Understanding Poetic Elements

At some point of our lives, we all have to deal with reading, understanding, analyzing and even writing poems. Either it is our passion or our Language and/or Literature teacher forced us to do so because our curriculum requires us. To some, reading, understanding and writing poetry pose great challenges while it gives pleasure to others, as if they were munching popcorn while watching a very enjoyable film. These people have become so much familiar with the elements of poetry and this has made them quite experts with reading, understanding and even writing poetry. Getting familiar with and understanding these elements will greatly help you develop and better view and understanding towards poetry. Here are some of the elements you should be aware of:

Theme. It is what the poem is about. The theme of the poem can greatly vary from on subject to another, as the poet wishes it to be. Robert Browning’s Prospice and William Cullen Bryant’s Thanatopsis talk about death, while Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s The Arrow and the Song talks about friendship. Within the theme of the poem, universal truths can be found. Universal truths, as the name suggests are eternal principle conveyed by the poem that is connected to the theme. Prospice and Thanatopsis tells us that death is nothing to be feared of, it should be welcomed with open arms because it unites us nature and it levels all creation, because we all die. These are the universal truths about the theme, death. The theme of a poem can only be a word or a phrase, but the universal truth that it conveys could be longer than a paragraph.

Speaker. The speaker is the character of the poem that expresses the emotions and/or sentiments in the first person point of view which may not necessarily be the author herself as she may not share the same sentiments. Authors use speakers in their poems to create a more realistic expression of the emotions and ideas in the poem.

Tone and Mood. The tone is the “voice” of the poem we imagine the poem is read in. It can be indignant, happy, sad and so on. The mood is the overall feeling conveyed by the poem which can be created by the tone and/or the choice of words that can clearly express indignation, disgust, love and so on.

Rhyme Scheme. Rhyming is very common in poetry, although not all poets impose rhyme schemes in their poems. Rhyming adds effect to the structure of the poem, often it also helps convey the theme and emphasizes the mood of the poem by the playful sound that it creates.

Meter. It is the basic structure of a poem: the units and sub-units of a line, syllable and stanza. Most poems come in pentameters (a line of five metrical feet).

Style. Poetry does come in different packages: we have the free verse, blank verse, sonnets and etc. These styles includes the rhyming, meter and arrangement of everything. Does it come in a couplet, quatrain, sestet? Is it a haiku, a sonnet, a limerick? The style of poetry is sometime imposed by the poet to add visual effects in the conveying of the theme. More often than not, the style is not a manner of random choice but of discreet and wise utility of poetic element.

Symbolism. This element of poetry seems to be the hardest to grasp because the interpretation may vary from reader to reader. These symbols are figures or things mentioned or implied in the poem which means or signifies another thing. A sword could be used as a symbol for power, violence, justice and many more depending how the author used it. A wind may symbolize trouble or support. Interpreting symbolism require in-depth and extra reading and pondering. You may also need to check cross-reference within the poem and other works to attest the meaning of the symbol as implied by the poet.

These are some of but a few elements of poetry that one should get familiar to when he/she wants to read, understand or write a poem. This article may not give an in-depth view or tutorial but it can give a hint how to approach poetry, either you want to read, understand or write one.

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