Questions to Ask in Order to Figure out a Poem

Questions to Ask in Order to Figure out a Poem

Questions To Ask In Order To Figure Out A Poem

  1. Who is the speaker, or who might it be? How do you know?

The speaker in the poem “Knowledge Grove” might be a teacher from the present, probably an English or history teacher. We know this because the subtitle tells us the poem is addressed to “a 21st Century classroom” suggesting that a teacher is speaking to his students. I believe it’s a history or English teacher because the speaker’s talking about words and reading (l. 2, l.5).

  1. To whom is the speaker speaking? How do you know?

As stated above, the teacher is speaking to his students, which is known from the subtitle. The teacher is telling his students what to do in order to learn.

  1. What types of sentences can be found in the poem (declarative, imperative, interrogative, exclamatory)? (See lesson 1)
  2. Does the poem rhyme at all? Is there a specific pattern to the rhyme? (What is the rhyme scheme?) (See lesson 2)
  3. Does the poem have a discernible meter? If so, can you name it? (See lesson 3)

The poem is written in iambic pentameter.

  1. Breaking the poem down stanza by stanza, what is each stanza’s purpose, or gist?
  2. Can you identify any of the following figures of speech: metaphor, simile, alliteration, assonance, personification? (See poetry notes)

Lesson 1: Four sentence functions

  1. Exclamatory – makes an exclamation, or a strong announcement, declaration, command, etc., and ends with an exclamation point (!). Examples: The hills are burning! Hit the deck! I ate twelve tacos!
  2. Interrogative – asks a question and ends with a question mark (?). Examples: How old are you? Which hills are burning?
  3. Imperative – makes a command, telling someone what to do, and ends with a period (.). Examples: Walk this grove. Close the door. Swing the bat all the way around until you can see it out of the corner of your eye.
  4. Declarative – informs, describes, makes a statement, and also ends with a period (.). Examples: Your thoughts also may be ours. John F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1963. We have a four day weekend coming up.

Lesson 2: Discussing rhyme

Words rhyme when they end with an identical sound, as in cat and hat. Poets often use rhyme to enrich their poems, often at the ends of lines to make the poem itself more memorable. Poems that are written in rhymed lines usually have a rhyme scheme, or a pattern of rhyming that is indicated with the letters of the alphabet. For example, the poem “Mum” has the following rhyme scheme: abcbdefeghihjklk. In other words, in each stanza, the second and fourth lines rhyme, which is why they carry the same letter in the rhyme scheme. When you work out the rhyme scheme for “Knowledge Grove,” be careful.


My queen, my hope,

My lullaby,

My rainy weather’s

Deep blue sky.

My sun, my moon,

My light of life,

The model used

To choose my wife.

My beacon’s lamp,

My soothing balm,

The dying wind,

The stilling calm.

Whene’er I wonder

From where I come,

It’s gladly settled—

I’ve come from Mum.

Remember that you are plotting the scheme for the entire poem, and that rhymes are repeated more than once, which means they carry the same letter as the initial word.

Lesson 3: Discussing a poem's rhythm and meter

Rhythm refers to any wavelike recurrence of motion or sound. In speech it is the natural rise and fall of language. All language is to some degree rhythmic, for all language involves alternations between accented and unaccented syllables.

Meter is the term used for the measurement of a poem's rhythm when that rhythm is patterned and regular, something we can tap our feet to. The word meter comes from a word meaning "measure." To measure something we must have a unit of measurement. For measuring length we use the inch, foot and yard; for measuring time we use the second, minute and hour. For measuring verse, or metered language, we use the foot, the line, and sometimes the stanza.

The foot consists normally of one accented syllable plus one or two unaccented syllables, though occasionally there may be no unaccented syllables.To determine which syllable in a foot is accented, we compare it to other syllables within the foot. The name of any particular meter has two parts: the first part is the name of the predominant foot written as an adjective. For example, a meter featuring mostly iambs (a duple, or two syllable foot consisting of an unstressed syllable followed by one that is stressed) is said to be iambic. The second part of a meter's name tells how many feet are in a line, using a compound word beginning with the Greek prefix of the number followed by –meter. For example, a line that contains five iambs is called iambic pentameter. In the tables below you will find a list of the different kinds of feet and the different line measures, which, combined, as we have now seen, name a particular meter.

Examples / Name of foot / Adjectival form
today; the sun / Iamb (u ‘) / iambic
daily; went to / Trochee (‘ u) / trochaic
intervene; in the dark / Anapest (u u ‘) / anapestic
multiple; color of / Dactyl (‘ u u) / dactylic
true blue / Spondee (‘ ‘) / spondaic
Greek derived term / Number of feet in line / Greek derived term / Number of feet in line
monometer / one / tetrameter / four
dimeter / two / pentameter / five
trimeter / three / Hexameter / six

Scanning is the formal analysis of a poem's rhythm, using recognized symbols to signify unaccented and accented syllables. The first stanza in "Mum" can be scanned as follows, with (u) indicating an unaccented syllable, ( ') an accented syllable, and ( | ) the break between each foot:

Symbols only Symbols over the words Name of the meter

u'|u' u ' u '

My queen, my hope, iambic dimeter

u'|u' u ' u '

My lull a by iambic dimeter

u'|u'u u ' u ' u

My rain yweath er's iambic dimeter with an added syllable

'|'' ' ' '

Deep blue sky. The single syllable "deep"is accented,

finishing the "broken" iamb. "blue sky" is spondaic.

Looking at the above breakdown, we see that the predominant meter is iambic dimeter, or lines that contain two iambs each. Rhythm and meter are sometimes obvious, but they are often quite subtle. Either way, they represent tools that poets and other language masters can use to create certain effects when putting words together.

Here's a scanning of the first two lines of "Knowledge Grove":

'|u'|u'|u'|u' Walk this grove—not mine, not yours, but ours.

'|u'|u'|uu'|u' Words, the elements that make up the soil

Without scanning the rest of the poem, we can fairly safely make the claim that the poem is written in iambic pentameter, although because the first iamb has been truncated in both of these lines, the regularity of iambic speech may at first elude us. What other irregularity can be found in the second line?


Scan the following stanza from Sara Teasdale's poem "Barter" to determine the poem's meter:

Life has loveliness to sell,

All beautiful and splendid things,

Blue waves whitened on a cliff,

And climbing fire that sways and sings,

And children's faces looking up

Holding wonder like a cup.