A young man I was chatting with the other day mistook me for someone who knew something about poetry and put the question to me about how he can learn to analyze a poem and receive an "A" for his effort. He actually used the word "effort" when he framed his question, and I began my routine spiel about investigating poems by mention that "effort" is synonym for "work", meaning that he would have to read the poem and pour over the words no less than any endeavor he'd undertake with the intention of getting a more than satisfactory result.The basis of what I said is this: What I do is read a poem several times through, completely each time, first for what the poem sounds like, how well it flows, how well the general language goes together, whether images, similes, and metaphors both enliven the reading and fit the cadence. In other words, to get a solid sense of the poem’s music and rhythm; that can give you inspiration, as it often has me, as to the mood and drift of the poem, if not the actual theme. You should also ascertain the context of the poem—funeral? romance? remembrance?
This gets you to dig harder in your reading and sharpens your sense of why some words are being used and others are not. Successive readings of the poem have to do with language and, generally, the search for keywords, antonyms, and synonyms, words, and images that would both contradict and compliment each other and offer up a solid clue of competing for ideas the poet is weighing. Often times poets will address a concept that is antithetical to the theme they may be dealing with as their dominant theme. If you think you’ve grasped a principle idea, be on the lookout for those images and tropes that would provide a counter-argument. With me, this provides me with a framework as to how well the poet resolves the contradiction in the situation that inspires the poem; this is where you break down what the poet has written and then argue how well or not the writers have accomplished his or her task. It is also a handy way of developing a few new ideas to occupy , resonate and otherwise make wonderful intellectual music in the space between my ears, an instance that often enough renews my curiosity with the world and keeps me from getting morose and feeling older than the one lost shoe you always find behind the sofa when it comes time to move yet again.