Critical Questions for Reading Poetry
1. Can you paraphrase a poem if necessary?
2. Who is the speaker in the poem? How would you describe this person?
3. What is the speaker’s tone? Which words reveal this tone? Is the poem perhaps
4. What heavily connotative words are used? What words have unusual or special
meanings? Are any words or phrases repeated? If so, why? Which words do you
need to look up?
5. What images does the pet use? How do the images relate to one another? Do these
images form a unified pattern (a motif) throughout the poem? Is there a central,
6. What figures of speech are used? How do they contribute to the tone and meaning
of the poem?
7. Are there any symbols? What do they mean? Are they universal symbols, or do
they arise from the particular context of this poem?
8. Is the occasion for or the setting of the poem important in understanding its
meaning? If so, why?
9. What is the theme (the central idea) of this poem? Can you state it in a single
10. How important is the role of metrics (sound effects), such as rhyme and rhythm?
How do they affect tone and meaning?
11. How important is the contribution of form, such as rhyme scheme and line
arrangement? How does the form influence the overall effect of the poem?
When analyzing a poem, pay particular attention to the author’s use of special poetic
devices of sound and meaning.
Analyzing a Poem. Choose a lyric poem that you have read and enjoyed. Then, answer
the following questions.
1. Author: _______________________ Title: ____________________________
2. Subject of the Poem: ______________________________________________
3. Stanza formed used: ____________________
4. Meter: ______________________
5. Rhyme Scheme (if applicable): ______________________________________
6. Poetic Devices Used (check those found in the poem):
____ Alliteration ____ Onomatopoeia ____ Cacophony
____ Assonance ____ Euphony ____ Internal rhyme
____ Metaphor ____ Paradox ____ Allusion
____ Simile ____ Verbal Irony ____ Pun
____ Hyperbole ____ Dramatic Irony ____ Symbol
____ Personification ____ Irony of Situation
7. Imagery Used in the Poem:
Images of Sight: _______________________________________________
Images of Sound: ______________________________________________
Other Images: _________________________________________________
8. Mood Evoked by This Imagery: ________________________________________
Answer these questions on a separate piece of paper:
9. Does the poem have an identifiable speaker? If so, what characteristics of the
speaker does the poem reveal?
10. Is the poem addressed to a specific audience? If so, what is this audience?
11. What is the tone of the poem? What is its mood? What details help to create tone
12. Central Idea, or Message, of the Poem: __________________________________
TP-CASTT: A Method for Poetry Analysis
1. Title: Examine the title before reading the poem. Consider connotations.
2. Paraphrase: Translate the poem into your own words (literal/denotation). Resist the
urge to jump to interpretation. A failure to understand what happens literally
inevitably leads to an interpretive misunderstanding.
Look for: Syntactical units (complete sentences rather than by line)
Enjambment vs. end-stopped lines
3. Connotation: Examine the poem for meaning beyond the literal.
Look for: Diction
4. Imagery: (especially metaphor, simile, personification)
6. Irony: paradox, understatement, oxymoron
8. Effect of sound devices (alliteration, onomatopoeia, assonance, consonance,
9. Attitude: tone: Examine both the speaker’s and poet’s attitudes. Remember; don’t
confuse the author with the persona.
Look for: Speaker’s attitude towards self, other characters, and the subject
Attitudes of characters other than speakers
Poet’s attitude toward speaker, other characters, subject and finally
toward the reader
10. Shifts: Note shifts in speaker, attitudes
Look for: Occasion of poem (time and place)
Key words (e.g. but, yet)
Punctuation (dashes, periods, colons…)
Changes in line and/or stanza length
Irony (sometimes irony hides shifts)
Effect of structure on meaning
11. Title: Examine the title again, this time on an interpretive level.
12. Theme: First list what the poem is about (subjects); then determine what the poet
is saying about each of those subjects (theme). Remember, theme must be expressed
as a complete sentence.
TALKING BACK TO A POEM
It would be convenient if there were a short list of universal questions, ones that could
be used anytime with any poem. In the absence of such a list, here are a few general
questions that you might ask when approaching a poem for the first time.
1. Who is the speaker?
2. What circumstances gave rise to the poem?
3. What situation is presented?
4. Who or what is the audience?
5. What is the tone?
6. What form, if any, does the poem take?
7. How is form related to content?
8. Is sound an important, active element of the poem?
9. Does the poem spring from an identifiable historical moment?
10. Does the poem speak form a specific culture?
11. Does the poem have its own vernacular?
12. Does the poem use imagery to achieve a particular effect?
13. What kind of figurative language, if any, does the poem use?
14. If the poem is a question, what is the answer?
15. If the poem is the answer, what is the question?
16. What does the title suggest?
17. Does the poem use unusual words or use words in an unusual way?