Let’s face it, unseen poetry analysis can be extremely overwhelming. Poems are a difficult type of text to deal with, even under ordinary circumstances. Far more so when you are given little time to read, discuss or research an individual poem. Poems are challenging because they are laden with metaphorical and symbolic language and images that require interpretation. In essence, poems convey emotional responses to places, people or events.
So, when faced with the task of comprehending a poem you have never seen before, under examination conditions, it is natural to feel apprehensive. However, there are ways of improving your skills in unseen poetry analysis, should you be confronted with this text-type during your GAMSAT exam.
How to Approach an Unseen Poem: 10 Useful Tips
1. Take note of the poet – this may give you an idea of what themes to expect. For example, a poem by T.S. Eliot will generally be set in an urban landscape and be concerned with the emptiness and loss of spirituality in a modern world.
2. Read the title of the poem carefully for clues as to the poem’s subject matter. For example, the poem To Autumn by John Keats, is about the season of autumn. On occasion, a poet will use the title of the poem to subvert (undermine) its intended or obvious meaning. For example, in T.S. Eliot’s The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock, Prufrock – a man struggling to fulfill modern society’s expectations of him – does not experience a ‘love song’. Rather, his experience of the city is nightmarish and characterised by his own feelings of failure to find meaning in an empty and depraved world. So, make sure you reflect back on the title after reading the poem.
3. Make sure you read the poem twice. This will ensure you grasp ideas thoroughly.
4. When reading the poem, read it according to the punctuation used. Only pause at the end of a line if there is a comma, colon, semi-colon or a full-stop. If there is no punctuation at the end of a line (a technique called enjambment), you must read continuously on to the next line. If you read a poem, making sure you observe the rules of punctuation, you will grasp the meaning much more easily. Always remember that poems are intended to be a spoken text, thus the punctuation indicates ‘how’ the poem is to be spoken and ‘where’ the emphasis should lie.
5. Take note of what is happening in each stanza (paragraph) of the poem. This enables you to map out what is going on from the beginning to the end.
6. Take note of any words or phrases that are repeated throughout the poem. Repetition indicates importance and may give you the central theme or message of the poem.
7. Think about the tone, mood and atmosphere of the poem. Do the words the poet has used and the images they’ve created have positive or negative connotations?
8. Think about the purpose of the poem. Why do you think the poet has written it? What message are they trying to convey?
9. Take note of the style of poem. Is it a narrative poem, an ode, a sonnet, a ballad or an elegy? This will also help you to understand the poem as these styles have different uses. For example, an elegy is a poem commemorating the dead, whereas a sonnet is typically a love poem.
10. Read all the multiple choice questions for the poem. There will generally be five questions. Sometimes what one question is looking for will help you to answer other questions. Especially with the sheer amount of questions you’ve got to answer in a short period of time-this narrowing down of options is crucial.
Use these tips to approach some practise GAMSAT poetry questions. Remember practice makes perfect !