HOW TO ANSWER QUESTIONS IN POETRY
Most students argue that poetry is one of the most challenging sections to answer during an examination while others find it easy to tackle a poem. This paper focusses on how to analyse a poem and frequent questions asked in poetry for secondary school learners. Analysis of a poem is asked in a precise manner where the student deciphers the meaning of a poem from its title, examining the phrases and words considering the sound patterns, imagery, rhythm, implied and obvious meaning. The reader is expected to be logical and precise in answering the questions.
- a) Context and themes in the poem
What is the poem talking about?
Here, the learner is expected to give an account of what the poem is talking about, it’s setting, and the main issue concerning a particular point in history or our environment e.g poems written during colonialism or on issues like corruption. To answer this question, a learner should read through the whole poem capturing the events in all stanzas, be brief and give an interpretation of the poem in his/ her own words.
Themes are concerns raised in a poem referring to the subject matter and reason for writing a particular poem. A poet arranges words and phrases in stanzas to mock, teach, and even warn their readers on emerging issues in the environment. A reader must, therefore, be active in their environment to spell out different themes in the poem. Issues such as love, death, corruption, war, malice are expressed by poets.
b) Classification of the poem
Poetry is oral, therefore when classifying a poem, the reader must understand the issues conveyed, the mood of the persona, and even the poem’s target audience. Oral poems are classified into lullabies, work, political, war, dirges, religious, wedding, and courtship poetry. In classification, one should carefully identify the issues conveyed, the voice in the poem I.e persona, identify the styles employed by the poet to convey the message, and look at how diction captures rhythm in the poem.
- c) Rhythm in poetry
Rhythm is created by the use of sound devices and the repetition of phrases and words in a poem e.g rhyme, consonance, assonance, alliteration, and repetition.
Rhyme refers to the repetition of sounds at the end of each line in a poem i.e end rhyme while internal rhyme is created within a line in a poem. Rhyme scheme refers to the pattern designed by rhyming words within lines in a poem to help create rhythm. It becomes a regular rhyme scheme when we can easily predict the next sound in the pattern while an irregular rhyme scheme refers to the unpredictable patterns in the sounds. Alphabets are used to indicate the sounds in the scheme and should be written freely without punctuation. Rhyme creates and enhances musicality reinforcing the meaning of the rhyming words in a poem.
Consonance is the repetition of a consonant sound within a line (end or middle) in a poem which helps create rhythm e.g She had talked about it a lot
Alliteration involves the repetition of initial consonant sounds close to each other in a line of a poem to create rhythm e.g She sang a sad song
Assonance is the repetition of vowel sounds in words and phrases that follow each other in a poem, therefore, enhancing musicality e.g Rage, rage, against the dying of the light.
Onomatopoeia where words imitate the sound they mean e.g ping pong leaves rustled, the clock ticked tick tock.
Repetition is another sound device which involves the poet’s usage of a word more than once in a poem to emphasize given issues.
d) Imagery in poetry
Imagery refers to the use of figurative language to create a mental picture of a situation.
Use of similes– These are pictures created by comparing two things using phrases like as…as, like e.g she ran like a deer
Use of metaphors– This is a direct comparison to something showing that they share the trait attributed e.g Melissa is a lion, shows how brave/ dangerous Melissa is.
Use of personification– Refers to situations where inanimate things like stones and plants are given animate traits e.g Trees whispered, stones cried
Use of symbolism– The use of things or objects that have implied meaning in a poem e.g silver and gold symbolize wealth and money, blood symbolizes death or violence. When such objects are used in poetry, symbolism is created.
e) Irony in Poetry
The irony is created when the poet contradicts the expectations of the reader and the events in a poem e.g Miriam Were’s They Ran Out of Mud, it is ironic not to finish to mud the walls since mud is readily available therefore the persona implies the laziness of the workers.
f) Satire in Poetry
The persona uses mockery in their language to criticize things, people, situations, and creating comical characters whom the reader finds funny. Its role is to expose evil, foolish and wrong deeds in individuals and the society at large e.g Agostinho Neto’s Western Civilization the poet mocks civilization associating it with modernity while the persona suffers, ages quickly and even live in slums in his quest for civilization showing that the persona is well aware of the consequences of civilization that many people persevere.
- h) Mood, Tone, and Attitude in Poetry
Mood refers to the emotions/ feelings a reader perceives after listening or reciting a given poem. It creates expectations using aspects like objects, images, and setting of the poem e.g one feels sad after reading a poem paying tribute to a departed friend, one feels jovial when reciting a poem at weddings or celebrations. Adjectives like respectful, melancholic, meditative, thoughtful, angry, nostalgic are used to describe the mood.
Tone refers to the feelings and attitude of the writer towards the subject. A poet’s diction helps reveal the tone of a poem. Poets’ tone can either be positive or negative e.g if the persona is a parent advising the son then the tone would be a patronizing tone. Adjectives such as serious, bitter, obnoxious, horrified, liberal, and suspicious are used to describe the tone of a poem.
Attitude refers to the emotions the persona has towards the concerns raised in a poem. It also refers to someone’s attitude and feeling towards a subject and people. The attitude of a given poem can be hateful or malicious if the poet uses loving and polite words to describe situations e.g charming and kind then the persona’s attitude towards the subject can be welcoming or approving. Hateful, disgusting, fearful, ambivalent, and loving are of adjectives used to describe an attitude in poetry.
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