Methods of Literary Analysis

This is an exercise in “close reading,” one of the standard methods of literary analysis. It works well with short lyric poems because the text is usually fairly self-contained, though complex, and short enough to allow for a detailed exploration of the relationships between all (or most) of its components.

From the Poetry Casebook, choose one of the following poems:

T.S. Eliot, “Macavity, the Mystery Cat”
John Clare, “I Am!”
Edwin Muir, “The Child Dying”
Pablo Neruda, “To the Foot from its Child”

The goal of the analysis is to reveal the structure and logic of the poem by showing how its parts are connected in a web of relationships. What are those parts? My document, “Some Notes on Poetry” contains a good list: rhyme, meter, diction, imagery, word order, symbolism, tropes, voice and persona. Together, these make up a whole.

Remember that the word “analysis” means, essentially, “taking apart.” Look at each part in turn and think about its function within the whole. What does it do? How does the imagery (let’s say) enhance the speaker’s persona? How does the metrical arrangement (let’s say) bring out the main metaphor? (I’ll be modelling close analysis in my lectures: you won’t have to invent the process for yourself.)

Remember that the titles of poems, if they are published in a collection, go inside quotation marks.

Remember that in-text citations to a poem mention only the line number or numbers that you quote.

E.g., In “Daddy,” Plath describe her father’s “ghastly statue” (9) as spanning two oceans, from “Frisco” (10) to “the waters off beautiful Nauset” (11).

However, the corresponding “Works Cited” entry will not mention line numbers, but page numbers in the anthology in which it is found. Each poem in the Poetry Casebook has its source listed below the poem.

E.g., Plath, Sylvia. “Daddy.” The Norton Anthology of Poetry, shorter 5th edition. Edited by Margaret Ferguson, Mary Jo Salter, and Jon Stallworthy. Norton, 2005, pp. 1145-47.

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