Close Reading Guidelines: Brought to you by the Purdue Online Writing Lab
A close reading is the careful, sustained analysis of any text that focuses on significant details or
patterns and that typically examines some aspect of the text’s form, craft, meanings, etc.
Tips to reading a poem:
- Read the poem slowly
- Read it at least twice
- Read it aloud to yourself
- Annotate important words, images, phrases, and sections
- If you struggle, try paraphrasing or summarizing the poem
Areas of Analysis
Understand the poet’s project:
What subject(s) does the poem address?
Who is the speaker of the poem?
Is the poet trying to make you feel a certain way about the speaker or subject addressed?
Examine the poem’s form and structure:
Devices like repetition, punctuation, or section divisions
How is the poem put together?
Example of a closed form: Sonnets: 14 lines, Iambic pentameter, Rhyme scheme: ABAB,
CDCD, EFEF, GG, Final heroic couplet
Examine other structural devices:
Does the poet use anaphora (the repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of every
line) or refrain (a phrase that is repeated at intervals throughout the poem, as with a
Is there a repeated word or image?
Are there words/ideas that echo each other?
Example: night, black, dark
Does the poet favor dashes, semi-solons, etc.?
Is there a lack of punctuation?
How does this affect the message?
White space can:
Emphasize a word or phrase
Give the reader room to pause
Facilitate movement between ideas
Look closely at the language the poet uses:
What kind of diction does the poet use?
What is the tone/mood of the poem?
o Remember that New Criticism believes everything is deliberate. The way that an
author chooses to portray “green” through diction could affect tone: emerald vs.
snot vs. celery
Which images stand out and why?
o An image can work as an important nexus of emotion and idea in a poem.
What is the tone of the image?
Does the poet use metaphor to alter the image or layer on other
What does the image embody?
Does the poet use figurative language?
Figures of speech: Are there literary devices being used that affect how you read the poem?
Here are some examples of commonly discussed figures of speech:
metaphor: comparison between two unlike things
simile: comparison between two unlike things using "like" or "as"
metonymy: one thing stands for something else that is closely related to it (For example,
using the phrase "the crown" to refer to the king would be an example of metonymy.)
synechdoche: a part stands in for a whole (For example, in the phrase "all hands on
deck," "hands" stands in for the people in the ship's crew.)
personification: a non-human thing is endowed with human characteristics
litotes: a double negative is used for poetic effect (example: not unlike, not displeased)
irony: a difference between the surface meaning of the words and the implications that
may be drawn from them
The job of the poet is to “make it new.”
Does the poet combine unexpected elements, like form and subject?
Does s/he employ an unusual perspective?
How does the poet’s language make something new or surprising?
What is the overall effect of all the poem’s craft elements?
Where does the poem take us (emotionally, intellectually, narratively, etc.)?