Critical appreciation of a poem is defined as the critical reading of a poem. The meaning of its words, its rhyme, scheme, the speaker, figures of speech, the references to other works (intertextuality), the style of language, the general writing style of the poet ( if mentioned), the genre, the context, the tone of the speaker and such other elements make up the critical reading or appreciation. It does not mean criticising the poem. A critical appreciation helps in a better understanding of the verse.
- Meaning- Read the poem more than once to get a clear idea of what the speaker is trying to say. Look up the meanings of difficult or unusual words in a thesaurus. The title of the poem is a key to the general meaning and summary of the thought presented. A poem might be about lost love, ‘Lucy’ (Wordsworth).
- Rhyme Scheme- Find the rhyming words. These occur at the end of each line. Rhyming words might be present in the middle of the line also. Mark the rhyme scheme. For example, if rhyming words occur at the end of each line alternatively in a poem of 4 lines, the rhyme scheme will be ‘a b a b’. In the poem, ‘Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening’ by Robert Frost, the second stanza goes like this:
“My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year… “
In these lines, the rhyme scheme is ‘a a b b’
In several poems, there are no rhymes. Such a poem is called a blank verse.
- Speaker- Identify the speaker of the poem. It can be a child, an elderly, a shepherd, a swordsman, a student, a milkmaid, a sailor, an animal or even an object like a chair or a place like a house or a mountain. Each Speaker will speak differently.
- Setting- Every poem has a specific setting. It might be a ship or a modern condominium. The setting is the background of the poem and contributes to its meaning. For example, the setting of a pastoral is very likely to be a grazing ground for a flock of ship. The setting of Eliot’s ‘Preludes’ is a modern city with its people leading a mechanical life. The words also convey the same sense.
“And short square fingers stuffing pies,
And evening newspapers, and eyes,
Assured of certain certainties… “
- Context- The context gives us the time and location of the poem. It is what prompted the poem. The context might be an event of great political significance like the French Revolution. It prompted P.B. Shelley’s famous, “Ode to the West Wind.” The poem beautifully upholds the spirit of the revolution and heralded the dawn of a new age.
- Language- The language of a poem is the very vehicle of its thoughts and ideas. Study the language in terms of the use of figures of speech, its tone, use of loan words or archaic words, length of sentences, the rhythm (meters- iambic, Trochaic or any other), number of lines etc. Note the introduction of new ideas and mark the place where it occurs. For example, in the poem, ‘The lamb’ by William Blake, the lamb refers to both the baby sheep, the little boy who is the speaker and the Lamb of God. Here the word, “lamb” is a metaphor.
- Intertextuality- While writing the critical appreciation of a poem, we notice that another poem is alluded or looked back upon. This is called intertextuality or reference. For example, Chaucer’s ‘Canterbury Tales’ allude to Boccaccio’s ‘Decameron’ in its structure of people narrating stories during a journey.
- Genre- Genre roughly means the category of the poem. Each genre has set rules and characteristics. For example, a very long narrative poem, running into a several thousands of lines, dealing with divine figures or demi-gods or great generals of the past and describing a terrible war or an incredible journey on which the fate of humanity rests can be termed as epic. For example, the ‘Iliad’ (Homer), ‘Paradise Lost’ (J. Milton) and such poems. A short poem of 14 lines expressing intimate emotions is a ‘sonnet’. For example, ‘Let me not to the marriage of true minds’ (Shakespeare) is a sonnet extolling real love and devotion. There are several genre- satire, mock-epic, ballad, lyric, ode, parody etc.