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Two simple questions

Lead Educator Patrick Thom introduces the two simple questions which will be used to approach all the poems considered in this course.

One way to begin to analyse a poem is to ask two simple questions:

  1. What’s the story? (or sometimes, “what’s the picture?”)
  2. What poetic means does the poet use to tell the story or paint the picture?

For most of this week’s session we are going to concentrate on the first question, “What’s the story?”. Most poems either tell or imply a story. They conjure up some sort of narrative situation which may either be one moment presented in detail or may develop over the course of the poem. The reader has to ask questions along the lines of “What’s going on here?” way before we get to any more complex questions about meaning. Sometimes it may be a question of what image or series of images the poet presents to us; how easily can we conjure them up in the mind’s eye?

How do you react to this suggested approach? Can you think of any poems, in French or any other language, to which you could readily apply this approach?

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How to Read French Poetry

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