How to analyse a poem: a Gilbert vodcast on “The Sick Rose”

1 April 2011
Local Schools Network
link to original

Motivated by the £10K offered to my school for winning The Dream Teacher competition, I’ve decided to start videoing little sections of my “teacherly” explanations and uploading them to YouTube. My videos are not of great quality, but I think my enthusiasm comes through! Like thousands of teachers up and down the country, I do this sort of thing day-in and day-out; sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.

This first vodcast is an explanation of “How To Analyse A Poem”. It’s primarily aimed at Key Stage 3 and 4 pupils, particularly those taking GCSE, but I’ve found during my twenty years of teaching that some of the very basic points I make are relevant to Sixth Form students and undergraduates as well. This year I’ve enjoyed teaching undergraduates at Goldsmiths an Engaging Poetry course, who have been fantastic, but increasingly we’ve returned to some very basic questions: what is analysis? What is poetry? It’s only by asking this simple but essential questions that you find the heart of poetry is unlocked, made accessible and thrilling even. Please feel free to criticize my pedagogical skills constructively if you are so minded.


  1. Great start. Thanks.
    Would have liked your impressions and interpretations.
    Students ways like to check they’re ‘right’. Additionally it’s good for them to hear alternative interpretations, especially from a guest speaker.

    from D. Ess
  2. Thanks. I am working on more stuff with Blake at the moment; I’ll bear these points in mind.

    from francisgilbert
  3. My son chose this poem from an anthology we were looking at- mainly because it was the shortest in there! What a great choice. I have been encouraging him to read poems as a way of helping him with his low English grades. We had a great discussion about this poem–similar in substance to your comments. However, I have a question regarding the write- up process:
    If he is asked to analyse a number of poems in one exam, should he stick to the same formula every time, or vary the flow of information?

    i,e should he mention- basic/ obvious meanings, followed by themes and possible deeper meanings, techniques, rhyme and meter, language, imagery etc. Should he go through it stanza by stanza or look at relevant parts? Does this even matter?
    It’s seems to be easier to talk about the poems than write about them.

    from Mrs S
  4. I’m glad you found the video of use!! It’s very nice that you’re helping your son.

    There really is no set format for writing a poetry essay; I think candidates should follow the structure that they like the best, writing about what interests them the most. It’s important to look at the way the relevant exam is marked; some exams reward some approaches more than others. For example, some papers encourage discussion of the context (the background) of a poem, whereas other exams do not…Good luck!!

    from francisgilbert

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