Whys & Wherefores
Remember that poetry is heartfelt writing when you read it.
Sir, How can I understand a poem? Please give me the fundamental steps.
--P Priyanka, an English Teacher, Warangal
There are many great poems in the world, although a lot of them are difficult to understand. By knowing how to understand a poem, one can change one's life. Poetry is a unique genre of text and different from other types of writing, for example a novel. It is meant to talk about your heart and your feelings. It also uses language in a different way, and may use extraordinary words. To understand a poem, read it aloud more than once. Listen to the sound of it, like music. Try to research a little about the author. When did he/she write and under what circumstances? That may help you appreciate the origin of the poem. Decide if the poet is trying to write a gloomy, blissful, angry, exhilarating, eager, etc. poem? If it's a sad poem, let it sink into your heart. Try to feel the emotion that's being written about.
Reading the poem over a couple times often helps you see more in the poem than you did the first time you read it. Take time to think over a poem after you read it. Sometimes one poem requires more thought than another. You may try to translate the poem. Although it might not be in a different language, try changing the order of a line of the poem which helps a lot to understand it. Let poetry be fun to read, not a tedious task. Let the poem affect you. Most importantly, remember to enjoy yourself. Try reading the poem from the poet's eye. If the poem is about a broken heart then the poet is trying to say about his/her feelings that how a girl/boy broke his/her heart. This kind of poem can affect those who have been involved in relationships. Try to pick out key lines in the poem that express the poet's message that they're trying to get across and put yourself in their shoes. Read a wide variety of poems from different eras, to appreciate all the various possibilities of writing. Later you can find an era or poet you enjoy more. Try to write a poem yourself that imitates the style, or topic of one you find. Play with the language and see what you can create. This will help you see how poetry plays with language for a certain effect. Remember that poetry is heartfelt writing when you read it.