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2.2 Understanding & interpreting meaning in poetic structure

3 min readfebruary 11, 2023

Ariella Ramjohn

Ariella Ramjohn


AP English Literature 📚

145 resources
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Introduction

The structure, or syntax, of a poem is essential towards a reader's interpretations of a text. Writers make deliberate choices when arranging sections of their text, ordering the sequence of information revealed, and organizing how they relate to one another.
In a poem, line breaks and stanza breaks help to develop ideas. Authors make purposeful decisions in terms of arranging these breaks, which creates a connection between the concepts they try to communicate. The intention of this allows readers to react and expect certain aspects as they analyze the poem. With deeper analysis, readers could establish relative positions based on the text itself.
Contrasts are also utilized to build on the audience's interpretations of the poem. These can be introduced through the literary elements of focus, point of view, and tone of the poem. But how do we determine these literary elements? Well, authors use various techniques (such as establishing imagery, character development, a dramatic situation, setting, and the speaker's perspective) to signify and implicitly create contrasts in a text. Contrasts can also be the direct result of juxtapositions and shifts. Shifts can be determined by punctuation, a structural convention, or simply a word. They can also emphasize contrasts in which are located in between segments or parts of a text.

Syntax & Interpretations

Dissecting the structure of a poem helps reader create interpretations of its purpose. Poems are craft with many structural techniques, each of which are meaningful towards the author's exigence. Throughout this unit, we have been studying some of the most impactful methods writers may utilize when constructing their poems. This lesson in particular will focus on how the structure of the poem can help the audience infer or interpret the overall intended message and possible themes.

Structure

The structure of a poem is intentionally maneuvered by writers and often used to help readers interpret the exigence. The structure of the poem as a whole could indicate concepts, just as much as the structure of each part can develop an idea.
When analyzing the structure, readers may ask the following questions:
  • What are the parts or sections of the poem? How do they relate to one another?
  • How is the poem structurally divided? Is it separated by stanzas?
  • How are the sentences structured? Do all of them serve a purpose?
Punctuation is crucial towards understanding the structure of a poem, or any text in general. Readers can study many punctuational elements, including the amount of commas, exclamation points, complete or incomplete sentences, periods, question marks, and semicolons, within a poem. The sequential order is imperative as well (Would the poem have the same effect is sentence two was before sentence three?)
Rhythm, parallel syntax, repetition, and figurative language can help formulate patterns in a poem. As readers and interpreters, it is important to recognize these patterns and contemplate its purpose in the poem. Furthermore, logic is essential to consider. Poems can use a logical approach pertaining to its structure (e.g. a poem may ask questions and answer them immediately, commence with an argument, use multiple analogies to make a point, etc.). Understanding the structure of a poem to some extent allows readers to understand its meaning.

Themes

Many poems develop common themes intended by the author. These themes can be clearly stated or written in a layered manner (frequently left for readers to assume or interpret). Although some poems are more complex than others, readers can infer the author's messages through their use of syntax.
How can we identify a theme? Well, let's use our example from the previous lesson. In a hypothetical poem, there is a line written as "I love my orchids". As explained in the previous lesson, "orchids" could represent an idea or group of people, such as the speaker's parents. A possible theme of the poem may be that parents continue to grow as individuals, despite adapting to a life centered around their children. However, the theme can only be determined with more context.
If the sentence was written as, "I love my orchids, but...", the prior noted theme may not apply. In other words, this contrast creates a shift in the poem and, thus, a different possible theme (from positive to bittersweet or negative). Themes are up to readers to interpret with context as well as syntax, and can help develop meaning in a poem.
Browse Study Guides By Unit
🤔Exam Skills
🌱Unit 1 – Intro to Short Fiction
Unit 2 – Intro to Poetry
🎭Unit 3 – Intro to Longer Fiction & Drama
⚔️Unit 4 – Character, Conflict, & Storytelling in Short Fiction
🌈Unit 5 – Structure & Figurative Language in Poetry
🛠️Unit 6 – Literary Techniques in Longer Works
🏛️Unit 7 – Societal & Historical Context in Short Fiction
🤾🏾‍♀️Unit 8 – Advanced Techniques in Poetry
🚣🏾Unit 9 – Nuanced Analysis in Longer Works

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