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Skip to 0 minutes and 0 seconds Five things to look out for when you’re reading a poem. These things may seem extremely basic even obvious, but that’s the point you can keep in mind when you’re reading any poem and they won’t unlock all the answers, but they’ll make sure that you’re asking the right critical questions.

Skip to 0 minutes and 19 seconds One: metre - that is the rhythms of the words - how have been arranged within the poem into a regular pattern, irregularly, irregularly with elements of regular patterns. Do the rhythms seem slow, ponderous? Do they seem light, tripping? Does the poem invite you to read the particular speed or tempo and do the rhythms remind you of anything, of any songs, nursery rhymes, or other poems that you might know. It’s much more important to be able to describe the rhythms that you’re hearing than it is to know all the technical terms for classical metres.

Skip to 0 minutes and 55 seconds Two: meaning - what is the meaning of the lines that you are reading? Is the poem making an argument, telling a story? Or describing an emotional or psychological state? Or is it giving us access to thoughts and intuitions, and ideas, and insights in a more fragmentary less rational way? Meaning, both intellectually and psychologically, and emotionally is central.

Skip to 1 minute and 22 seconds Three: lines - when we learn to read as small children, we are taught not to pay attention to the end of the line, but to keep on reading… that’s correct for reading prose, but in poetry we have to relearn, to pay attention to the ends of the lines. Do those line endings seem abrupt or natural? Are there places where we pause, are invited to pause, or are there places where the poem wants us to keep on reading across the line? How do they make us think about the poem’s relation to the space of the page that lies around and beyond the lines? What units are shaped by those lines? And of course, do they have rhymes at the end

Skip to 2 minutes and 5 seconds of them or not?

Skip to 2 minutes and 5 seconds Four: grammar - when we are read a poem with lines and rhyme, stanza and all kinds of poetic features, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that it also contains ordinary grammar. So ask ordinary grammatical questions. A good one is how many sentences does poem contain? Where are the beginnings and the ends of the sentences.

Skip to 2 minutes and 27 seconds And finally, Number Five: What are the tensions and counterpoints between points one to four? So where might the rhythm that the meaning of the line seems to require come into to tension with the rhythm that the metre of the rhythmic pattern of the poem seems to demand? Where does the structure of sentences, the grammatical structure of the words, come into tension, or not, with the structure of the lines. Do sentences and on the lines, or end midline?

Skip to 3 minutes and 1 second So remember: metre, meaning, lines, grammar, and the tensions between those things.

Five things to look out for when you read a poem

In this video, Dr James Williams details five things to look out for when reading a poem.

Which of the five things detailed in this video seems to be most important for reading poetry, and why? Let us know what you think in the comments below.

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This video is from the free online course:

Poetry: How to Read a Poem

University of York