Poems can be very difficult to interpret because much of what they have to say is not written but is implied. A major problem that we may have with interpreting poetry is that we read the poem once, pick out a detail or two and then jump to a conclusion, often the wrong conclusion. To avoid this pitfall, it is important to gather significant data and try out different hypotheses before drawing a conclusive interpretation. These steps, sort of like the scientific method, comprise a safe way to avoid serious misinterpretations.
Ponder the title before reading the poem. Make up questions about the title. There are two kinds of titles: interactive titles and naming titles. Interactive titles are have some sort of interplay with poem itself and can affect its meaning. Naming titles may give less crucial information. If a poem lacks a title, you can do this step with the first line of the poem or skip it.
Translate the poem into your own words. And I mean translate! Word for word! Find synonyms for every possible word. Summarizing is NOT paraphrasing!
Contemplate the poem for meaning beyond the literal. Identify and figure out the figurative language.
After identifying a subject/topic of the poem, figure out how the speaker (and/or the poet) feels about it.
Note transitions in the poem: shifts in subject, attitude, mood, or motif.
Examine the title again, this time on an interpretive level. Answer your questions. Figure out how the title illuminates the poem. Remember a "naming title" may not mean much. Remember you can do this with the first line of a poem if it lacks a title, or you can skip this step altogether.
After identifying a subject/topic of the poem, determine what the poet thinks about the subject. What is his/her opinion?
“TPCASTT Poem Analysis Method.” Cited by Cheryl Macy in Carson High School AP Lang Summer Web Page. Accessed 2 December 2008. .
Before you even think about reading the poetry or trying to analyze it, speculate on
what you think the poem might be about based upon the title. Often time authors
conceal meaning in the title and give clues in the title. Jot down what you think this
poem will be about
Before you begin thinking about meaning or trying to analyze the poem, don't overlook
the literal meaning of the poem. One of the biggest problems that students often make
in poetry analysis is jumping to conclusions before understanding what is taking place
in the poem. When you paraphrase a poem, write in your own words exactly what
happens in the poem. Look at the number of sentences in the poem—your paraphrase
should have exactly the same number. This technique is especially helpful for poems
written in the 17th and 19th centuries. Sometimes your teacher may allow you to
summarize what happens in the poem. Make sure that you understand the difference
between a paraphrase and a summary.
Although this term usually refers solely to the emotional overtones of word choice, for
this approach the term refers to any and all poetic devices, focusing on how such
devices contribute to the meaning, the effect, or both of a poem. You may consider
imagery, figures of speech (simile, metaphor, personification, symbolism, etc), diction,
point of view, and sound devices (alliteration, onomatopoeia, rhythm, and rhyme). It is
not necessary that you identify all the poetic devices within the poem. The ones you do
identify should be seen as a way of supporting the conclusions you are going to draw
about the poem.
Having examined the poem's devices and clues closely, you are now ready to explore
the multiple attitudes that may be present in the poem. Examination of diction, images,
and details suggests the speaker's attitude and contributes to understanding. You may
refer to the list of words on Tone that will help you. Remember that usually the tone or
attitude cannot be named with a single word Think complexity.
Rarely does a poem begin and end the poetic experience in the same place. As is true
of most us, the poet's understanding of an experience is a gradual realization, and the
poem is a reflection of that understanding or insight. Watch for the following keys to
• key words, (but, yet, however, although)
• punctuation (dashes, periods, colons, ellipsis)
• stanza divisions
• changes in line or stanza length or both
• changes in sound that may indicate changes in meaning
• changes in diction
T TITLE Now look at the title again, but this time on an interpretive level. What new insight
does the title provide in understanding the poem.
What is the poem saying about the human experience, motivation, or condition? What
subject or subjects does the poem address? What do you learn about those subjects?
What idea does the poet want you take away with you concerning these subjects?
Remember that the theme of any work of literature is stated in a complete sentence.
Steps for TP-CASTT:
T - TITLE
P - PARAPHRASE
C - CONNOTATION
A - ATTITUDE
S - SHIFTS
T - TITLE
T - THEME