• University of York

Poetry: How to Read a Poem

Discover what poetry can tell us about human emotion and learn key ideas and techniques for understanding and interpreting verse.

6,335 enrolled on this course

Poetry: How to Read a Poem
  • Duration4 weeks
  • Weekly study4 hours
  • LearnFree
  • Extra BenefitsFrom $59Find out more

Dive into the wonderful world of poetry and learn how to analyse a poem

Humans have communicated their thoughts, ideas, and feelings through poetry throughout history. At its best, it tells us new truths about the human experience. However, it’s often presented as hard to understand without expert knowledge.

On this course, you’ll build your confidence in reading and enjoying poetry.

Whether you’re a poetry fanatic or you’re eager to learn, you’ll learn tools for approaching the study of poetry, ways to express your appreciation of poetry, and ways to find new riches in your favourite poems.

This course will also give you guidance on developing your own poetic voice when writing verse.

Download video: standard or HD

Skip to 0 minutes and 6 seconds I too, dislike it: there are things that are important beyond all this fiddle. Some people don’t like poetry. Addressing this problem head on, the American Modernist poet, Marianne Moore, confesses that verse can be slippery, difficult, even unintelligible. In her poem, ‘Poetry’, she says that the quest of the poet is to keep writing, to find a way to express the things that matter. The poet’s job is to find a language that fits, and transforms, the contours of the world. Reading it, however, with a perfect contempt for it, one discovers that there is in it after all, a place for the genuine. Poetry matters. It describes events and emotions we recognise but can’t express.

Skip to 0 minutes and 58 seconds It conjures new states of feeling into being; offers new ways to experience our own lives and the lives of others.

Skip to 1 minute and 9 seconds Whether you’re nervous of poetry or a fully-fledged fan, ‘How to Read a Poem’ is the course for you. You’ll spend four weeks reading a wide range of poems, in the company of world-leading experts and one of the world’s most important contemporary poets, Vahni Capildeo.

Skip to 1 minute and 27 seconds MARIANNE MOORE SAYS: ‘We do not admire what we cannot understand’. ‘How to Read a Poem’ will help you to understand poems, to talk about them effectively, and even to write your own. And it will give you lots of opportunities to admire – and to enjoy! – the brilliance of poetry from across the ages and across the world. If you demand on the one hand, in defiance of their opinion– the raw material of poetry in all its rawness, and that which is on the other hand, Genuine, then you are interested in poetry.

What topics will you cover?

  • Traditions: the history of poetry, where it comes from, how it has changed, and how it has been important to societies in different times and places
  • How to read a poem: tips and techniques to understand poetic form and genre
  • How poetry works: critics and creative writers on poetic technique, and the craft of writing
  • Intertextuality: how poets talk to one another across time
  • Close reading: how to analyse a literary text in depth, and express your insights effectively

When would you like to start?

Start straight away and learn at your own pace. If the course hasn’t started yet you’ll see the future date listed below.

  • Available now

What will you achieve?

By the end of the course, you‘ll be able to...

  • Identify different poetic forms, techniques and genres
  • Debate how poems create their effects, and describe how a given poem works in a way that is effective, accessible and compelling
  • Engage with some key critical and theoretical arguments about poetry, intertextuality and literature
  • Reflect on the social and cultural dynamics that inform poems and inspire and influence poets
  • Develop an understanding of the place of contemporary poetry in a long poetic tradition
  • Apply these insights to improve and develop your own critical and creative writing, if you wish to do so

Who is the course for?

This course is designed for poetry and literature lovers everywhere and anyone who wants to develop and expand their writing skills.

It is suitable for keen poetry readers as well as those just getting started on their journey.

The course will be especially useful for A-level (and equivalent) students who want to know what it’s like to study English at a university level.

Who will you learn with?

I am a Lecturer in Contemporary Literature in the Department of English and Related Literature at York, and a widely published critic on contemporary writing and visual culture.

I'm Head of the Department of English and Related Literature at the University of York, and a Professor of Renaissance Literature. I'm fascinated by all aspects of the study of literature.

I curate the University of York's 'How to Read a Poem' course, and am a PhD student in the Department of English at York. I research the politics of genre in contemporary literature.

Who developed the course?

University of York

The University of York combines the pursuit of academic excellence with a culture of inclusion, which encourages everyone – from a variety of backgrounds – to achieve their best.

Learner reviews

Join this course

Start this course for free, upgrade for extra benefits, or buy Unlimited to access this course and hundreds of other short courses for a year.


Join free and you will get:

  • Access to this course for 6 weeks


Upgrade this course and you will get:

  • Access to this course for as long as it’s on FutureLearn
  • Access to this course’s tests as well as a print and digital Certificate of Achievement once you’re eligible

Unlimited (New!)
$279.99 for one year

Buy Unlimited and you will get:

  • Access to this course, and hundreds of other FutureLearn short courses and tests for a year
  • A printable digital Certificate of Achievement on all short courses once you’re eligible
  • The freedom to keep access to any course you've achieved a digital Certificate of Achievement on, for as long as the course exists on FutureLearn
  • The flexibility to complete your choice of short courses in your own time within the year
Find out more about upgrades or Unlimited.