Poetry Toolkit

While poetry employs the elements described in the literature toolkit, it adds to that list a few more. This is worth emphasis: poetry heavily employs all of the elements in the literature toolkit and a poetic analysis is incomplete without considering them. That said, whereas literature often relies on a text to transmit its meaning to a reader, like music poetry frequently draws on elements of sound and form. Due to this fact, poetry is often better understood when experienced aloud so that the hearer may comprehend the poet's sonic and rhythmic choices. Many of the techniques described below will help you decode these elements of poetry. 


Although tone is admittedly a bit of an ambiguous term—it may at once refer to the sound and the mood of a text. In terms of sound, poets often select particular words because of their particular sound quality, whether dark or bright, harsh or soft. This adds meaning and attitude to the words, form, and ideas presented. In terms of mood, the tone is a literary device that an author (or the speaker) may use to convey his or her feelings about the subject or even the audience. 

Questions to consider

When evaluating a work's tone color, consider the following questions:

  1. What qualities of tone color has the poet selected?
  2. How does tone color add to the meaning the poet hopes to trasmit through the text?
  3. How does hearing the tone color aloud alter your conception of the poem? 


There are many techniques of repetition that poets regularly employ. Some of these repeat individual sounds, such as: assonance (the repetition of certain vowel sounds), alliteration (the repetition of the first sounds in a series of words), or rhyme (the repetition of the final sounds in a series of words—often in connection with line endings). Some of these repeat words or lines, such as: anadiplosis (the repetition of a word in sequential lines), anaphora (the repetition of a word at the beginning of sequential lines), antanaclasis (the repetition of a word but implying alternate definitions), antistrophe (the repetition of words at the end of sequential lines), or chiasmus (the repetition of a series of words in reverse order). In addition to these, there are many other techniques of repetition a poet might employ in their work to emphasize, focus, or otherwise transmit meaning. 

Questions to consider

When evaluating a work's repetition, consider the following questions:

  1. What techniques of repetition does the poet employ in the poem? Why? 
  2. How might the poem change if the repetition were removed?

Rhythm and Meter

These two elements, although certainly distinct, are interrelated. Rhythm is an audible pattern established by the regular use of stressed and unstressed syllables. Meter is the categorizing of recognizable and repeatable rhythms. Whereas repetition has much in common with repetition as well, rhythm and meter are most often established through formal means; that is, through counting syllables and identifying the various patterns. The variety in meters and rhythms is so varied that a complete list confuse more than it would clarify; however, most meters and rhythms have some basic components. The smallest component of rhythm and meter is the syllable, and it may be stressed or unstressed. Stating the word in context is often the most helpful way to identify if a syllable is stressed or unstressed in a word or phrase. 

Questions to consider

When evaluating a work's rhythm and meter, consider the following questions:

  1. What is the regular rhythm or meter of the poem? (count the syllables in each line and see if there is a pattern of stressed or unstressed syllables)
  2. What is the effect of this rhythm or meter on the overall meaning or form of the poem? 
  3. Why has the poet selected this particular rhythm or meter?


Form is the structure or shape the poet gives his work as a whole. The poet employs rhythm and meter in the process of assembling various lines together to create a particular form. There are many poetic forms to identify, but there are a few that are worth mentioning briefly. Blank verse is a popular poetic form that utilizes unrhymed lines that have a regular metrical pattern. Free verse is similar to blank verse but employes neither rhymed lines nor metrical patterns. An open couplet consists of two lines in poetry in which the first line does not grammatically conclude but continues into the second (this is called an enjambment). Ottava rima is an erudite form of poetry, popular with humanists, that employs eight lines with the rhyme scheme ABABABCC. A Sonnet contains 14 lines (rhyme schemes vary depending on what subcategory of sonnet the poet employs) in which there is a twist or a turn (often called a volta) that is resolved in the end.  

Questions to consider

When evaluating a work's form, consider the following questions:

  1. What is the form of the work?
  2. How does form add to the overall meaning of the poem? 
  3. How does form enhance your appreciation of the poem and the poet? 

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