)?
18. Point out examples of metaphor, simile, and personification, and explain their appropriateness.
19. Point out and explain any symbols. If the poem is allegorical (having a second meaning beneath the surface one), explain the allegory.
20. Point out and explain examples of paradox, overstatement, understatement, satire, and irony. What is their function?
21. What do you like best about the poem?
22. What do you like the least?
*Some questions are from or have been adapted from Laurence Perrine’s and Thomas R. Arp’s Sound and Sense: An Introduction to Poetry, Fort Worth (TX): Harcourt Brace, 1992: 29.