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How to Annotate a Poem and Bring Out its Meaning and Complexities

How to Annotate a Poem
To annotate a poem is to analyze and understand it better. It involves reading the poem to identify the writing style, rhyme scheme, figures of speech, the poem's true meaning, and its interpretations. This Penlighten article tells you how to annotate a poem step by step, with the help of an example.
Penlighten Staff
Last Updated: Dec 10, 2017
Annotation means analyzing and understanding a literary work. The process usually involves making notes to highlight certain important aspects of the piece.

Annotating a poem sheds light on its different aspects and helps you understand its complexities. It helps you interpret why something has been said in a particular way and what it implies. It helps you know the reason behind the use of certain words, literary devices, rhyme, and repetition. Annotating a poem helps you know what the poet is trying to say, thus letting you understand the meaning of his/her poem.
Here are the steps to annotate a poem, followed by an example.
How to Annotate a Poem Step by Step
Step 1:
Read the poem to yourself.
Step 2:
With a pencil, underline the unfamiliar words and write their meanings above them.
Step 3:
Read the poem out loud to yourself. This will help you get a better feel of the poem (words and meter). Read the poem multiple times. With each reading, you might get a different perspective of the poem.
Step 4:
Identify the symbolism, meter, rhyme scheme, similes, metaphors, alliteration, onomatopoeia, consonance, assonance, etc. In short, identify the figurative language or imagery used in the poem. Also pay attention to the language used, i.e., the diction, tone, and tense.
Step 5:
Observe the mood of the poem.
Step 6:
Underline the parts that you find important.
Step 7:
It is advisable to also know the poet and the background of the poem. Try to find the circumstances in which the poem was written, which includes the period during which it was written, the type of people/style of living it represents, and the situation/mind set in which the poet was, when writing the poem. This will help you annotate the poem better.
Step 8:
Paraphrase the difficult lines and understand the poem deeply.
Step 9:
Write down the theme of the poem along with lines of the poem that support it.
Step 10:
Spend a little time on the title of the poem. Try to understand its direct and implied meanings.
Step 11:
Write your interpretation of the poem.
Step 12:
Read other interpretations of the poem. It will help broaden your view and expose you to other, perhaps totally different interpretations of the poem.
Example
Edmund Spencer: Sonnet 75
One day I wrote her name upon the strand,
But came the waves and washed it away:
Agayne I wrote it with a second hand,
But came the tyde, and made my paynes his pray.
"Vayne man," sayd she, "that doest in vaine assay.
A mortal thing so to immortalize,
For I my selve shall lyke to this decay,
and eek my name bee wyped out lykewize."
"Not so," quod I, "let baser things devize,
To dy in dust, but you shall live by fame:
My verse your virtues rare shall eternize,
And in the heavens wryte your glorious name.
Where when as death shall all the world subdew,
Our love shall live, and later life renew."
Annotation
Notice the different colors and markings used in the above example.
The color red indicates the pronunciation of the letter A which is lengthened.
Pink indicates the spellings changed to suit the rhyme.
Green depicts the personifications used in the poem.
The bold italic has been used to indicate the repetition of words.
The underlined words represent the change in spellings to emphasize a word.
You can further use symbols to highlight the patterns in a poem. You can also make an asterisk mark to help you make a headnote or footnote to add references and/or any other information about the poem.