How to Appreciate Poems (Using Literary Techniques )









How often do we read a poem and wonder “what’s the purpose behind such a masterpiece?” The answer to this riddle lies in the bellies of interpretation. At the end of this article You will learn what interpretation is and how to appreciate or interpret poems, songs and movies using literary theories.

Interpretation is defined in dictionaries as an act of interpreting or explaining what is obscure; a translation; a version; a construction, A sense given by an interpreter; an exposition or explanation given; meaning, The power of explaining, An artist’s way of expressing his thought or embodying his conception of nature, An act or process of applying general principles or formulae to the explanation of the results obtained in special cases. So to interpret a poem, song or movie is to give meaning and purpose to such work of art.

According to René Wellek & Austin Warren (1948) Interpreting works of art are basically approached using two broad literary concepts which are the intrinsic and extrinsic approaches to literature. Intrinsic and Extrinsic approaches to literature are employed by critics to evaluate literature according to their own understanding of the world.

Intrinsic and Extrinsic approaches to literature are ways to criticize literature in different terms. In intrinsic approach, the critic is mainly concerned with the form, language, style, symbols, images, contrasts, structure and development of plot in a literary work. Building blocks of the work are of utmost importance for the critic. Intrinsic approach is called formalism as the critic’s basic interest is in the form of the work. In comparison to intrinsic approach, the extrinsic approach makes the critic to give more importance to the context of a work. It means that the critic is mainly interested in the background, history, social conditions and biography of the author. He judges the work in relation to the author and his life. The critic moves from the text or form to the context.

The Intrinsic & Extrinsic Elements of Poetry:

1. Intrinsic Elements

Intrinsic element of poetry is an element contained in a poem, which is used by analysts in studying and understanding the meaning of a poem. There are several intrinsic elements in poetry:

a. Style of Language (Figure of Speech )




There are several kinds of figure of speech that are commonly seen in a poem, namely:




– Simile




Simile is a figure of speech which is formed from which we make comparisons between a thing with another thing which is basically similar. The author uses words for such comparison: like, as, etc, to compare these two things.




– Paradox




Paradox is a figure of speech that shows the contradiction between two things.




– Irony




Irony is a figure of speech which features an Opposition of the meaning of the word.




– Hyperbole




Hyperbole is a figure of speech that works by giving meaning or describe a thing as excessive.




– Antithesis




Antithesis is a figure of speech that is visible from two words placed in the opposite sense in one place.




– Symbols




Symbol is using an action or object that means something more than its literal meaning.




b. Rhyme




Rhyme is defined as a form of repetition of sounds in lines of poetry. Rhyme is divided into three types, namely: End Rhyme, median and front rhyme.




c. Rhythm




Rhythm is an intrinsic element of poetry that only comes when a poem was read. Rhythm is a tone that appears when poetry was sung.




d. Meter




Size of tone in the rhythm called the meter. Meters can be shaped monometer, dimeter, trimeter, tetrameter, and pentameter.




e. Allusion




An indirect reference; a hint; a reference to something supposed to be known, but not explicitly mentioned; a covert indication.




2. Extrinsic Elements of Poetry




Extrinsic Elements of poetry is a supporting element of poetry that comes from outside the work of poetry created. Extrinsic Elements of poetry was instrumental in the analysis of a poem. Without using the approach on the extrinsic elements of the poem, analysts will have difficulty in determining the reason and purpose of a poem created. Even understanding the meaning of a poem can be shifted from what was intended by the author, if the poem is analyzed in the extrinsic elements only. Some elements of extrinsic poem are like: author biography, social background, religion, and education of the author, and social circumstances at the time the poem was made.




In essence, extrinsic element in poetry is no different with extrinsic elements contained in the other literary works such as prose and drama.




To have a solid understanding of the Intrinsic and Extrinsic Elements of Poetry as a Poet, reader or critic is essential. It is like a chef knowing what ingredients to add to a dish, or knowing what flavors work best in combination together.




As a poet and reader, if You understand the different parts of the poem, and how they combine to make the whole, then it will improve your own performances. Look at how the elements of poetry are being used? You should be asking the same questions when you are trying to write poems. Be critical of your process and style.




Whether You are a poet, a reader, or critic, knowing the intrinsic and extrinsic interpretive approaches to literature will help You develop a critical ear.




It will benefit you and your poem knowing your ingredients and how best to use them.




So next time you are reading a piece of poem, try to separate out the parts and read to how each of the Elements of poetry are being used. Read for the Intrinsic; simile, metaphor, paradox, irony, hyperbole, antithesis, symbols and the Extrinsic; author biography, social background, religion, and education of the author, and social circumstances at the time the poem was made. You might even want to start keeping a reading journal of the poems You read. Make a note of the poem title, the poet, and try to determine how each of the Elements of poetry are being used. Over time you will begin to appreciate poetry in a whole other way.




WRITTEN BY: Sultan A. G.

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