Close analysis

First impressions

When you are presented with a question asking you to analyse a particular poem, first:

  • Read the question carefully
  • Underline or highlight the ‘operative words’, that is the words that are doing the work in the question, for example:
    • Discuss,
    • Describe
    • Say how far you agree 
    • Explore
  • Identify the topic e.g. ‘the pity of war’ or ‘echoes in Owen’s poetry’
  • Read the poem through once
  • Look back at the question
  • Read the poem again with a pencil or a highlighter pen in hand
  • Underline or star anything in the poem which you think relates to the question
  • Reconsider exactly what the question is. Write notes in the margins around the poem. Identify whatever strikes you about style and significance as long as it is answering the question.

Areas to consider

Make sure you think about the following:

The subject matter of the poem

  • What is Owen writing about/describing in the poem?
  • It will usually be an event in the war: e.g. The Sentry or Spring Offensive
  • It is sometimes the aftermath of war: e.g. Disabled or Mental Cases
  • Remember that the subject matter of a poem is different to the theme
  • How does the structure and versification relate to the subject matter?

The theme(s) of the poem

  • The subject matter of poem is used by any poet to carry the message or theme s/he wishes to communicate
  • In Owen’s more philosophical poems, such as 1914 or Greater Love, you may find that the theme is the subject matter
  • What message is Owen putting across in the poem through the subject matter? 

Who is the speaker of the poem? 

In most cases we can assume that the voice in the poem is Owen’s.

  • Who are they addressing?
  • Do they use direct or indirect speech?
  • Why do they use certain words?
  • What emotions does their language convey?

The imagery and symbolism

  • How does it contribute to the overall tone of the poem?
  • How does it contribute to the emotion that is being expressed?
  • How does it contribute to our mental picture of war

How rhyme and rhythm are employed

Regarding the rhyme scheme in the poem:

  • Look for pararhymes
  • Look for full rhymes
  • Look for places where Owen uses no rhymes at all!
  • What is the effect of Owen’s use of rhyme?

Regarding the metre of the poem:

  • How would you describe it?
  • Where and why does Owen alter it?
  • What overall effects does it create?

Specific poetic techniques that Owen is using in the poem

These areas have been applied for you in the worked example below. For the sake of clarity, numbers and full sentences have been used. However, just use brief phrases for yourself, jotting ideas alongside each line.

Scan and go

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