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Analysis of poetry at all levels of difficulty and understanding

Explication de texte
Aug 21, 2005 – BASIC OUTLINE FOR AN EXPLICATION DE TEXTE I. INTRODUCTION A. Reading the text 1. Read the text out loud several times, paying ::



A. Reading the text

1. Read the text out loud several times, paying attention to its difficulties (words, expressions, grammar).

2. Ask yourself at this point some general questions about the text. Is it is comic, serious; a monologue, dialog (slow or rapid); is it a description, reflection, confession, etc?

3. Try to find the rhythm of the text: slow, rapid, even, uneven.

4. The purpose of this reading is to make your first concrete observations about the form and content of the text. You should get a sense of the natural tone of the text, the unity or variety of its ideas or expressed feelings.

B. Examine the difficult parts of the text.

1. What do the difficult words and sentences mean? Remember that there may be more than one meaning intended.

2. What do the images (colors, forms, abstractions) and literary, historical, and/or mythological allusions mean? Identify the figures of speech and thought used. See Web sites about Figures of Speech on the Supplementary Materials page (added 8/21/05).

C. Examine the difficult technical aspects.

1. Grammatical structures.

2. Sentence or verse structures.


A. Identification and situation. (Not necessary for in-class exposé)

1. Briefly situate the text and its author historically.

a. Who is the author?

b. When was the text written?

c. In what circumstances was the text written?

2. The only information you need to present is that which applies directly to the text in question.

B. Preliminaries.

1. Make an outline of the text to establish its principal divisions.

2. Briefly indicate the main idea of the text: what is it about?

3. When appropriate, situate your passage within the plot of the entire work which is being studied.


A. This part consists of a detailed analysis of the text: examine the ideas (content) and style (form) of the passage in order to show what the author says and how he says it.

B. Use citations from the text as often as necessary to illustrate and reinforce your observations.

C. What is the effect on the reader of this particular manner of presentation? Each word, clause, image, sound--nearly every element of the text--can suggest a question, and your answers to these questions will help you appreciate the qualities of the text. Do the ideas and style reinforce each other or are they at odds? Are they serious, elevated, playful, coherent, disturbing?

D. Establish the most important themes that arise from the ideas and style of your text.


A. Evaluation

1. Summarize the main points of your analysis.

2. What are the original or special qualities of the text? Consider both form and content.

B. Interpretation
How does your passage fit in thematically with the work as a whole? What significant or essential aspects of the work does it contain or emphasize? What have we learned about the characters and their situation? You may also present your personal interpretation.


The ideas. Are they: abstract or concrete; objective or subjective; banal or original; traditional or revolutionary; logical or illogical; plausible or implausible; individual or universal; clear or obscure; obvious or subtle; spiritual, fantastic, bold, naive, philosophical, symbolic, moralistic, etc?

The sentiments, emotions. Does the text (or the characters) express: enthusiasm, calm, exaltation, sorrow, harmony, delicateness, emotion, sensitivity?

The composition. Is the arrangement classical (clear, ordered, logical, methodical, rigid) or non-classical (anthithetical, illogical, unevenly balanced). Is there progression or opposition in the different parts of the text; is there contrast, repetition, order or disorder?

The style. Is it consistent, varied, rich, full of images; static, dynamic concise, rapid, life-like? Are the words technical, picturesque, simple, erudite, subtle, varied? Are the words and the passage as a whole obscure, confusing, unobtrusive, concrete, abstract, realistic?

Sources. Did the author use his imagination, reality, fairy tales, mythology, the fantastic, history, folklore?

The sentences. Are they short or long; periodical (lots of dependent clauses), circular, rapid, slow? When read aloud is the passage musical or dissonant; fluid or heavy; discreet, vehement; simple or oratorical? Is the rhythm smooth or choppy, varied, monotonous or majestic?

The effect on the reader. How is the reader's interest held? Is the passage consistent in tone, dramatic, suspenseful, anticlimactic? Does the text convince, frighten, amuse, describe, evoke?

How does it do this? Lightnesss, reason, seriousness, eloquence, sensorial evocations, humor, irony, absurdity, poetry, exageration, parody, understatement?

Evaluation. Is there a moral intention? Is the text essentially poetic, didactic, comic, tragic, or sentimental? Is there an underlying philosophy or point of view? Or is it art for art's sake, that is, existing only as art?

Adapted from Explication de Texte: Théorie et Pratique, Mermier and Boilly-Widmer, Scott, Foresman and Company, 1972.


thanks Joe,
but have you ever seen the movie "Dead Poet's Society" where the teacher makes his students rip out the introduction that tries to analyse poetry on an XY curve?
I know I do the same, to an extent, especially with the most difficult task of helping people learn meter in workshops.... I will try again, one day
One of our most successful workshops recently was Stan's "Great Poetry" precisely because it engaged the passions of poetry.

A new workshop on the most important element of poetry-
'Rhythm and Meter in Poetry'

I don't know how useful this can be. However, some parts may get ne started. I tend to think that a deep structure analysis such as this destroys the "poetry."

Be well,


author comment

you posted it.

A new workshop on the most important element of poetry-
'Rhythm and Meter in Poetry'

Yes. I think there is some very good stuff in the method. I still am hesitant of dissetiing a piece of art . Cartwsisn method--very rational and clear. Just make sure you where a mask and ypur scalpel is sharp.

Buona giornata, amico mio

author comment

am very aware of asceptic techniques. Anyway it is a valuable read. I don't disregard anything that can help me in my "art and sullen craft". Unlike some of the natural poetic geniuses here, like Esker and Lonnie, my craft has been earned the hard way.

A new workshop on the most important element of poetry-
'Rhythm and Meter in Poetry'

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