Five steps to analysing an unseen poem

Here are five steps that you can use when you first see an unseen poem, to help you think about how to write about it.

STEP ONE: Work out what the poem is about

  • What is the subject of the poem?
  • Who is speaking?
  • Who is the narrator speaking to?

STEP TWO: Identify the themes and message of the poem…

  • Why has the poet written the poem?
  • What are they trying to say?
  • What ideas are they using?
  • Is it an emotional response to something that’s happened?
  • Is it trying to get an emotional response from the reader?
  • Is it portraying a message or opinion on a subject or event?

STEP THREE: Identify the attitudes and feelings in the poem…

  • What are the different emotions and feelings of the narrator or poet?
  • What is the mood or atmosphere of the poem (e.g. sad, angry, etc.)?
  •  How has the poet used different poetic techniques to show these attitudes and feelings?

STEP FOUR: Identify the poetic techniques used in the poem…

  • What are the different poetic techniques that the poet has used to show the attitudes and feelings in the poem?
  • How has the poet shown these feelings through form and structure (e.g. rhyme, rhythm, line length, stanza length, etc.)?
  • How has the poet used poetic devices to show these feelings (e.g. metaphors, similes, caesura, enjambment, alliteration, juxtaposition, personification, etc.)?

STEP FIVE: Explore your personal response to the poem…

  • How do you feel about the poem?
  • How well does the poet get the message across in the poem?
  • What is the impact of the poem on the reader (refer to ‘the reader’, rather than ‘I’ when talking about the impact of the poem)?
  • Are there any other ways the poem could be interpreted?

Practise going through these steps with unseen poems over and over again until you can do it in good time (you have 30 minutes to answer the question in the exam, so you should take about 5-10 minutes reading and planning). The best way to access unseen poems is to look in your AQA Anthology at the other clusters (not the one you have studied). As you have studied one cluster (15 poems), that means there are 45 unseen poems left for you to look at in the Anthology!

Here is a poem for you to look at and have a go at the 5 step process with. You could cut and paste  and print it so you are able to highlight if you like.

November by Simon Armitage

We walk to the ward from the badly parked car

with your grandma taking four short steps to our two.

We have brought her here to die and we know it.

You check her towel. soap and family trinkets,

pare her nails, parcel her in the rough blankets

and she sinks down into her incontinence.

It is time John. In their pasty bloodless smiles,

in their slack breasts, their stunned brains and their baldness

and in us John: we are almost these monsters.

You’re shattered. You give me the keys and I drive

through the twilight zone, past the famous station

to your house, to numb ourselves with alcohol.

Inside, we feel the terror of the dusk begin.

Outside we watch the evening, failing again,

and we let it happen. We can say nothing.

Sometimes the sun spangles and we feel alive.

One thing we have to get, John, out of this life.

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4 thoughts on “Five steps to analysing an unseen poem

  1. sianacus says:

    Trying to find simple ways of explaining how to analyse poetry to my brother and this is very helpful 🙂

  2. Ali says:

    struggling with Higher Lit, and this is the best tool I’ve seen so far, thank you..

  3. Very helpful, exam in less than a week ahhh – thanks 🙂

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