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Context of poetry

Context of poetry

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Summary

Context of poetry

In a nutshell

The understanding of context can help you understand the poet's intentions, and therefore their purpose for writing a poem.



Questions 

When examining the context of a poem, you should ask yourself five questions:

  • When was this written?
  • Where was it written?
  • Does it seem biographical?
  • How has the poem's meaning evolved over time?
  • What is referenced in the poem?

It is important to answer these questions when examining context so you can better understand the intentions and purposes of the poet when writing their poem. It is impossible to determine exactly what a poem means because all of these factors can affect how it is interpreted. It is best practise to provide pertinent information about a poem rather than just all the facts you know.



Poet

Although a poem written in the first-person is likely to be autobiographical, you cannot always assume it is. As such, you can get a deeper understanding of a poem by looking at its context.

Examine the poem: Are there events the poet experienced in the poem? Does the poem have a strong message that resonates with the poet's ideals? Are there allusions to the poets' real-life companions?

This information can help you understand how the life of the poet affects the content of the poem and shapes its meaning.



Time and place

Oftentimes, poems refer directly to historical places, events, and periods. These affect the meaning of a poem and the subtext behind it. A poem written about a certain time or period will have a different tone than something with a different setting.



The reader

Throughout history, readers have interpreted poems in different ways and held different opinions about poets. A contemporary reader will likely find different meanings than a reader in the romantic period due to societal changes.

Examine the poem: What would have been the original interpretation of the poem? How has society changed since the original period? How would a contemporary reader interpret this?



Poetic context

Throughout history, poetry has changed, with time periods having a distinct impact on the writing style of poetry.

Time Period

Years

Description

Romantic period
1757-1837
A contrast between the formalism and scientific inquiry of the Enlightenment period, the Romantic period moved the focus to nature and the beauty of feeling.
Victorian period
1837-1901
This period was known for the poet's use of whimsy and skepticism, with an undertone of the change in societal thought.
Modernism
1901-present
Modernist poetry is usually multi-faceted and discusses multiple themes at once. They focus on alienation from society.


The period a poem is written in will reveal the themes and ideas behind the poem. What's more, a modernist reader would interpret a Romantic poem differently than how a Victorian poet would interpret it.

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Exercises

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FAQs - Frequently Asked Questions

Are all poems autobiographical?

How do you find the context?

Why is knowing the context of a poem important?

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